It's Illegal to Die in This Town in Norway, Here's Why

The northernmost city of Longyearbyen
The northernmost city of Longyearbyen | Courtesy of Visit Svalbard

“No dying allowed on the premises.” Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost town in the Svalbard archipelago, doesn’t exactly have a warning sign like that – but perhaps it should. See, death has been banned here since the 1950s. If someone’s suspected to be close to dying, they have to be flown back to the mainland. Read on for the fascinating (and appropriately morbid) reason behind this seemingly strange state policy.
Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.
Prohibition of death is not such a novel notion – in fact, the Ancient Greeks thought it first back in the 5th century BCE, declaring that dying on Delos island was prohibited because it was a sacred space. Even nowadays, there are a handful of towns around the world that have banned dying, but with the exception of Itsukushima in Japan, the reasons for that are practical, not spiritual. In the Norwegian town of Longyearbyen, death is banned because of the weather. Being above the Arctic circle, Svalbard “enjoys” low temperatures that frequently reach 4°F (-15 °C) and have been known to sometimes reach -25.6°F (-32 °C). What does that mean, besides having to wear insulated coveralls at all times? It means that the ground, and anything put inside it, is in a state of permafrost – never really thawing, even when the temperatures in the surface rise during the summer. So to put it simply, the dead don’t thaw – or decompose.

Polar Night in Longyearbyen

If you’re thinking that this creates issues with space and storage of the dead, you’re only half right. See, if a dead body remains perfectly preserved (apologies, but we told you this would be morbid), then any virus or disease it carries will also remain frozen within it – and could potentially be a safety hazard, spreading among the population. This became chillingly apparent in 1950, when the locals realized that the permafrost was preventing the bodies from properly decomposing and, afraid of diseases spreading, they took the town’s graveyard out of commission and outlawed death in Longyearbyen.

And a good thing they did, too. Because when scientists in the ’90s exhumed some of the bodies to study the permafrost phenomenon, they found that in the body of a person who died from the Influenza pandemic of 1918, the same deadly virus was still alive and kicking, perfectly preserved. As you can imagine, this has all the makings of a Hollywood horror film. If the permafrost thaws (and considering global warming that’s not an “if” but a “when”) then the virus could infect the whole town – and we’re talking about the same virus that wiped out about 5% of the planet’s population back in 1918. Banning death, all things considered, seems like the most logical thing to do.

Walking towards the light in Longyearbyen

So what happens if you accidentally die before they fly you away? The only way to be buried in Longyearbyen is to be cremated first (and your remains buried in a funeral urn), but even this is hard as it requires a state license. But then again, this is Svalbard: albeit uniquely rewarding, considering the 2,000 people who call it home, life here is nothing if not hard. The sun doesn’t come out for four whole months in the winter. The polar bears will attack you if you leave the settlement alone. The cold can sometimes be so overwhelming that children have trouble moving. And, as if the ban on death wasn’t enough, cats are also banned from entering Svalbard – so as to preserve the birds of the area. If you can manage to survive all that, you’re probably a superhero anyway. So you don’t have to worry about the prohibition of dying.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.