Must see attractions in Northern European Russia

  • Top ChoiceSights in Murmansk

    Ice Bathers' Hut

    Home to Murmansk's ‘ walruses ’ – hardy souls who swear by the health benefits of regularly bathing in icy waters – this wooden hut on the edge of Lake Semyonovskoe dates from the Soviet era. Wooden steps lead down into a hole cut into the ice for a genuinely chilled experience. Get off at the Semyonovskoe Ozero bus stop, cross the road, and track back some 250m to a path that leads to the lake. Bring a towel! While the hut is technically only open to club members, the ‘walruses’ are usually happy to explain their icy passion to curious visitors, especially if you call in advance. Ice bathing is oddly exhilarating, but newcomers are advised not to put their heads under the water. Be sure to check out the photos of happy Soviet–era bathers in the changing room. A taxi here from the centre costs around R150.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Murmansk

    Alyosha

    One of Murmansk’s most memorable sights is a gigantic concrete soldier nicknamed Alyosha, erected to commemorate the Arctic fighters who perished in the Great Patriotic War (WWII). From his hilltop perch, Alyosha's stony visage stares across the Kola Inlet at the snow-speckled Arctic moors beyond. To the south, the port spreads out in all its magnificent industrial dreariness. The statue is a 20-minute ramble past Semyononvskoye Lake through the hilly park from one of the Ozero bus stops.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Murmansk

    Nuclear Icebreaker Lenin

    Murmansk is a centre for nuclear icebreakers that carve their way to the North Pole, but even in port you can give in to your wildest seafaring–Arctic explorer–Cold War spy fantasies aboard the 1957 NS Lenin, the world’s first nuclear-powered icebreaker. You aren't allowed to wander freely, but there are three tours a day that take in the nuclear reactor (powered by uranium 235), the map room, the captain's bridge and the reception hall. Only open for tours. The pride of the Soviet fleet, NS Lenin was fitted out to impress, with a winding oak staircase at its entrance. Visitors to the ship over the years included Yury Gagarin, the first man in space, and a youthful Fidel Castro.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kola Peninsula

    Abandonded Soviet Train Station

    This colossal Soviet-era train station stands abandoned and half-forgotten amid the harsh Arctic landscape. The two-platform station, which once took passengers as far as Murmansk and Leningrad (St Petersburg), was constructed in 1934 and operated until 1996. It was closed down as the local population declined following the Soviet collapse. The roof caved in long ago under the weight of winter snows. The inscription above the gradually crumbling columns reads ‘Kirovsk’. It's located behind the central clock-tower. You'll need to clamber over snowbanks to get to it in winter. In summer, simply follow the bridge from the clock-tower.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kola Peninsula

    Snow Village

    Every November, ice sculptors from all over the region make their way to Kirovsk to chisel the snowy halls and tunnels of the Snow Village into existence, wowing visitors with ice sculptures and annually changing themed displays carved into walls – from snowy pharaohs in chariots to fairy-tale creatures. For extra thrills, ride a giant banana attached to a snowmobile or marry your sweetie in the Ice Chapel. The Snow Village is located just beyond the Botanical Gardens. There are no direct buses.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kola Peninsula

    Sami History & Culture Museum

    This excellent museum delves into the Sami people's troubled history and their way of life, which continues to be threatened. It also celebrates the heroic efforts to keep Sami culture alive, and the revival of the Sami language and traditional Sami crafts. Traditional costume, hunting tools and photos of ancient stone labyrinths, rock carvings and Sami fighters during WWII also feature prominently in the museum. Here you can both admire and purchase knives in carved reindeer-antler sheaths, bone jewellery and wooden vessels inlaid with bone, leatherwork and beadwork and other beautiful, delicate creations by local Sami masters. The tour price includes the cost of admission.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kola Peninsula

    Mineralogy Museum

    This museum has over 900 types of minerals and ores, many of them rare and unique. Entry is by an appointment made in advance; friendly academics speak English. Located on the top floor of the Kola Scientific Centre, it's an easy stroll downhill from pl Lenina on Apatity’s main drag, ul Lenina. Ring the bell to the left of the main door for entry.

