It’s Always Colder in Murmansk
Published: May 23, 2012 (Issue # 1709)
VLADIMIR FILONOV / SPT
Murmansk was originally a railroad settlement and the last city created under the Russian Empire.
MURMANSK — Whenever you feel the urge to complain about the injustice of the climate where you live, you can always comfort yourself with the fact that it’s probably colder in Murmansk, where snow can linger into May and reappear in September.
But the chilly temperatures and remote conditions come with their own rewards. Pristine wilderness, a long ski season and a prime location for viewing the northern lights are all points of pride for Murmansk residents.
Despite the cold, this Arctic seaport amazingly remains ice-free all year long due to the warming effects of the North Atlantic Current, making it an important trade port on the eastern part of the Kola Peninsula. Shipping and fishing are the largest industries in the city, which trades extensively with neighboring Norway and Finland.
Founded in 1916, Murmansk was officially the last city created under the Russian Empire. It was originally a railroad settlement on the Murman railway, built during World War I to stretch from Petrozavodsk to the potential naval base on the coast of the Barents Sea.
From the beginning, the city seemed destined to play a critical role in 20th-century Russian history. During World War II, Murmansk was a crucial trade link between Russia and the other Allied powers, and thus a battleground for German control of the Arctic.
Under Operation Silver Fox, German forces attempted to seize Murmansk by launching a two-pronged offensive, attacking from Norwegian and Finnish territories to the west of the city and cutting off railway lines further south.
Although more than 90 percent of the city was destroyed, the Soviet Army held its ground. On May 6, 1985, the 40th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe, Murmansk was designated a “Hero City” for the sacrifice made during World War II.
To this day, the city’s role in World War II remains an important part of Murmansk’s identity. “From the time we’re children, we’re raised around World War II monuments and grow up hearing stories. It’s as if it happened last month,” said Yulia Chernichuk, a local journalist with Murmansk Business News.
Like many of Russia’s midsized cities, Murmansk suffers from post-Soviet depopulation. Since the early 1990s, Murmansk’s population has declined steadily, decreasing from a city of almost half a million to one with just over 300,000 residents.
But Murmansk retains an important role in Russia’s economy. It is the fourth-largest Russian port by turnover and the biggest shipping point for the export of Russian coal.
Its location near some of the world’s greatest energy resource reserves also promises to give the city an increasingly prominent role to play in the near future.
Oil extraction in the Russian Arctic has proven technically difficult and has yet to be successfully achieved on a large scale. The first Arctic offshore drilling platform, the Prirazlomnaya platform, was tugged from Murmansk to its permanent location on the Pechora Sea in August 2011. The platform failed to meet its most recent production deadline — March 2012.
The bigger question, however, is what will become of the Shtokman oil field, located about 600 kilometers northeast of Murmansk. Experts estimate that it may contain as many as 200 billion barrels of oil, making it among the largest oil fields in the world.
More than one-fifth of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas is believed to lie above the Arctic Circle. A development consortium for Shtokman was founded in 2008, headed by Gazprom. The first gas from the field is expected to go to market in 2016, coinciding with the city’s 100-year anniversary.
What to do if you have two hours
While central Murmansk is compact, many of the more interesting sites lie on the outskirts of the city, making it worth your while to rent a car if you’re pressed for time. Drive down to the city harbor in time for an hour-long tour of the Lenin icebreaker (18 Portovy Proyezd; +7 911-345-6777). From an observation room, tour guides will show you the nuclear reactor that once powered the icebreaker, which made its maiden voyage in 1957 and was decommissioned from service in 1989. Tours are available Wednesday to Friday at noon and on Saturdays and Sundays at noon, 1 and 2 p.m. (100 rubles ($3) for Russian citizens, 150 rubles ($5) for foreign nationals). English tours can be arranged in advance.
