A Guide to Hunting Russia’s Northern Lights in Murmansk

Written by 56th Parallel

Where can one experience the northern lights in Russia? 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 or 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.

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 is the best time for 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. The best season to visit Murmansk in order to enjoy winter activities during the day and Northern Lights hunt during the night is January-March.

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.

Here you will find some awesome tips to get the most of photographing your experience of the Northern Lights.

What 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.

1. Explore the city

©Varvara Lednyova

Murmansk is the northernmost city in Russia, with a population of around 300,000 people, by far the largest city above the Arctic Circle. An important Russian naval base, Murmansk served as a port for the Arctic convoys during WWII. Spend a day to explore the city’s main attractions, such as:

  • Lenin Nuclear Icebreaker. It is not only a historical ship – the first nuclear powered civilian vessel – but it also serves as a museum. It is one sight in Murmansk you will not see anywhere else in the world.
  • Alyosha Monument. Also considered the “Monument of the Defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War” which commemorates those who defended the port of Murmansk during the war.
  • Northern Fleet Naval Museum. Its exhibits include models of ships, artifacts, and exhibits of Russia’s first Navy and WWII convoys, and a photo collection of Franz Josef Land.
  • Regional Museum of Local Lore. The oldest museum in the area, this museum includes everything from minerals and geology to the wildlife, local lore, history, and economy of Murmansk.

2. Get some adrenaline on a snowmobiling excursion

Travel up to Kirovsk at the foot of the Khibiny Mountains and go on a snowmobiling adventure while traveling 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.

3. Enjoy amazing skiing and snowboarding

What to do in Murmansk Northern Lights Russia
©Big Wood Ski Resort

Skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing and other winter activities are popular in Murmansk and Kirovsk. One of the most famous is Big Wood. Nine T-bar lifts, chair lifts and gondola lifts take you on top of the mountain with slopes on both sides. One lift reaches the height of 1047 m, where you can ski down a 2300m slope.

If you aren’t fully equipped for snow sports when you reach Murmansk, you can rent ski and snow equipment from the resort.

4. Be mesmerized by the ice sculptures at the Snow Village

The Snow Village has been painstakingly constructed almost entirely out of ice and snow and features ornately decorated buildings, sculptures and labyrinthine tunnels with intricately patterned rooms, walls and corridors. This enchanting place is the work of true artists and a chance to open your imagination to the magical spirit of winter.

Note: Snow Village operates only from 25th of December until 25th of April.

5. Feed a reindeer at the Saami people tourist center

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.

6. Go husky dog-sledding

©Janex Space

Alternatively, you can go husky sledding, visiting a farm just outside of Murmansk. You can feast upon a traditional meal 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.

7. Explore the shores of Barents Sea on a day excursion to the famous Teriberka village

Northern Lights Murmansk tour Russia Kola Peninsula Teriberka

Located on the shore of Barents Sea, 120km, three hours’ drive down an icy road from Murmansk, this small village has just 617 residents and a wide selection of picturesque abandoned houses that could serve as art objects or as a set for horror films. In 2015, thanks to the Oscar-nominated drama movie “Leviathan” from producer Alexei Zvyagintsev, Teriberka village became more known in Russia and also abroad.

During the tour of the village, you will stop at several locations, such as a wooden ships “cemetery”, which is older than 100 years and started from Imperial times. Then, we head to the Arctic Ocean coast for the weird and wonderful photos of frozen rocks and tundra against the mighty Barents Sea, and a magnificent waterfall that flows into the Arctic Ocean.

8. See the Northern lights from a glass igloo

Enjoy starry nights under the Northern Lights at the glass-igloo. Located on the way to Teriberka village, right on the Arctic Circle, each of its glass-domed rooms offers cosy beds, cosseting fur throws, en-suite bathroom and even a small kitchenette. But it’s the view that steals the show, with snowy forests and the lakes frozen waters looked down upon by starry skies and, if conditions are right, the green swirls of the Northern Lights.

How to get to Murmansk?

Getting to 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.

Getting to Murmansk 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.

Where to Stay in Murmansk

There are plenty of hotels in Murmansk, our recommendation are the following:

Azimut hotel 4*
Park Inn by Radisson Polyarnye Zory 4*
Boutique hotel Renaissance 3*
Congress Hotel Meridian 3*
Eco home

Weather in Murmansk

Murmansk has relatively mild weather for how far north it is. In the winter weather is usually around -10 degrees Celsius. Polar nights (24-hour darkness) occur from December 2 – January 11. Polar nights are a natural phenomenon that occurs at latitudes to the north of the polar circle. In northwestern Russia, the circle passes through the southern part of the Kola Peninsula and part of Karelia. At Murmansk’s latitude, polar nights last about 40 days, while the phenomenon lasts half a year at the North Pole.

Even though the sun remains below the horizon, the Russian Arctic is not blacked out completely. On clear days, you can see beautiful sunset colours in the south while the sky to the north is a deep midnight blue.

MonthAverage temps (°C)
September+7 °C
October+1 °C
November-5 °C
December-9 °C
January-10 °C
February-10 °C
March-6 °C
April-2 °C

Enjoy your tour in 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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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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