  • Sights in Murmansk

    Regional Studies Museum

    Comprehensive exhibits at Murmansk's oldest museum include one on Sami culture and handicrafts, a vast natural-history section with all manner of taxidermied beasts and Wait For Me – an exhibition on the fierce defence of the north during WWII. Delve also into the history of Arctic exploration, contemplate the region's mysterious ancient stone labyrinths, and get nostalgic over prehistoric radios and Zenit cameras in the 'Made in the USSR' section.

  • Sights in Murmansk

    Museum of the Northern Fleet

    The mass of exhibits inside this crumbling turquoise anchor-flanked building covers everything from the founding of Russia’s first navy in Arkhangelsk, to 17th- and 18th-century Arctic exploration, to Murmansk convoys of WWII – a joint effort with British servicemen. A vast collection of Soviet naval equipment makes this a must for military history enthusiasts. Alight from bus 10 at the penultimate stop, Nakhimova (Нахимова), walk on for 300m then turn left and it’s 80m up ul Tortseva.

  • Sights in Kola Peninsula

    Polar-Alpine Botanical Gardens

    Russia’s vast, northernmost botanical gardens and its special hothouses nurturing tropical plants can only be accessed on one of three tours offered daily. A 2km summer-only 'ecotrail', which climbs to the impressive alpine tundra, also awaits visitors. Take bus 1, 12, 16 or 105 (R30) towards Kukisvumchorr (‘25km’), north of Lake Bolshoi Vudyavr, alight by the turnoff on the left before reaching ‘25km’, and walk for 1.5km.

  • Sights in Murmansk

    Fine Arts Museum

    The 1927 Fine Arts Museum hosts temporary exhibitions that range from female nude photography and Kanozero petroglyphs to severe Arctic landscape painting.

  • Sights in Kola Peninsula

    Culture Palace

    Everything from classical concerts to Miss Kirovsk pageants are held in this impressive, becolumned, lemon-yellow building.

  • Sights in Murmansk

    Church of the Saviour on the Waters

    This gold-domed church, built in 2002 from public donations, is part of a memorial complex dedicated to the memory of Murmansk's seamen who perished in peacetime. Just below is the lighthouse monument, and next to it is part of the ill-fated submarine Kursk, whose entire 118-man crew perished in 2000 during naval exercises in the Barents Sea. When it sank, following an on-board explosion, the Russian government refused foreign assistance in the rescue operation until it was too late.

  • Sights in Murmansk

    British Naval Cemetery

    In 1919 the British navy assisted the White Russians against the Reds – Winston Churchill, war secretary at the time, wanted to see if the Bolsheviks could be crushed before they could really get going. A few dozen British sailors found eternal rest in Russian soil, in a small ‘English-style’ graveyard that’s remarkably well tended, even in winter. To find it, walk past the Statoil gas station on your left, and take a sharp right after 100m towards some rusty-looking sheds.

  • Sights in Murmansk

    Monument To Semyon The Cat

    This bronze monument to a fat little cat carrying all his worldly possessions in a knapsack was unveiled in 2013 in honour of an act of incredible feline loyalty and endurance. In 1987, after getting lost during a trip to Moscow, Semyon the cat reportedly spent the next six years travelling back to his owners' apartment in Murmansk – a journey of over 1200 miles. It's on the northern bank of Lake Semyonovskoe.

  • Sights in Kola Peninsula

    Geological Museum

    Features ores, rocks and minerals of the Kola Peninsula; it's best to arrange a guided tour in advance. Labelled mineral fragments are sold here as souvenirs.

  • Sights in Kola Peninsula

    North-Russian Exploration Museum

    Showcases the settlement of the Kola peninsula, the history of science in the region and the culture of Kola's indigenous population – the Sami.

  • Sights in Kola Peninsula

    Lovozero Cultural Centre

    In a building that resembles an oversized chumy (tepee-shaped tent), this Sami cultural centre hosts occasional exhibitions.