Life Above the Arctic Circle: Russia's Murmansk | Travel Guide

Life Above the Arctic Circle: Russia's Murmansk

Life Above the Arctic Circle: Russia’s Murmansk

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Will you believe us if we tell you that there's a place on Earth where every year for 40 days in a row people live without the light of the sun? No matter how unbelievable it may seem, we didn't make this up. Welcome to spectacular Murmansk, Russia's capital of Arctica!

Being the largest town in the world located above the Arctic Circle, Murmansk is one of the most unique spots on the planet and a great travel destination for anyone who feels adventurous or thinks that Russia has no more surprises up its sleeve. It is also among the best locations to hunt for Northern Lights, home to incredible untouched nature, fantastic views, and even magnificent fjords! Still not convinced? Let’s get to know the city a bit better.

Tour to Northern Lights in Russia

Brief History of Murmansk

Murmansk is one of the most fascinating Russian cities and, although it seems beyond belief, it was founded just a bit over a century ago! It all started with a small settlement of fishermen that appeared on the coast of the Barents Sea in 1915. But officially the story of the city began only a year later, in 1916, when the foundation stone of the settlement's first church was laid. Later this sacred place was consecrated in the name of Saint Nicholas of Myra, the patronage of fishermen, and Murmansk became the last city founded in the mighty Russian Empire.

Despite the common misconception, Murmansk was never used as a prison nor a place of exile, unlike the region of Siberia. The seamen from all over Russia were willingly coming to live in Murmansk, drawn by the icy waters of the Barents Sea, promising plenty of fish and new money opportunities.

Good to Know
Despite the common misconception, Murmansk was never used as a prison nor a place of exile, unlike the region of Siberia.

The city even owes its name to the Barents Sea! Originally, the citizens of Norway were called "murmans" in Russia. As time passed, the whole southern coast of the Barents Sea, neighboring Norway, was known as "the Murman Coast" and that's exactly the place where you should look for Murmansk on a map. The name "Murmansk" simply means "the city that was built on Murman".

During WWII, the town was seriously damaged. Hitler's army was planning to conquer Murmansk in 2 days but this plan of action has remained a dead letter. The German army had undertaken several large-scaled incursions but to no avail. During the war, 185 000 bombs were dropped on Murmansk, but the city has never surrendered. In November of 1945, only one-fifth of the city's buildings were still standing, and the hero-city of Murmansk was listed among the 15 Russian cities to be rebuilt as a matter of priority.

The town was reconstructed to its pre-war state in less than 10 years, and in the beginning of the 1950s a new chapter of Murmansk's history has begun. The city was constantly growing and developing over the years and became one of the most unusual travel destinations for those who want to explore Russia off-the-beaten-path.

Murmansk Map

Murmansk's Weather

After everything we've said about the location of Murmansk high up in the Arctic north of Russia, you probably picture the city being something like C. S. Lewis' Narnia during the Hundred-Year Winter, always covered with the white snow blanket and promising a maximum outside temperature of -35°C (-31°F). But, as shocking as it may be, despite its proximity to the Arctic Circle, Murmansk boasts a relatively mild climate, and winters there aren't colder than in the capital of Canada, scenic Ottawa!

Murmansk's average temperature in January is a comfortable -12.6°C (9.32°F) while July boasts the average temperature of 14.2°C (57.6°F). The reason for this is the Barents Sea, repeatedly mentioned above, and its warm North Atlantic Current, extending the famous Gulf Stream. This powerful current transports more tropical water than any other one does in the northern region, nor than any other boundary current can in the world! Thus, the climate in Murmansk distinguishes a lot from any typical northern city and almost completely lacks any severe frosts.

Murmansk Scenery

Getting to Murmansk: Crossing the Arctic

Although you might imagine your Russian journey to faraway Arctic Murmansk being a combination of a long-haul flight with long hours of making your way to the final destination, the city is actually very easy to reach! Of course, the most popular way of traveling to Murmansk is by taking a plane. Only a 2.5-hour flight separates Moscow and Murmansk while the Saint Petersburg - Murmansk flight takes even less than that, 2 hours for covering the distance of 1340 km (833 mi).

