Kirkenes is quite literally an Arctic frontier at road’s end, located as far northeast as possible in Norway, close to the Varangerfjord. It is both the endpoint for the northbound Hurtigruten ferry and the northern terminus of the E6, the main road that runs north-south between Kirkenes and Oslo. If you are ending or beginning a Hurtigruten cruise in Kirkenes, it is well worth spending a few hours or even a few days exploring. While on our own Hurtigruten cruise, we had nearly half a day to spend wandering around Kirkenes and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves wishing we had more time to spend.
Here, then, are a few Kirkenes travel tips to help you plan your next visit:
A unique multicultural experience
According to official stats from Kirkenes municipality, approximately 10 percent of the people living in Kirkenes are Russians, in large part due to the close proximity with the Russian border. Street signs and many storefront signs are written in both Russian and Norwegian. On the last Thursday of every month Kirkenes hosts a Russian market where traders come from Murmansk to sell their handicrafts and merchandise. Hurtigruten offers an excursion to the Russian border if you are on one of the company’s official cruises.
Kirkenes travel tips discover history everywhere
From the indigenous Sámi population to its geographic significance as an industrial mining town to its place in recent wartime history, this frontier town has many important tales to share.
Our several hour exploration in Kirkenes took us past the Andersgrotta, an underground museum that was unfortunately closed during our visit there. The Andersgrotta cave once served as an air-raid shelter and bunker during the onslaught of Russian bombers that sought to destroy the Nazi ore shipping facility there. It was because of iron ore and Kirkenes’ strategic position near the Russian port of Murmansk that the town was virtually destroyed during WWII. Kirkenes was subsequently rebuilt and iron ore production continued until 1996.
Another interesting museum we ducked into is the Grenselandmuseet (Borderland Musuem) which houses exhibits that feature the iron ore trade, WWII, and more about the Sami. For war and airplane buffs, there is a Russian Ilyushin fighter plane, one of only seven still in existence and the only one on display in a Western country. If you are seeking a quick bite to eat, there is also a café inside.
And we walked up to the Russian Monument – a memorial for the liberation of Sør-Varanger by the Red Army in the autumn of 1944. Interesting history, but not much to see other than the monument.
Natural wonders for nature buffs
The Borderland Museum sits alongside a very large nature and recreation area as well, with illuminated trails during the dark winter months. There is excellent opportunity for cross-country skiing, dogsledding and walking on the many trails. Click here to view a map of the Kirkenes Recreation Area.
Do be warned – or if you are like us, thrilled — that you will find many major predators living in the woods and natural areas around Kirkenes. Best known is the brown bear, with around 20 bears residing in the Pasvik Valley. There are also wolverines, lynx and, on rare occasions, wolves. And yes, you stand a very good chance of seeing both reindeer and elk. The Barents Sea is home to the renown and delicious King Crab – which is fished by the fleet in Kirkenes.
In winter and spring Kirkenes is the home of the famous Kirkenes Snow Hotel (we did not have the time to visit unfortunately). Activities in summer include boating, hiking, fishing, canoeing, climbing and diving.
Bonus Kirkenes travel tips
Take part in Hurtigruten excursions either pre and post cruise. Spend the night outside in the polar wilderness on an overnight snowmobile or husky tour. If that seems too extreme, the company can arrange for you to have an Arctic experience in the Snow Hotel or a traditional Sami hut called a gamme – and if you are extra lucky you will see Northern Lights as well. And if fishing is your thing, then a King Crab Safari will offer the chance to meet and eat this gigantic – and delicious – crab.
Want to see Kirkenes live?
Click in to view one of the numerous webcams the city has installed around the town and port. We promise lots of white in the winter months. Unless it’s simply dark or nearly, which it is a lot of the time then. On the other hand, take a peek during the summer and it’ll be sunny 24 hours!