From there, take a ride to see Alyosha, a 35-meter-high statue of a soldier that is Murmansk’s most recognizable landmark. Dedicated to those who defended the Soviet Arctic during World War II, Alyosha overlooks Kola Bay in the northeast of Murmansk from atop a hill that adds 173 meters to its height. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the spectacular panoramic view of the city. While you’re here, step inside the Savior on the Waters Church, which is located nearby and has an acclaimed collection of religious icons.
What to do if you have two days
A number of tourism companies organize multiday tours of the surrounding Murmansk region, giving adventurous travelers a chance to hike, kayak, fish, cross-country ski and snowmobile in one of the most ecologically diverse areas of Russia. Kola Travel (+7 815-367-1313; kolatravel.com) is one of the most experienced agencies and offers a diverse range of trips. If you’re feeling truly bold, Quark Expeditions (+ 1 802-735-1536; quarkexpeditions.com) offers 14-day voyages to the North Pole via Murmansk. All-inclusive packages start at $22,790.
The town of Kirovsk (kirovsk-hibinogorsk.ru), located about three hours south of Murmansk, is one of the best places to ski in the region. You can reach the town by flying into the nearby Apatity Airport or getting off at the Apatity Station, one of the stops on the train ride to Murmansk. From there, Kirovsk is a half hour, 500-ruble ($17) taxi ride away.
The South Slope of Mount Aikuaivenchorr (+8 815-313-4614) has the best-kept and most beginner-friendly slopes. Lift tickets are 90 rubles ($3) each or 1,100 rubles ($37) for a day pass). Mount Kukisvumchorr (+7 921-154-6464) is recommended for fans of extreme skiing. March is the ideal time to visit, when temperatures are chilly, but days are beginning to lengthen. Stay at Hotel Parkovaya (22 Parkovaya Ulitsa;
+7 911-306-6801), a small, family-friendly establishment that offers apartment-style housing starting at 600 rubles ($19) a person.
What to do with the family
The Murmansk Oceanarium (2 Prospekt Geroyev Severomortsev; +7 815-231-3542) is the only aquarium on the European continent with trained Arctic seals. Shows are Wednesday to Sunday at 11 a.m., 3 and 5 p.m.
Murmansk also has a well-known Puppet Theater (Teatr Kukol; 21a Ulitsa Sofi Perovskoi; +7 815-245-8178; murmanpuppet.ru) housed in the city’s library building. Seating is only available for 40, so be sure to buy tickets well in advance. All performances are in Russian.
Every year from Dec. 2 to Jan. 11, Murmansk is plunged into 24-hour darkness, giving new meaning to the term “nightlife.” Two of the best clubs in Murmansk are located in hotels. Ledokol, Russian for “icebreaker,” is located in the Radisson Park Inn Polyarniye Zori (17 Ulitsa Knipovicha; +7 815-228-9814; parkinn.ru/hotel-murmansk) and doubles as a popular concert venue. Marrakesh (43 Ulitsa Schmidta; +7 815-247-6464) is one of Murmansk’s most swanky nighttime hot spots, complete with a cigar room and a fine selection of wines.
In addition to dozens of clubs, Murmansk also boasts several theaters. The Murmansk Regional Dramatic Theater (49 Prospekt Lenina; +7 815-247-2519; modt.ru) is one of the best-known theaters in the region, with a repertoire that includes both Russian classics and contemporary works. Any notable visiting acts are almost certain to be staged in Murmansk’s Philharmonic (3 Ulitsa Sofyi Perovskoi; +7 815-245-08-67; murmansound.ru).
Where to eat
Due to a constant influx of spendthrift sailors and Scandinavian businessmen, the Murmansk restaurant scene is competitive and surprisingly cosmopolitan. Seafood is guaranteed to be a good bet, though more adventurous foodies may be tempted by the chance to try regional dishes made with reindeer meat.
