Murmansk – human anthill of the Arctic

With 307.000 inhabitants, Murmansk is by far the world's largest city north of the Arctic Circle. This is how the city center looks during sunset in mid-summer. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Situated on the 69th degree North latitude Murmansk is the world’s largest city north of the Arctic Circle. Polar day or Polar night; the city is very different from other places you have been.


Quite long in its position the city embraces the Kola bay over a length of 20 km. You may enjoy the view from the upper lateral road.

The city’s name originates from “murman” – name of the northern coast of the Kola Peninsula given by Norwegians and Normans coming here for trade. Later this name was borrowed by the city.

The climate of Kola bay area and Murmansk coast is formed under the influence of the Gulf Stream. Thanks to its kind warmth winters here are comparably soft, and summer doesn’t shock the inhabitants with extreme heat. Peculiar for this place is high humidity, frequent mists and constantly windy weather. Even if it is summer make sure to have warm cloths and a hat with you.

Murmansk – a city beyond the Polar Circle has an entire package of phenomena: Polar night, Polar Day, Polar lights. During 41 days in winter sun doesn’t rise from behind the horizon, but as a kind of compensation it pleases the eyes with its shine in summer when it is Polar Day.

Well, all seasons add to Murmansk specific colors. Summer is usually blossomed with lilacs and ashes, winter is colored with Polar lights, autumn overblows its inhabitants with gold, spring cheers up by melting snow and longer day time. Every season is nice for walks along the city.

Murmansk is a very young and dynamic city.  It may safely be said that the city has a typically Soviet Russian face but with European features. Absence of fixed traditions affected the main atmosphere of the city. Murmansk population was never stable and mainly consisted of seamen who spent most part of their lives at seas. Close to the border zone Murmansk easily gets inspired by fresh molds of its foreign closest neighbors – Norway and Finland. Many students used to study abroad at least for a semester, others travel abroad for sightseeing, shopping or visiting friend or relatives.

How to recognize a person from Murmansk? 

·        20 minutes trip by bus is too long for him, but 100 km for picnic looking for a better place is not a problem.
·        He considers that snow in June/July as normal
·        When hears “Cola” thinks about river…a town…and only then about a world-known drink
·        Even in sunny weather he picks an umbrella with a coat and a hat…just in case
·        The moon and the sun appearing together in the sky do not surprise him at all

Interesting to know

·         Murmansk is the closest city to the Arctic Ocean in Russia
·         Territory of the Murmansk region is three times bigger than Denmark
·         Murmansk is the biggest ice-free port beyond the Polar Circle
·         The Kola bay is a fiord of Barents Sea
·         Kola bay is about 60 km in length
·         Thanks to the warm “Golf Stream” Barents ea doesn’t freeze in winter
·         In fact “ice-free” Kola bay was frozen several times. Last time it was in 1999
·         Murmansk region has more than 100 000 small lakes

What to see if you have two hours?
Practically Murmansk isn’t so big city to observe. And right in the center you’ll find a good combination of sights – symbols of Murmansk. Turn around and you’ll see the highest Hotel beyond the Polar circle – Arktika. Being now under reconstruction the building still impresses the observers with its puissance and architecture.

Are you traveling by private car? You’d better have a short tour around the city. Start from the highest pick with “Alyosha” monument. Brilliant view is greeted from there. On the left hand you will surely mention a small white church with a high light-house (17,5 m). “Spass na Vodakh” complex was built in honor of seamen lost in the peace-time. And do not forget to visit uncle “Lenin” (nuclear ice-breaker) in the Port of Murmansk and throw a coin into the Kola bay whitewaters.

Where to go if you have two days?
Do you really have two days and no idea of what to do in Murmansk? You’d better choose the two best days for a visit and enjoyed your stay here to the full. 

October 4th – the Day of the City. For a couple of days Murmansk becomes a different city. Sport competitions are interspersed with concerts and social activities for the youth. In the city center you can find numerous souvenir fares, enjoy the taste of “shashlik” and rejoice the lights of fireworks at the main square in the evening. It is also a nice chance to learn more about local music bands of Murmansk, children musical and choreographic clubs as most of them usually perform during the celebrations.

Murmansk is a young city and annually celebrated the Youth’s Day – 25. June. This day sometimes coincides with a great sport event “Murmansk Mile”. The Kola bridge has already become the favorite place for fans of the sport festival. The program is rather rich in activities: sailing regatta, beach volleyball, field events. The most spectacular program point is mass swim race across the Kola bay.

Of course, Murmansk region is focused on fishery and most part of the population works in that sphere. So, the Fishermen’s Day (the second Sunday of July) is celebrated on a noble scale. Traditionally, the main action takes part at the Central stadium where it is possible to meet Marine Queen, Neptune and other sea inhabitants accompanied by musical bands. The guests participate in various games, competitions and contests.

The North festival is very famous not only among Russian sportsmen. Annually, sport events are planned for March – the center of ski season. Those days of “sport winter farewell ceremony” the observers follow nearly all types of winter sport competitions: ski races and biathlon, high-hill skiing, ice-hockey and figure skating. Under the indigenous people’s initiative reindeer races are held as a part of the festival. Swim races for “bears” and group parachute jumps are followed by the final 50 km ski marathon in “Dolina Uyuta”.

Murmansk region is famous for downhill skiing resorts. There are 3 well-equipped downhill skiing slopes. More prepared skiers come to the Northern part of Murmansk – “The Southern Slope” (length - 600 m). If you’re eager for extreme you’ll enjoy its rather rapid landscape with ski-jumps of sport center “Orni Murmanska” (length about 1000 – 1500 m). “Nord Star” complex with tracks of 1 km in length is perfect for beginners. Two platter pulls of 300 and 370 m deliver the sportsmen to the top.  Summer doesn’t mean pause in the sport activities. The downhill slopes instead of being closed provide active rest in nature – fishing, horse tours, hitchhiking, paint-ball etc.

At any time to forget about city routine you’re highly recommended to visit the Murmansk Aquarium – a unique aqua-complex in Europe with arctic seals trained there and research and trial facilities for biologists. 

All that is left to say is to mention the best places of city view. First of all, it is the western part of the Kola bay – Abram-Mys and Zeleniy Mys (place from where “Alyosha” observes the whole city). The upper lateral road presents you brilliant opportunity to take great photos of Murmansk and see the longest bridge beyond the Polar Circle. In 2005 it connected Murmansk and the opposite coast together and became famous not only because of its length (about 1611 m), but mostly as the 13-years construction project.