Murmansk

Murmansk is the most accessible gateway to the Russian Arctic and Russian Lapland. With its 300,000 inhabitants, it is the largest city in the world located north of the Arctic Circle. It is situated at the bottom of a navigable fjord in the Barents Sea, and is one of the most important fishing, commercial, and military ports of Russia. It is connected to the rest of the country by road and rail, as well as by several regular daily flights to Moscow (1500 kilometres) and St. Petersburg (1000 kilometres). For centuries the Russians had called this coast “coast of Murman”; the word “Murman” meaning “Norwegian” (Norman) in Old Russian. In the 12th century, the Republic of Novgorod, then the most important Russian state, started sending colonists to the coasts of the White Sea and the Arctic. These people, called “Pomors” (“Maritime”), were the first Russians to settle permanently in the Murmansk region. From the 16th century, Russia strengthened its position in the region against Sweden and Norway; it built several forts and the small town of Kola, 12 kilometres south of present-day Murmansk. In 1916, Murmansk was founded as “Romanov on Murman”, in honor of the Russian Imperial Dynasty, and replaced Kola as the regional capital. It was the last Russian city founded before the communist revolution. It is located next to the fjord, in an area of hills and lakes. From here, one can easily access all the main points of interest of the region. Due to its latitude, in the far north of Europe, Murmansk is an ideal place to try and observe the Northern Lights. During the winter, between December 2 and January 10, it is “Polar Night” in Murmansk, with 40 days of uninterrupted night. The climate of Murmansk is moderated by the Gulf Stream, which makes the temperatures a little softer than in the interior regions of Lapland like Rovaniemi or Ivalo. The fjord stays ice-free all year round.

Panoramic Tour of Murmansk. The city extends from North to South on the banks of the Murmansk Fjord along about 20 kilometers. It was built on the hills overlooking the fjord, so we can enjoy panoramic views in different places along our route. Most of the monuments we will see are related to the character of Murmansk as a fishing and military port, as well as to its important role in both world wars, especially during World War II, when the city heroically resisted several German attacks and was one of the main entry points of the Allied military aid to the Soviet Union.

We will start at the city centre, at the Five Corners Square. Next to it, the Central Park is located with its curious Monument to the Cod, the main product of the Murmansk fishing fleet. At the crossroad of Lenin Avenue and Karl Marx Street there are two of the most important buildings of the city, the Town Hall and the Regional Museum of Local Lore, the oldest stone building in Murmansk. We will then pass in front of the Monument to the Patriarchs Cyril and Methodius, who introduced writing in Russia creating the Cyrillic alphabet. We will proceed by the Court of Justice and the House of Culture, continuing along Lenin Avenue, where we can admire many examples of Stalinist architecture. We will see the Drama Theatre, next to the Monument to the Arctic Border Guards. We will go up Lieutenant Schmidt Avenue, passing the Monument to the Sailors and Ships of the Fleet, the Central Station, and the sport area, with the Ice Palace, the Central Stadium, and the communal swimming pool. After a stop in front of the Monument to the Arctic Explorers, we will reach the hill where some of the main monuments of the city are located: The Orthodox Church of Saint Saviour on the Waters, the Memorial to the Sailors Fallen in Times of Peace, and the moving Monument to the Kursk Submariners, with the turret of the infamous nuclear submarine that sank in 2000 in the waters of the Barents Sea, killing its 118 crew members. It was based in one of the military facilities near Murmansk. From here, we can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. We will continue around Lake Semenovskoye where we can find the statue of the famous cat “Semyon” lost by its owners in 1987 during a trip to Moscow. During 6 years, the cat travelled 1,800 kilometres all the way back to Murmansk to come home. We will then arrive at one of the highest points of the city, the Monument to the Defenders of the Russian Arctic during World War II, an impressive statue of a Soviet soldier nearly 40 meters high, better known under the nickname of “Alyosha”, diminutive of Alexei. The Eternal Flame for the Unknown Soldier is also located here. We will admire a spectacular view of the city, its port, the Murmansk Fjord, and its surroundings. After seeing the statue of the Waiting Woman, dedicated to the sailors’ wives, we will move to some of the city suburbs, passing by the Orthodox Church of All Saints, one of the most remarkable in Murmansk. We will reach the bridge over the Kola Bay, where we will enjoy another beautiful panorama of the city and its fjord. We will then return to the center.