Tsarskaya Okhota (Tsar’s Hunt) (86 Kolsky Prospekt; +7 815-225-5224) has an extensive menu that includes bear and reindeer meat. The interior is rustic and decorated with elk antlers, reindeer skins and stuffed bears. Dinner for two without alcohol costs about 1,000 rubles ($33). Reservations are recommended.
VLADIMIR FILONOV / SPT
Tourism companies organize local tours, giving travelers a chance to hike, kayak, fish, ski and snowmobile.
Despite it’s Spanish name, Las Galletas (4 Ulitsa Polyarniye Zori; +7 815-225-9545) serves a range of European- and Russian-style meals, ranging anywhere from 200 rubles to 1,000 rubles ($7 to $33) for an entree. Ceiling-to-floor windows and leather couches make it an inviting place to relax with friends and enjoy the city from a warm, air-conditioned interior. Don’t miss the smoked-duck salad with raspberry vinaigrette for 330 rubles ($10.60).
Continuing with the Spanish theme, Torro (80 Prospekt Lenina; +7 815-245-1700) is a haven for meat-lovers, boasting the best steak in all of Murmansk. Its close proximity to the Meridian Hotel makes it ideal for business lunches. A New York-style steak costs 1,060 rubles ($33).
Cafe Leto (61 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8152-45-96-06, cafeleto.ru) is a clean, modern cafe, great for a coffee break or a longer meal. A visit to the dessert counter is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth. Try the yogurt mousse with fresh berries for 170 rubles ($6).
Where to stay
The Meridian Congress Hotel (5/23 Ulitsa Vorovskogo; +7 815-228-8800; meridian-hotel.ru) is the most popular destination for Scandinavian businessmen and Russian presidents. Dmitry Medvedev stayed here during a 2010 visit, presumably in the VIP suite that costs 21,000 rubles ($675) a night. Business rooms start at 4,900 rubles ($158) a night and include the breakfast buffet. The central location of this hotel makes it ideal for anyone who wants to explore the city, while the on-site restaurant, nightclub and bowling alley ensure that you don’t have to venture outside if the weather is too cold.
For those traveling to Murmansk with a family, the Ogni Murmanska Hotel (1 Ulitsa Ogni Murmanska; +7 815-255-4009; ognimurmanska.ru) is undoubtedly the best choice. Perched on a hilly embankment on the southern edge of the city, the hotel doubles as a ski resort and also offers ice fishing and snowmobile racing. A family-style restaurant and small indoor water park are also located on the premises. King Harold V of Norway was a recent guest. Rooms start at 3,500 rubles ($120) a night.
As a result of the sizable Scandinavian expat population and close proximity to the Finnish and Norwegian borders, Murmansk residents have a better-than-average knowledge of English than most Russians. Foreigners are a common sight and don’t attract the sort of attention that they might in other cities of the same size. Residents are happy for the language practice and most high-quality restaurants have menus in several languages.
Despite its location almost 200 kilometers above the Arctic Circle, Murmansk is not an uninhabitable winter wasteland. In the summer, temperatures hover around 15 degrees Celsius. In the winter, they rarely dip below minus 15 degrees Celsius. Jokes about igloos and reindeer herding aren’t appreciated. Most people live in apartment buildings and hold desk jobs.
How to get there
Nordavia, a subsidiary of Aeroflot, offers direct flights to Murmansk Airport (airport-murmansk.ru) from St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport, as does the airline company Rossiya. The flight lasts two hours and costs about 10,000 rubles ($330) round-trip.
Trains run from St. Petersburg’s Ladozhsky Railway Station to Murmansk twice daily at 9.10 a.m. and 5.20 p.m., and the travel time is about 27 hours. Prices start at 1,770 rubles ($57) for a one-way ticket.
In the city itself, public transit is a straightforward system of trams and buses.
Main industries: Shipping, fishing
City manager: Andrei Sysoyev
Founded in 1916
Interesting fact: Murmansk is home to the tallest building in the Arctic, the 16-story Arktika hotel.