Another popular way of traveling to Murmansk is onboard the luxurious Arctic Explorer train, starting its journey in glorious Saint Petersburg, proceeding to the magnificent Arctic Circle, and then going back to scenic Moscow. Apart from the fantastic views, this deluxe private train offers service worthy of the best hotels, top-notch en-suite cabins, fantastic onboard entertainment programs, and exquisite dining.

It's no doubt, all the travelers' needs are thoroughly catered for during the ride, making the Arctic Explorer train the most memorable way to travel to Murmansk. Or, if you are interested in getting a genuine Russia experience, you can choose to travel to Murmansk onboard a regular Russian train. The most popular starting points are Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and wondrous Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Karelia region and one of the most picturesque corners of the beautiful country.

Russia Train Travel

Murmansk Trip Planning

When to Go to Murmansk?

As mentioned previously, glorious Murmansk is an off-the-beaten-path Russia travel destination. So regardless of the season, you choose for your trip, there is no need to worry about tourist crowds or overbooked hotels. The relatively mild climate, not boasting any extreme temperatures or weather conditions also shouldn't shape your travel plans. However, we advise going to Murmansk within a Russian winter tour.

Firstly, December and January are the time when polar night falls on the city, increasing your chances to see the miracle of Northern Lights. Secondly, starting from late autumn and until early spring, you can enjoy such amazing winter activities as dog and reindeer sledding, take part in the traditional winter games, and explore the fairytale Snow Village, one of the most popular Murmansk attractions.

And thirdly, if you happen to visit Murmansk in January, there is a chance to catch the "The First Dawn" and "Hello, Sun!" city festivals when citizens of Murmansk celebrate the end of the polar night with the carnivals all around the city.

Murmansk Dog Sledding

To wintness the beauty of the legendary Northern Lights, consider visiting lovely Murmansk in December or January.

For How Long to Stay in Murmansk

Murmansk is a beautiful city offering plenty to see, but travelers rarely treat it as a separate holiday destination and prefer to combine their Murmansk visit with the exploration of the wonderous Russian capitals or Russia's breathtaking Karelia region. All in all, 3 days should be enough to stop by all the Murmansk "must-sees" and get to know the beautiful town.

Plus, 3 days is the advisable amount of time to spend in the city for the Northern Lights hunters, promising a 90% chance of catching the beautiful phenomenon in the winter.

Karelia Region

What to Pack for a Murmansk Trip

As any holiday packing, the first things that should go in your suitcase are the necessary documents (passport, ID, medical insurance, tickets, and so on), a wallet, a charger with a European plug adapter, and your medication (if needed). When high-priority items are taken care of, you can start packing your clothes.

Although Murmansk has nothing to do with the kingdom of eternal ice and snow, be prepared to encounter some strong headwinds during your visit, even during the summer months, so a couple of warm sweaters is among the first things you should pack, getting ready for your Murmansk trip. Another "must" thing to take with you to the fairytale city is a pair of comfortable shoes as revealing all Murmansk secrets requires quite a lot of walking.

Also, we advise leaving some space in your bag for an umbrella and a light raincoat, so you can properly enjoy your trip, regardless of what surprises the weather might bring you.


Travel in Comfort
Since most of the Murmansk tours are walking, make sure to pack a pair of comfortable boots in your suitcase!

Hopefully, you once again saw that Russia travel isn't limited to visiting its spectacular capitals. It has even more to offer than the epic Trans-Siberian journey or the exploration of the Golden Ring. The fantastic country is home to so many captivating and unique places, that a lifetime won't be enough to see everything there is to see. In the second part of our travel guide, dedicated to this one-of-a-kind city, we will tell you about the top things to do in Murmansk.

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