This Tiny Scandinavian Town Has Some Bizarre Laws

a signpost and a polar bear warning sign at the Longyearbyen airport.
DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images
DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

The town of Longyearbyen, located in the Svalbard Islands of Norway, is the world’s northernmost settlement that has more than 1,000 permanent residents. Longyearbyen had 2,144 residents as of 2015. The remote town is notable for having some pretty bizarre laws.

For starters, cats have been banned since the 1990s. Norwegian authorities decided that felines were overly susceptible to rabies and tapeworm infections, which they thought were big risks to humans. The ban was also enacted in order to protect the island’s birds. Photos taken before the 1990s indicate that cats were a popular pet before they were permanently banned.

Also, anyone venturing outdoors is required by law to carry a rifle in order to protect themselves from polar bears. There are roughly 3,000 polar bears in the area, more than humans, and they pose a “significant threat.” Visitors who don’t own a weapon can rent one from the town.

Dying on the island is forbidden. It’s not technically illegal, but being buried there IS, so dying is not recommended. The terminally ill are flown off the island for the rest of their days, and anyone who dies suddenly in Longyearbyen is brought elsewhere to be interred.

The reason for this unique law also comes down to protecting the human population. In 1950, it was discovered that victims who had been buried after a 1918 flu pandemic had still not decomposed. The permafrost that they were buried in is thought to contain live strains of the flu, which is estimated to have wiped out 5% of the world’s population.

One more thing — there is also a restriction on how much alcohol each person can buy every month.

Don’t let these strange laws or the threat of polar bears keep you away from Longyearbyen, though. The town offers a variety of activities for tourists, including dog-sledding, hiking, kayaking, and snowmobile safaris.