1,000 km of railroad separate Murmansk from Saint Petersburg and a further 1,500 km from Moscow. This was the last city to be founded under Nicholas II. It is also the last stop for civilisation before the extreme North of Western Russia. The taiga gives way to tundra, an austere biosphere in the Polar Circle where winter's Northern Lights dance in the shadow of resting reindeer.
A snowmobile expedition into the Arctic Circle is a unique experience. Your itinerary is split between low polar mountains and small thickets of pine trees that lay in the foothills. 100 km of empty tundra and ice separate the shelters of Lake Umbozero and Lovozero. Should you choose to jump off your snowmobile, you would be ensconced in a drift up to your hips. After a blizzard, the snow cover can get as deep as 3 m.
Reindeers and sleighs are naturally combined in the North where they provide a fast and environmentally friendly transport option, both in summer and winter. Did you know that one-quarter of Russia’s territory is made up of pastures that are grazed by reindeer herds? The Sami People of Kola are the most Western of the reindeer tribes. Sit back and enjoy the view as you glide across the glittering snow before warming up in front of the fire in the reindeer herder’s cabin.
Thanks to its regular connections to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the Kola Peninsula is one of the easiest places to see the spectacle of the Northern Lights. They appear for up to 100 days per year. Remember to wrap up well before heading out of your cabin and, when you reach the frozen waters of Lake Lovozero, raise your head to admire this unique show.
Murmansk is a city of extremes: with 300,000 inhabitants, it is the largest city in the Arctic Circle. Furthermore, its unique position at the end of the Gulf Stream means that its port never freezes. In Murmansk, locals have to dig out their cars in the morning if they plan on leaving the house at midday. Yet, in these rugged conditions, they will still queue at a kiosk in the park to buy ice-cream, even if it’s -20°C. Polar expeditions and nuclear-powered icebreakers all depart from Murmansk, and it’s here that the first nuclear icebreaker was built – the Lenin – in 1959. Nowadays, you can visit the Lenin, which has been turned into a museum.
The White Sea and the Barents Sea surround the Kola Peninsula in the Murmansk region beyond the Arctic Circle. The city of Murmansk is 1,000 km from St Petersburg and 1,500 km from Moscow, but luckily it has access by rail, road and plane.
From the end of December to end of April is the best time to discover the Arctic mountains of Khibiny and Lovozero by snowmobile across the Kola Peninsula. The expedition can last from 2 to 5 days, excluding the flight to Murmansk and the drive from the city to Khibiny or Lovozero (3–4 hours by car). You will only need one day to visit Murmansk and the first nuclear-powered icebreaker, The Lenin. If you want to do the snowmobile excursion, we recommend planning 3 days just to be sure you get to see the Northern Lights and have time to visit the reindeer herders.
From Moscow to Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula
The journey from Moscow to Murmansk is relatively long (about 36 hours). We strongly recommend catching a flight. There are 5 flights a day from the capital to Murmansk (2h30).
From Saint Petersburg to Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula
There are regular flights between St Petersburg and Murmansk, but you can also take the train “Arktika” to the town of Apatity or Olenegorsk. It leaves at 09.50 in the morning and arrives in Apatity at 8.22 am or 9.41 in Olenegorsk the next day (about 23 hours).
When to see the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, light up the sky for about 100 days per year. The best time to see them is between January and March when the nights are crisp and clear. Sometimes they can shimmer for minutes and, other times, they bathe the peninsula in their enchanting glow for days on end. They usually appear just after sunset, but you will need to dress up warmly to watch them, There are Aurora tracking websites online that forecast the Northern Lights. Travelling deep into the wilderness to the mountains of Khibiny and Lovozero makes for the most striking display of Northern Lights, as the sky is free from artificial light sources.
Where to go after the Kola Peninsula
The Kola Peninsula trip can be combined with snowmobiling and dog-sledding expeditions as well as a visit to the famous Kizhi Island in Karelia. There is a night train from Khibiny to Petrozavodsk (about 16 hours) that leaves from Olenegorsk at 21.43 and arrives at 14.38 the next day. Alternatively, if you are leaving from Karelia, the train from Petrozavodsk departs at 17h14 and arrives at Olenegorsk at 09h41 the next day.