Introducing Northern European Russia
In St Petersburg or Moscow it's oddly easy to be unaware of the great expanses of Russia that stretch north. Indeed, probably as many foreign travellers enter northern European Russia from neighbouring Finland and Norway as venture north from the 'Russian heartland'. But the gradually growing number of travellers here are discovering a land of constant surprises, profound beauty and even a spot of urban sophistication.
This is a territory of midnight sun and polar night, frozen tundra, frozen seas, thousands of islands, hundreds of thousands of lakes, four sizable cities fully adapted to the most extreme of climates, and some barely believable masterworks of old Russian architecture in the most isolated of locations (Varzuga, Kizhi, Solovetsky…), testifying to rare depths of resilience and spirituality. The Russian north is a place you might even find yourself falling in love with.
For many visitors the deepest impact is made by the Solovetsky Islands, a hauntingly beautiful White Sea archipelago that is home to a fabled, historic monastery and also housed one of Stalin's most brutal Gulag camps. The hills, rivers and pristine southern coast of the Kola Peninsula and the forests and lakes of Karelia provide lovers of the outdoors with marvellous hiking, boating, skiing, rock-hunting and off-road tours, and world-class fishing.
Northern European Russia has good transport links with the rest of the country, especially by rail, but you can also fly or drive here. Nowhere else in Russia are Arctic regions so easily accessible.
The short summer (June to August) is obviously the best time to come to the north: temperatures are more comfortable, the seas, lakes and rivers unfreeze, allowing boats to travel to the islands - and it never goes dark!