Until about three months ago, I’d never even heard of a place called Murmansk and had no desire to go there. Now, I can safely say that it was one of my favourite travel adventures so far! Murmansk is the largest city in the arctic circle and it’s located in the north-west of Russia. It is also the starting point for most tours that go to Teriberka and the surrounding area.
Before I go into detail, here’s a list of some of the things I was able to cross off from my travel bucket list:
- Touch the arctic ocean
- Experience -40°C
- Drive a snowmobile
- See the northern lights (twice!)
Colder travel destinations are often not the first thing that come to mind when you think of an amazing trip. However, I certainly think they should be. There are landscapes and general natural phenomena that you can’t experience in the warm that will blow your mind in these colder areas. To survive the cold in places like the arctic circle, it’s all about preparation.
The first thing you need to remember are winter accessories including warm gloves – perhaps even two pairs so that you can layer up, a warm hat and/or bandana, thermal socks, scarves and a balaclava. Two pairs of gloves is the best way to do it. Ideally, the first layer will be cotton gloves that, in the best case – are tactile so you don’t even have to take off your gloves for pictures etc. and then the second layer should be waterproof and thick. This way you’re prepared for everything from a short wander to a longer sleigh ride. When it comes to a hat or a bandana it depends on your personal preference but the main goal is of course to keep your ears warm. I prefer a bandana as I find hats move around a lot and with long hair, a bandana stays where it’s supposed to and I can wear my hair up or down depending on what’s best for that day. A little bonus thing to think about is that your hat will be something that you’re not going to change often, so try and pick one that you like and ideally looks good on photos (if you plan on taking many, that is). Thermal socks are an absolute must! You can wear thin socks underneath them as well. The last thing you want are cold and wet feet. If you have ski socks, then they’re perfect! I’d also recommend taking extra socks to change into in the evening in case your other pairs get too wet during the day. A balaclava and a scarf are the main things that protect your face from the cold, so get some that fit you properly and preferably won’t be sliding off your nose or neck too much.
Those are your main options when it comes to the accessories. Now to some of the main things you need to remember when it comes to your outfit choice. Of course, a good winter jacket is the most important thing you’ll need. It has to be waterproof and you should also be able to wear at least one jumper underneath it. A few layers further down, you’ll need to wear thermals. This should ideally be a tight, long-sleeved top, good underwear and decent thermal leggings. Other than the usual layers, you should also consider bringing a pair of ski trousers to wear over your normal trousers. This makes the last layer on your legs waterproof and even warmer than just wearing a few layers. Basically, try layering up as best you can and remember that it’s always better to be wearing too much than not enough when you’re literally in the arctic.
As with most places in Russia, it can be quite difficult to get food that agrees with certain diet types. Most to all of the traditional meals contain meat and/or fish. As a vegetarian, sometimes there will be a salad or perhaps a soup on offer but the choice is usually pretty slim. Trying to stick to a vegan diet is practically impossible here but of course, you can do your best to try. It may be easier to try and cook for yourself rather than eat out or maybe eat before going out, so that a small salad is enough. That could make sticking to your diet or general eating habits a bit easier. Especially in Murmansk and Teriberka, people don’t tend to speak any English so if you’d like to ask for alternatives or if you’d like to check what the meals contain, it is best to do so in Russian if possible. I’d recommend downloading the Yandex translator app beforehand as this can often translate things offline (like Google translate but slightly better for Russian). A very traditional Russian dish that you should try if you like fish, is the fish soup known as Ukha. It’s a clear vegetable broth with white fish and tastes a bit salty. Usually it’s served as an appetizer. As a main dish I’d recommend trying any cod or generally fish dishes or the deer meals. The main reason I’d suggest trying these is not only because they are traditional but they’re also usually the freshest things on the menu as both the fish and deer are locally fished or hunted.
There are a few activities that are quite specific to the arctic regions. This includes but is not limited to snowmobile riding and dog and/or deer sledding. On our trip to the north we did what’s called a snowmobile tour where we all drove a snowmobile and visited a frozen lake along the way. This was a great experience! It was really cool that we each got to drive the snowmobiles ourselves, a few people were a little disappointed that we followed a trail and didn’t go exceptionally fast but that made the whole trip a little easier to follow and quite safe. Next to the snowmobile safari, on another day, we did the equivalent of an arctic banana boat. So there’s a banana boat inflatable attached to the back of a snowmobile and you hold on tight as the driver drives the snowmobile around a short circuit.
The deer and/or dog sledding is a bit of a trickier one on a couple of levels. Sometimes it’s included in the tours but not always. However, even if it is, maybe see how the animals are treated on sight and then decide. Where we went, we pet some huskies but I’m really glad they weren’t attached to sleds because they honestly didn’t seem quite so chipper. The deer however were in a huge forest enclosure and seemed to be well taken care of.
The northern lights
Seeing the northern lights is a fantastic experience and one that you surely won’t forget any time soon. It’s a very special phenomenon to witness but it’s a bit of a tricky thing to plan. You can google the chances of a northern lights occurrence before you go and while you’re there but there is never any guarantee. Generally, the chances of seeing the lights in the city itself is pretty slim as there’s a lot of artificial light and fog there which means that if you’d like to see the lights, your chances are always better if you drive to the areas outside of the city. You’d also be surprised at how well the pictures of the northern lights can turn out – especially on an iPhone. If you get to see them, make sure you treasure it and stay out a while because often they come and go and move around quite a lot within a short amount of time. Don’t let your trip be ruined if you don’t see them though because there are loads of other great things to see in the area.
Nature in the north
The northern lights are of course the highlight of natural things in the arctic but they’re not the only thing that’s sure to take your breath away. A mentioned bucket list travel item you can do this far in the north is to touch the arctic ocean. We took a tour to Teriberka to do so and it was fantastic. There’s also a great beach area you can visit with a swing and even a ship wreck. The general scenery all around the area and on the drives to and from the different places you’re visiting is stunning. The view tends to be a beautiful sunset and amazing arctic tundra covered with a white blanket. The horizon seems to change colour every half hour and you feel like you’re looking at a post card landscape almost too surreal to be true. We even got to see a frozen waterfall. Which was even more amazing when you walked a bit upstream because the outer layer was completely frozen over and thick enough to stand on but you could see the water clearly running underneath. Honestly, I don’t think anyone can believe how breathtaking this landscape is until they’ve actually witness it themselves.
Visiting the arctic isn’t always a first thought when it comes to holiday planning, but I certainly think it should be. I agree that it may not be something you’ll want to do loads of times but until you’ve done it at least once, it has to go on the travel bucket list if you ask me. Unless you’re comfortable driving a lot in the snow and icy climate, I’d recommend doing the activities via a tour company. They sort all the transportation in most cases and having a local tour guide is a fantastic bonus. We did our three day tour with a company called Northern Legends and our amazing tour guide Roman which I have both linked to their Instagram accounts here. You should definitely check them out if you plan on visiting the Murmansk area, we had an amazing time with them and the value for money was fantastic!
If you’re interested in more travel tips, more information on Russia, different destinations or packing tips, then check out some of my other Meg’s Places articles and stay tuned for more! In case your questions aren’t answered here, or you have any comments or personal experiences you’d like to share, don’t be afraid to get in touch, comment and let me know.
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