The world’s biggest Arctic city is a mere baby by Russian standards: Murmansk celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016. Murmansk’s raison d’être is its port, kept ice-free by comparatively warm Gulf Stream waters. This bustling, rapidly modernising place gets much of its wealth from the cornucopia of minerals found beneath the ground of the Kola Peninsula, the controversial exploitation of natural resources in the Arctic and close ties with its Scandinavian neighbours.
The first glimpse of stolid Soviet-era architecture and the gritty port may not be the stuff of dreams, but beyond that, impressions get better and better. This lively city is surrounded by incomparable, often harsh Arctic scenery and is a playground for outdoor adventurers during the months of the midnight sun (late May to late July). During the winter darkness (late November to mid-January) the northern lights over the snow-covered landscape are an eerie, magical sight.