It's incredible what you may find on the Kola Peninsula beyond the Arctic Circle in Russia! A great outdoors with tundra, Arctic deserts and fjords is just one of the examples. You can certainly have some unique experiences here - like doing a tour on a nuclear ice-breaker or visiting a reindeer and husky farm!
The Khibiny Mountains This mountain range behind the Arctic Circle is at the top of the bucket list of all experienced Russian trekkers. And not without a reason: The beauty of this place is out of this world.
Akademicheskoye plateau resembles a moon landscape - it is an Arctic desert. While hiking there, you often find yourself in a cloud where you can´t see your own hand if you stretched out your arm, which makes it even more surrealistic - and dangerous.
Close to the plateau, there is a cleft with pink snow that tastes like watermelon. Both the taste and colour are due to the minerals in the snow.
While hiking, you may find a stone with a golden star in middle - an astrophyllite. Khibiny is home to a number of precious minerals and stones, some of them are endemic.
The fir-trees often look weird in Khibiny: up to a height of 1m, the branches are missing. This strange appearance is due to the harsh winter conditions. Snow a meter high covers the lower branches and an ice-cold wind blows above the snow, killing the unprotected branches.
There is another interesting fact about the climate of Khibiny: in the principal valley surrounded by the mountains, it actually gets slightly warmer with elevation. The cold air settles down while the warmer air rises up.
When to go? The best time to go there is at the End of July - the beginning of August when the temperature rises to plus 12-15°/ 55-60°F C. You might also want to see the tundra in September when the moss turns red and yellow. Or go to Khibiny in winter to see the northern lights and ride snowmobiles.
How to get there? take a train heading from Moscow or St Petersburg to Murmansk, exit in Kirov. Kirov also has an airport. Driving is another option. The road leading from Kirov to the mountains is suitable only for 4x4, but you might either walk there or find a ride in the town.
Where to stay? Usually, travellers of Khibiny pinch their tents. You may also sleep in a basic hotel with really friendly staff near the lifeguard station (tel. +7 921 510-12-53)
Lovozerye Lovozerye region is less famous than the neighbouring Khibiny and there is a lesser chance to encounter other backpackers. However, there are still several tourist attractions you may visit: e.g. husky and reindeer farms close to the village of Lovozero.
Lovozerye has another range of mountains to the north-east of Khibiny. Even though the mountain peaks of Lovozerje are less tall, they are no less beautiful. One of the most beautiful things in this world I have witnessed in Lovozerje: the lilac-colored mountains reflecting in the water during the never-ending summer evenings.
How to get there and where to stay? You may drive there, or go by plane to Murmansk and by train to Olenegorsk (train Moscow - Murmansk) There are some hotels and hostels in the region, they usually offer a transfer from the train station or from the airport (1,5h - 2,5 h respectively). Advanced trekkers may also hike to Lovozerje from Khibiny!
Nuclear Icebreaker On the Kola Peninsula, you may actually go on an old Soviet ice-breaker - in Murmansk. The old ship was built between 1953 and 1959 and in the 1990th turned into a museum. As part of an organized tour - beware, the tours are only in Russian - you may find out about expeditions of the ice-breaker, the life on board and see how the nuclear energy was produced and how the ice-breaker was operated. The weight is crucial for its function - the ship glides onto the ice and crushes it by virtue of its own weight.
In the summer of 2016, we were staying at the Hilton - arguably the best hotel in Murmansk. During the breakfast, we spotted a man in a suit, he was constantly talking on his phone. Sometimes he was talking louder and I caught some fragments of his conversation: "OK, I will buy an ice-breaker. ...I am in Murmansk now to buy an ice-breaker" While I was eating my breakfast, the guy had apparently made a billion $ deal. I was quite impressed. Then I tried to imagine what it might be like, to buy an ice-breaker. Do you receive an e-mail from the seller: "Your ice-breaker is already shipped, the trekking number is 123"? And then you get another email from the delivery service: "As you were not home, your ice-breaker was delivered to your neighbour."
Except for visiting and shopping ice-breakers, the sights of Murmansk are rather scarce. If you want to see the Barents Sea coast, better head further from the town - to Teriberka.
Teriberka As a matter of fact, the settlement of Teriberka, lying 130 km East on the broken road from Murmansk, is the only place on the coast of the Barents Sea on the Kola Peninsula, opened for non-Russian citizens. All the others are closed because of the Russian fleet. So Teriberka is really the only choice. But it is also an amazing place to go to. To have an impression of this out of this world place, watch the prize-winning movie "Leviathan" by Andrey Zvyagintsev. The scenes on the coast were shot here!
Leviathan by Andrey Zviagintsav. Nominated for the Academy Award 2015, won Best Screenplay at Cannes Film Festival 2014
Even though the movie definitely increased the number of visitors of the village, Teriberka really feels like the last frontier, behind which there is only cold, snow and the icy waters of the Arctic ocean. Here is the place, where you may make acquaintances with the most reckless vagabonds!
How to get there? There are day tours with 4x4's from Murmansk. Also, there is a daily bus connection between Murmansk and Teriberka.
Where to stay? If you prefer to stay longer, there are several hotels and a hostel you may find. Price varies between 3000 RUB - 1000 RUB per night. It is also possible to rent a room from the locals.
When to go? In July-August, the temperature may reach 20° C/ 68° F - that's also the most popular time. Another part of travellers heads to Teriberka in winter, to see the winter lights.
Website of the Russian Railways. Better book your tickets in advance! A travel guide we used on this trip: Lonely Planet Russia edition