Lonely Planet Writer

Inside the 'doomsday vault': the incredible Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway

Doomsday scenarios hold a particular power over our imaginations. For that reason the Svalbard Global Seed Vault has become such a fascinating place, as this unique footage shows.


Hidden around 400 feet deep inside a mountain on a remote island in Norway and close to the North Pole, the Svalbard Seed Vault is also referred to as the ‘doomsday vault’. It is covered in permafrost year-round and it is climate change and radiation proof. The temperature is on average kept at -18C.

Inside the vault are over 10,000 types of seeds and over 300 different types of species, preserved to provide a last resort in the case of natural disasters and the loss of diversity in genebanks, and often it’s referred to as the last hope in the case of a global atomic disaster. Inside the vault there’s space for 4.5 million samples, which would be more than 2 billion seeds.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Svalbard Global Seed Vault Image by Martyn Smith / CC BY 2.0

The vault has become something of an urban legend and a cult site to visit, even though no one is allowed inside the vault.

The Svalbard Vault has often become involved in humanitarian and natural disasters. It has taken in seeds from plants and grains indigenous to Syria in the face of the disastrous civil war, and after Typhoon Haiyan it helped the Philippines to preserve some of its crops.

The permafrost surrounding the seed vault
The permafrost surrounding the seed vault Image by Svalbard Global Seed Vault / CC BY 2.0

Like all public buildings in Norway, the vault is legally bound to feature artwork. It’s exterior therefore features an impressive light installation by Dyveke Sanne that reflects the power and beauty of the Northern Lights.

Whilst it’s not possible to go inside the vault, the Norwegian Arctic Circle is increasingly a popular adventure tourism destination.

Read more:

Norwegian Lofoten Islands: there by the grace of cod

Kayaker’s stunning Instagram account documents the Norwegian fjords

Chasing Northern Lights in Norway