Visiting the Nuclear Icebreaker “Lenin”. During the numerous expeditions to the Russian Arctic, to the various bases and settlements in the northernmost part of the country, the Russians clearly saw the need to extend the endurance of their ships. Icebreakers consume a lot of energy because of the power they need to break the ice shell. For a traditional diesel-powered icebreaker, endurance reaches a maximum of 40 days, even when carrying 70% of its weight in fuel. The Soviet Union therefore decided to build the first nuclear-powered icebreaker in the world: The “Lenin”. She was built in the St. Petersburg shipyards. Launched in 1957, she was finalized in 1959. She was powered by 3 nuclear reactors, which were then replaced by 2 of a more advanced and safer type. The “Lenin” had one year endurance, with a power of 45,000 horses. In 1989, she was retired from service, having travelled nearly 600,000 nautical miles (one million kilometres) through the ice of the Arctic. After all these years of good and loyal service, she now serves as a museum in the city of Murmansk. She is located not far from “Atomflot”, the headquarters of the Russian fleet of nuclear ice-breakers, the only one in the world. During our visit to the “Lenin” we will see the different parts of the ship, which is adapted for a crew who had to spend long periods in complete autonomy, without contact with the outside world: the canteen, the cinema, the small hospital, the cabins, the map room, the captain’s bridge, and, of course, the nuclear reactors, now deactivated.

Visiting the Regional Museum of Local Lore. This interesting museum is housed in the oldest stone building in Murmansk. Here we can discover many interesting facts about the region: the original colonies, the harsh conditions of the early days, the Arctic explorations … We will learn about the first Russian settlers, the “Pomors”, and the original inhabitants of the area, the Saami. We will discover the objects they used in everyday life. We will come to know the fauna and flora of the Arctic. We will learn about the importance of fishing and mining in the development of Murmansk, how the city was affected during the World War II, and many other things. It is a must for every visitor.

Northern Lights Hunting Trip. The Northern Lights are one of the greatest shows that Nature gives us. The night sky is illuminated in a fairy-tale ballet of multi-coloured lights that seem to dance before our eyes. It is a phenomenon created by the arrival of solar particles, charged with energy, meeting the Earth’s magnetic field and the gases in our atmosphere. This creates an impressive show of dancing lights whose shapes change capriciously in the night skies. To try to spot the Aurora Borealis in the best possible conditions, we must avoid light pollution, thus leave urban settlements and head to rural areas, preferably on top of a hill to enjoy a better view. The region of Murmansk is one of the most favorable parts of the world for the observation of the Northern Lights, due to the following reasons: it is located in the very North, about 300 km above the Polar Circle; the temperatures, although cold, are moderated by the Gulf Stream. And Murmansk enjoys more clear days than other cities on the same latitude. Murmansk is located right in the so-called “Oval of the Northern Lights”, the part of the world where it is easier to see them. In Murmansk and its region we can see the northern lights between the end of September and April.

Visiting “Saami City” and Small Reindeer Sleigh Ride. Saami City is located about 110 km south of Murmansk, in the central part of the Kola Peninsula, and in the area of former settlements of the Saami. There are very few descendants of the Sami who originally inhabited this region, and today we will have the opportunity to meet one of them. He will show us old pictures and tell us stories, anecdotes, and traditions. We can see the buildings and religious symbols of the Saami, and meet their inseparable companions: reindeer and huskies. We will have a chance to take a short walk (5-10 minutes) in a sleigh drawn by reindeers (4 people per sleigh) and then warm up with a traditional soup.