I am Maria Sahai, professional nature photographer, I lead Photography tours in the Arctic and Svalbard Archipelago is one of my favourite destinations in the world.

I’ve spent my last 4 Christmas Eves at 78 degrees North, in Longyearbyen, the archipelago’s capital and world’s northernmost settlement (everything further north is either a military or a research station).

This tiny settlement of 2000 people is unique in so many ways. It is a home to northernmost school, university, supermarket, a man’s chorus, and much more. From October till February the sun doesn’t rise there, and 24h nights are perfect to observe Northern Lights.

Over the years I’ve documented the settlement’s history, nature and daily life.

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Northern Lights seen during a natural phenomenon when the skies turned bright pink.

Entrance to the Global Seed Vault – one of the most important buildings on Earth.

Christmas lights on in an abandoned coal mine (Gruve 2b). Longyearbyen was founded as a coal mining town by an American John Longyear (hence the name).

Longyearbyen is one of a few places In the world where you can see unique daytime Northern Lights (everywhere else the Northern lights appear only during night hours).

A local with a dog and a rifle going on a hike. By law, you have to carry a gun when exiting the boundaries of the settlement.

Never forget to close the windows in Winter. The coldest temperature ever recorder was −46.3 °C (−51.3 °F) in March 1986.

Svalbard landscape during full moon. 
In 2006, a massive prehistoric sea reptile that was longer than a humpback whale and had teeth the size of cucumbers has been found by fossil hunters in the mountains of Svalbard.

In Longyearbyen, streets have no names. Only numbers.

Driving through a heavy snow storm in a cabin of a snowcat – a specialized enclosed-cab, truck-sized, fully tracked vehicle designed to move on snow.

2 pm during Polar Night. Today, Longyearbyen obtains its energy from its coal power plant, which produces annual emissions of 40 tonnes of CO2 per inhabitant, four times as much as on mainland.

The northernmost church in the world (seen on the right). It is open 24 hours to anyone and of any religion.

There are over 200 kids below the age of 18 in Longyearbyen. There are 2 kindergartens, 1 school and 1 world’s northernmost university in Longyearbyen.

Hospital. It’s illegal to die in Svalbard and the reason is simple – bodies don’t decompose because of the permafrost.

Svalbard reindeer – world’s northernmost herbivore mammal.