Did you know that Russia is one of the eight countries in the world, where you can view the northern lights? If you have always dreamt of admiring this mesmerizing spectacle, here are the top 5 destinations in Russia to do this. A trip to Russia in winter is a challenging but unforgettable experience which will bring lots of insights into the local lifestyle and will allow seeing Russia from a different perspective.
The region of Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula is located in the far north-west of Russia, near Finland. With a population of 300,000, this is the world’s biggest city beyond the Arctic Circle, which makes it an outstanding location, where you can enjoy nature, yet have all the city amenities near you.
Although it is possible to see the Northern Lights from Murmansk, for better chances, you may consider a small village called Teriberka Just 120 kilometres away from the city. A conspicuous fact about winter in Murmansk is that it is mild, while the average temperature goes 10-15 Celsius below zero.
The Aurora show, however, is not only limited to the winter period, meaning you can plan your trip for mid-September to mid-April.
Since the Northern Lights is unlikely to be predicted, as it depends on the magnetic activity of the Sun, make sure to have enough time to try your luck and stay in the area for several days. While waiting for Aurora, you can experience other entertainment activities, such as skiing or dog sledging in the Murmansk area.
Arkhangelsk is another large city in the Arctic Circle. It is nowadays a modern city with an important historical centre and unique wooden architecture. The flight from Moscow to Arkhangelsk takes about two hours, a journey by train – about 22 hours, with an outstanding view on Russian winter.
When looking for the brighter sky, it is worth going further from the populated area, for example, consider Severodvinsk. The lights there differ by special green shade and flicker. The Aurora Borealis can last as short as 10 minutes or can go on for several days, there is no way of predicting its duration in advance.
While waiting for the sky to start the spectacle, you can visit the open-air museum of wooden architecture “Malye Korely”.
Kirovsk is located near the Khibiny Mountains on the Kola Peninsula, where many tourists go for a skiing trip. The recommended resorts to check out are Kukisvumchorr, Bolshoi Vudyavr and Kolasportland.
Beware that the climate there is more severe. The higher you go, however, the clearer and brighter the sky becomes, leaving you with more chances to see the Aurora. Your hike up will be rewarded with thousands of seemingly dancing lights in the sky.
Another outstanding location for a great Aurora experience is the polar Naryan-Mar. It is the capital of the Nenets Autonomous District famous for reindeer farms, fishing and oil. While watching the Northern Lights there, one can immerse into local myths, legends, and indigenous lore, as well as experience a journey through Russia’s heartland.
The best period to observe the Lights is from November to March. The colours of the phenomena in this region are exceptional, and the flicker adds to the magic. The flight to Naryan-Mar from Moscow will take about three hours.
This destination is recommended only to the most persistent and experienced travellers, as the region is famous for the coldest weather in the world. Temperatures there can drop down to minus 60 degrees Celsius!
It is quite probable to see the Northern Lights near the regional capital — the city of Yakutsk. The sky here looks like a lavender-green star-encrusted veil. The flights from Moscow to Yakutsk take 6.5 hours.
General tips to prepare for a Northern Lights trip:
- Arrange a transport: If you want to go further from a city and see the Aurora from a local settlement, you will need to book a tour in advance to transport you into the wilder parts.
- Get ready to take pictures: If you aspire to capture this natural magic, you will need a tripod and a camera with manual mode settings. For better results, make sure you learn about ISO and shutter speed.
- Get Warm: The weather in winter in Russia corresponds to all the stereotypes, so once in the Arctic Circles you should prepare many layers of clothing. As hunting for northern lights takes some time, make sure you wear wool socks, gloves, scarf or even thermal clothing.
Best conditions: make sure to escape the city lights and look for dark skies. Before going on a hunt, check the weather forecast for a cloudless sky. Also check the information on the solar flares, as solar activity forecasts