• Mikhail Sokolov, deputy city manager and chairman of the committee on economic development for the city of Murmansk (+7 815-245-0269; email@example.com);
• Alexei Veller, head of the municipality
• City Manager Andrei Sysoyev
Sister Cities: Curitiba, Brazil; Groningen, Netherlands; Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
VLADIMIR FILONOV / SPT
Alyosha, a 35-meter-high statue.
• Murmansk Shipping Company
(15 Ulitsa Kominterna,
Foreign Trade and Financial Service Division,
the largest shipping company working in the Russian Arctic,
is responsible for 80 percent of cargo transported on the Northern Sea Route and 40 percent of the cargo transported by all Russian vessels. (Moscow Office; 13 Vasilyevskaya Ulitsa, Bldg. 2; +7 495-778-0080.)
• Murmansk Commercial Seaport (19 Portovy Proyezd;
+7 815-248-0644; portmurmansk.ru) is also the biggest company in Murmansk and the biggest transit point for coal in Russia, with more than 12 million tons going through every year.
• Siberian Coal Energy Company (Moscow office; 29 Serebryanicheskaya Naberezhnaya;
+7 495-363-6405, suekag.com) is the biggest supplier of Russian coal to the foreign market, more than 50 percent of which is exported through Murmansk. SUEK bought a 24.9-percent stake in the Murmansk port in February 2012.
Q: What sets Murmansk apart from other cities in the northern, European part of Russia?
A: Its geographical location. Murmansk is located on the rocky eastern shores of the Kola Bay on the Barents Sea. It’s the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. Actually, Murmansk residents have a joke: “Walking around on our streets, you can find reindeer, polar bears and sometimes the occasional penguin that’s flown in.” In reality, this is all hyperbole. But the problems of industrial development in our city are all tied to the challenges of Murmansk’s location, climate and environment. These include risks tied to additional operating costs.
Q: What makes Murmansk a good city to do business in?
A: Our city is currently the center for Arctic development in Russia, especially for the fishery and shipping industries. Right now, both the city and the region of Murmansk are working toward becoming a launch pad for major investment projects of national significance. In the near future, Murmansk is expected to become the transportation hub and logistical center for northern Russia. Within the framework of a project called “Integrated Development of the Murmansk Transportation Hub,” we are considering the creation of five large terminal shipping facilities on the shores of the Kola Bay.
Q: What places in Murmansk would you recommend that tourists visit?
A: I would recommend visiting the seafront Russian Orthodox Church Savior on the Waters and the nuclear icebreaker Lenin, which has been turned into a museum. Other than that, our city has the northernmost aquarium in the world, the Oceanarium. It’s the only aquarium on the European continent where trained Arctic seals perform. Of equal interest for tourists is the Kolsky Bridge. As a four-lane, 2.5-kilometer bridge crossing the Kola Bay, it is one of the longest automobile bridges north of the Arctic Circle.
Founder of Lissant-Nord,
an air ventilation company
Q: What are the benefits of doing business in Murmansk?
A: It’s a small city, so you can start a business without borrowing huge sums of money. Business expenses are smaller. Rent is cheaper. Salaries are smaller. I was able to start my business with a 200,000-ruble ($6,800) loan from the bank. It’s not like Moscow, where even small businesses need million ruble loans to start. Capital from Moscow hasn’t made it here yet, so there are many opportunities for smaller companies.
Q: What are the challenges of doing business in Murmansk?
A: The main one is the absence of experience. Compared to European countries, which have centuries of tradition, Russian law has only two decades of practice with business. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s starting to become better. For small companies, there’s a lack of international integration, which makes it difficult to import foreign equipment. Murmansk is also far away from other cities, making transportation expensive.
Q: What is it like to live in Murmansk?
A: It’s a difficult climate. I love the city, but you need to take a break once in a while and get the kids out of it. Unfortunately, everything’s pretty far away, and traveling is expensive. The Arctic nights in the winter are especially hard to deal with.