Longyearbyen, Norway: The Place Where No One Dies

Man watching The Northern Lights in Longyearbyen, Norway.

Man watching The Northern Lights in Longyearbyen, Norway.
, Norway, a small coal-mining town near the Arctic, might be one of the most interesting cities in the world, despite having just over 2,000 residents.

Why the intrigue? It’s one of the world’s northernmost cities. There are more polar bears than humans around and residents do not leave home without their high-powered rifles. It’s customary to remove shoes when entering nearly any building, not just homes. Snow scooters are the preferred method of transportation. Reindeer roam freely on the un-named streets. Residents aren’t allowed to have cats for pets.

And, it’s illegal to die here.

Longyearbyen is the largest inhabited city in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway. Located north of Norway and south of the North Pole, the city’s Arctic climate is made slightly more bearable by the North Atlantic Current. On average, the town experiences four months of darkness. For most of the year, temperatures remain below freezing, except for a few months in the summer where it might get into the 40s (Fahrenheit).

Given these cold temperatures, the city is mostly built on stilts because the soil is frozen year-round. This permafrost also helps explain the ban on dying.

The town of Longyearbyen in Norway.
In the 1950s, residents discovered that bodies buried in the graveyard were freezing, not decomposing. They feared this would allow diseases and viruses to spread long after death. There’s evidence to support this claim. In 1918 a flu pandemic hit Longyearbyen. When scientists exhumed those corpses in 1998, they extracted samples of the live virus.

Since 1950, if residents are near-death, they must leave. As Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Jan Christian Meyer stated, “If you seem to be about to expire, every effort will be made to send you to the mainland.”

While Longyearbyen, Norway seems like a great place to visit to catch a stellar Northern Lights show, just remember there’s no dying allowed on the island.