The Ultimate Guide to Hunting Russia’s Northern Lights in Murmansk

Written by 56th Parallel
©Photo by Alexey Tulupov

Where can one experience the northern lights in Russia? How are the Northern Lights formed? Where is Murmansk in the Kola Peninsula? What are the optimal conditions for finding the Northern Lights in Murmansk, Russia? What else to do in Murmansk during the day? How do I get to Murmansk (Kola Peninsula) from Moscow and St. Petersburg?

There are many wonders in nature, but few are as awe-inspiring as the Northern Lights in Murmansk. Otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis, this phenomenon has brought travellers from all over the world for an unforgettable experience. With the help of this guide, we can ensure that you get the most out of your experience hunting for the Northern Lights in Murmansk, the Kola Peninsula.

How are the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis formed?

So before we tell you how to get there, you might want to know how the Northern Lights are formed? Essentially, the Northern Lights are created when gaseous particles from the sun interact with the earth’s atmosphere and magnetic poles. This is why you are always more likely to find Northern Lights across the sky in areas close to earth’s poles. Russia geographically covers a vast amount of land over much of the north pole.

The colour of the Northern Lights depends on the particular atmospheric gas that combines with the rays emanating from the sun. If the reacting atmospheric gas is oxygen, the output colour is pale yellowish-green. If the reacting gas is nitrogen, the Northern Lights would be blue or purplish-red. More rarely, the bright red Northern Lights appears when the reacting gas is high altitude oxygen, usually around 200 miles above the earth’s surface.

The Aurora that appears close to the North Pole is called Aurora Borealis, while the one that appears in the South Pole is called Aurora Australis.

Though we talk about seasons for Northern Lights viewing, the best time is during the dark winter months. Surprisingly, they’re actually happening all the time. Unfortunately, you can’t see them during the day, or during the height of summer when twilight never really ends and it never gets dark enough in the north pole.

Northern lights Murmansk architecture
©Photo by Igor Matveev

Where is the Kola Peninsula and Murmansk?

The Kola Peninsula is a Russian Region in the North of the Arctic Circle. It is close to the border between Finland and Norway. Murmansk is a small port city in the northwestern area of this region and one of the best places to view the Northern Lights.

Kola peninsula map

What are the Optimal Conditions for Hunting Northern Lights in Murmansk?

Hunting for the Northern Lights in Murmansk entails elements of preparation and probabilities but there is also an element of luck. While you can never be 100% sure of sighting the Northern Lights during your stay in the Kola Peninsula there are certain times and areas that will infinitely increase your probability of seeing the lights.

Predicting the appearance of the Northern Lights has always been something of a dark art, but there are some general rules of thumb to follow. Being on the lookout between 8pm and 2am from mid-September to mid-April is critical, preferably from within the Arctic Circle (latitudes between 64 degrees to 70 degrees north should do it) to maximise your chances.

To prevent the hunt for Russia’s Northern Lights from becoming complete guesswork, we partner with the Polar Geophysical Institute (PGI) in the Kola Peninsula. The PGI uses satellite technology to check for the possibility of Northern Lights appearing. Upon getting a positive confirmation, they search for a place with clear skies and inform us accordingly.

Click here for some awesome tips to get the most of photographing your experience of the Northern Lights.

Northern lights in Murmansk

©Photo by Andrey Fetkulin

What else to do in Murmansk while Hunting for the Northern Lights?

Want to experience everything Murmansk has to offer while hunting the Northern Lights? Murmansk is known for its incredible biodiversity with its endless forests and tundra, crystal clear lakes and fast-flowing rivers. People will come to learn more about the authentic culture of the Saami people and various winter adventure sports on offer throughout the entire region.

Travel up to Kirovsk at the foot of the Khabini mountains and go on a snowmobiling adventure while travelling through rugged mountain regions and beautiful tundra. In the evening, if the conditions are right, you may even be led home by the lights of the Aurora Borealis.

There is also a structure made up entirely of snow and ice referred to as the ‘Snow Village’. Wandering its majestically lit tunnels, you can view artwork carved from the ice in intricate detail. Ice sculptors for the snow village come from across the Arctic region every year to create their work. If you are so inclined there is an ice chapel that performs weddings if you want to tie the knot with your special someone.

In addition to giving you a fair chance of glimpsing Russia’s Northern Lights, this area offers travellers the option of experiencing the rich culture of its indigenous Saami people. The Saami are local reindeer herders who are dependent on reindeer for most of their livelihood. You can even try your hand at reindeer herding and develop a deeper understanding of the Saami traditions and culture.

Alternatively, you can go Husky sledding, visiting a farm just outside of Murmansk in Loverenzo. You can feast upon a traditional meal prepared by the Saami people before going sledding along specially prepared routes through the snow. You will get a sense of all of the huskies personalities as companionable and fun-loving dogs who have endless stamina to pull you and your sled through the snow.

Husky sledding in Murmansk

 

How do you get to the Kola Peninsula – Murmansk?

 

From Moscow

Getting to Murmansk from Moscow can be achieved by a direct flight taking about two and a half hours while overland travel by train can be anywhere upwards of 35 hours. For those who are used to total luxury, the northern lights can be discovered on an epic train journey to the Arctic regions of Russia.

Before you set off on your adventure to the Northern Lights in Murmansk, make sure you allocate a few days to explore all Moscow has to offer. Travelling in winter is when this cold city turns itself into a snow-covered wonderland which gives the city its unique character.

At the top of every tourist must-see list for Moscow sits The Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and The Red Square all of which are steeped in Soviet history. Delving into the luxurious end of this destination, you can find the highest concentration of billionaires around the globe leading to an array of experiences you are unlikely to find anywhere else.

From St Petersburg

Your other main option for getting to Murmansk to see the Northern Lights is from St Petersburg. A direct flight to Murmansk will take a little under two hours. If you feel as though you would prefer to take an overland route a direct train would take around 22 hours.

If you want to experience everything on the way to your hunt for the Northern Lights, you can look at this immersive tour taking you all the way up to Murmansk via Karelia and its accompanying in a nature park to see resplendent waterfalls and marble quarries, while also stopping off Kizhi island via a hovercraft ride.

There have been few occasions where the Northern Lights have been seen as far down as St Petersburg but unfortunately, these instances are few and far between. However, if you have some extra time to spare in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘Northern Capital’ of Russia, you will be rewarded with the cultural experience of a lifetime.

This city is renowned for its collection of artwork from the State Russian Museum to the Hermitage museum. You could alternatively treat yourself to some theatre or ballet from the Mariinsky theatre or even strolling the UNESCO heritage listed historic centre of town.

Arrive at Murmansk

So head for the snow-white serenity of the Kola Peninsula, where the Saami have herded reindeer for generations, go husky sledding throughout the tundra and go snowmobiling through the Khibiny mountains. All of this can be done on your hunt for the Northern Lights in Murmansk.

Take a closer look at the 56th Parallel itineraries and departures:

These tours can be personalised in order for you to maximise your experience in Russia and give you the best possible chance of finding the Northern Lights.

If your hunt for Russia’s Northern Lights is successful, then kudos to you, you will come home with genuine bragging rights, amazing photography and be one of the few who witnessed this natural wonder. If you don’t happen to experience it during your visit, you would still enjoy a rich cultural experience, exploring the people and the environment of the Kola Peninsula.

For more information on related tours contact us here: [email protected] Ph: +61 2 93889816

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About 56th Parallel

56th Parallel is a travel company specialising in providing packaged tours and travel services in Russia.

Our goal is to redefine travel to Russia, focusing on creating the most rewarding experiences, which help travellers unfolds the soul of this exciting destination.

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