A few months ago I was thinking about which places I could go visit while staying in Russia. One of the first cities that came to my mind was Murmansk. I can’t even give a reason for that but I have always had the urge to go there. My travel partners from Nizhny Novgorod were (more or less) easily convinced and the flights to Murmansk from Moscow were relatively cheap as well. So Madlene, Marcel, Frederik & I spent an adventurous weekend in the city far up north without doing much research beforehand.
The City Murmansk
Murmansk is located in the northwest part of Russia on the Kola Bay, which is an inlet of the Barents Sea on the northern shore of the Kola Peninsula. The city is located on an extreme-northern latitude just 2° north of the Arctic Circle. It is very close to Norway and Finland – it is possible to reach both countries within a short time. The city’s name is derived from ‘Murman Coast’, and Murman is an old Russian term for Norwegians. With a population of around 307,000 Murmansk is by far the biggest Arctic city (followed by Norilsk in Russia with 175,000 and Tromsø in Norway with 71,590).
Despite being located in such an extreme Northern part, the city/region enjoys some benefits that other northern cities for example in Siberia lack. The Murmansk region has highway and railway access to the rest of Europe, as well as the northernmost trolleybus system on Earth. Comparatively warm Gulf Stream waters keep the city’s port ice-free even in winter.
Murmansk was the last city that was founded in the Russian Empire in 1916. Due to the outbreak of WWI Russia was in need of military supplies so Russia extended the railway system in order to reach the ice-free location on the Murman coast. In WW II Murmansk served as a port for arctic convoys, and afterwards it became the most important submarine base of the Soviet Union.
The climate of the region is subarctic with long & cold winters, and short but mild summers. The mean monthly sunshine hours of November are 6 and in December 0. As we were travelling at the end of November, we had around 3 – 4 hours of daylight and temperatures around -10° C.
Bandy, a sport similar to ice hockey where a ball is used instead of the puck, is very popular in Murmansk. We came across the city’s home arena which apparently has an audience capacity of 5,000. Only three places have representation in the female Bandy league, and Murmansk is one of them.
Port of Murmansk
It was a must for us to go see the docks as the port is the raison d’être of the city.
In the port of Murmansk is the Soviet nuclear-powered icebreaker Lenin (Ленин) which was launched in 1957. It was the world’s first nuclear-powered surface ship. After the decommission in 1989 the ship was converted into a museum.
Alyosha and the view over the city
From the city centre we could see a huge monument on a hill a bit outside of the city centre. It is the second of the two main attractions of Murmansk so we had to go there and see it with our own eyes. Also, we thought that we might be able to have a great view over the city, which was true. Off we went with a taxi to go there as it would have taken us forever to go there by foot.
The Defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War is the official name of the monument, but it is commonly called Alyosha (‘Алёша’). The statue was erected in 1974, is 33.5 metres tall, which makes it the second tallest statue of Russia. Alyosha is dedicated to Soviet soldiers, sailors, and airmen of World War II.
Hunting the Northern Lights
Murmansk is supposedly a prime spot for watching the Northern Lights. Not Murmansk directly, as a city is hardly ever the best place for spotting them, but the region around the city. Of course we had to try as well but unfortunately we picked the wrong weekend for doing so. Nevertheless, we were still able to see parts of the Murmansk area, we got to listen to very interesting stories about the city and Russia in general, plus we went on a hike at 4 in the morning in order to have a great view over the city. Who else can say that?! Oh, and we played around with Light Painting.
… northernmost McDonalds in the world.
On our first day we wanted to bridge the annoying time between lunch and dinner (we missed lunch as we were on the plane at that time) and decided to still our hunger with a quick snack. At that time we weren’t even aware of the fact that we were sitting and eating at the northernmost McDonalds in the world (even though they had a sign for that).
…northernmost trolleybus route in the world.
According to several sources, Murmansk has the northernmost trolleybus route of the world. Frederik and I decided to stay in bed instead (and not get up earlier before going to the airport) so we did not travel with one of them, but Madlene and Marcel did. Good for them.
… tallest building above the Artic Circle.
The Hotel Arctic which is known as Azimut Hotel Murmansk is the tallest building above the Artic Circle. It was opened in 1984. We’ve been there every day as we had to ask a few questions at their reception, ate in the restaurant Arktika once, and cleaned our shoes with their shoeshine machine.
…first nuclear-powered surface ship
We couldn’t help ourselves but we just had to go inside the ship even though we had to wait for an hour to make the tour which was of course held in Russian.
Murmansk is probably the most northern part of the world that I will ever travel to (even though I still kinda want to go to Svalbard). Seeing another interesting part of Russia that is so different from the parts that I have already seen was a great experience that I wouldn’t want to miss. We’ve spent some great 2-3 days there, we enjoyed meals in exclusive restaurants (we didn’t do that on purpose…) that were still cheap in comparison to our home countries. We were even lucky enough to see the sun on all three days. The weather was perfect during the day. Even during the night it was warmer than I’d expected it to be (still cold though!). The best thing about the city though is that it is full of beautiful huskies!! ❤️