13 Dec 2016

Hunting for the Northern Lights, playing with huskies, following in Zvyagintsev’s footsteps and other winter diversions in and around Murmansk
Yes, the fact that Murmansk doesn’t get any daylight for 40 days during the polar night period might at first scare some people away. But, in fact, this unique experience attracts many tourists to the world's largest city (population 307,000 people) north of the Arctic Circle. Unlike many other places beyond the Arctic Circle, Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula is an increasingly popular choice for Russian and foreign tourists alike thanks to the great connections from St. Petersburg (1-hour flight, several flights daily) and Moscow (2-hour flight, several flights daily). The city’s infrastructure and decent selection of hotels and restaurants makes it one of the most comfortable city in some of the most uncomfortable weather conditions in the world.
In Your Pocket sat down with Sergey Bolshakov, a Murmansk native and founder of the NordTours tour operator, to find out how to spend the perfect, action-packed winter weekend getaway in and around the city locals affectionately call “Monamourmansk”.
The optimal option, according to Sergey, is to get at least 3-4 days in to really make the most of your trip up to the Kola Peninsula. The ideal itinerary to keep tourists fully occupied looks a little something like this.

Day 1: Arrival in Murmansk
Despite its very recent history (Murmansk celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016), Murmansk has become a strategically important port and a key link in many different transport systems – in short, a city that contributes to Russia in so many different ways.
Murmansk was born in harsh conditions. In essence, the city was founded because of the war and for the war. During World War I, Russia was in desperate need of supplies from the Allies: the only solution was to build a port in the Kola Inlet and a railway from here to St. Petersburg. Everything in and around the city will remind you of its naval origins.
On the day of your arrival, after settling into your hotel, Sergey recommends spending a few hours discovering the city’s main sites. One of the musts is the gigantic concrete soldier nicknamed Alyosha, erected to commemorate the Arctic fighters who perished in the Great Patriotic War (WWII). Then there’s the 1957 NS Lenin, the world’s first nuclear-powered icebreaker that doubles as an interactive museum. Pay a visit to the gold-domed Church of the Savior on Waters, part of a memorial complex dedicated to the memory of Murmansk's seamen who perished in peacetime. To warm up, head indoors to one of the city’s museums (the Oceanarium, the Museum of the Northern Fleet, the Fine Arts Museum or the Regional Studies Museum).
After soaking up the city’s history and culture, it’s time to meet Sergey and Alexander Stepanenko, your experienced photographer/guide and a walking encyclopedia of the Russian North, to embark on the great hunt for the famed yet elusive Aurora Borealis. There are many factors that come into play when embarking on the “hunt”. First and foremost, it’s the weather, which is highly unstable in this part of the world. Sergey and his team constantly monitor the conditions and look for the optimal place to take their tourists. This can be anywhere between 30 and 150 kilometers from Murmansk - it all depends on where the skies are clear that night. Seeing the Northern Lights in Murmansk is highly unlikely due to light pollution.


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