Truly one of Europe’s most remote outposts, Kirkenes has the feel of a authentic frontier town. At the north-east tip of Norway and almost sitting on the 70° latitude line, Kirkenes is further north than any major city in the world. It’s also further east than Istanbul, being stuck on the end of the long arm of Norway that stretches all the way across the roof of Scandinavia until it meets the Russian border, only a few kilometres from Kirkenes.
Despite its isolation (or perhaps because of it) there are many reasons to visit Kirkenes and see what life is like at the end of the Norwegian mainland. If you come here you’ll see a side of Norway of which even most Norwegians know little about; but that’s hardly surprising given that Oslo is around the same distance from Kirkenes as it is from Florence in Italy.
The town of Kirkenes played a major role in World War 2, with the Germans establishing their northern navy base here and the Russians finally chasing out the Germans in October 1944, but not before the town had suffered over 300 aerial bombardments. The large Andersgrotta cave which served as an raid shelter during the war is now a museum and visitors can watch a video that relives the wartime years.
The Frontier Museum in the centre of Kirkenes tells in more detail the wartime history and also the origins of the diverse people of the region. You can wander around the town and hear Norwegian, Finnish, Sami and Russian spoken – a healthy mixture for a town of barely 3,000 people.
The Russian influence in Kirkenes has grown steadily in recent years as the number of migrants coming over the border. On the last Thursday of every month there is a Russian market in the centre of town, with traders from Murmansk coming over to sell anything from handicrafts to porcelain and crystal goods. One of the activities visitors can choose is to visit the nearby Russian border, where there is a two hour time difference in the summer and a three hour difference in the winter – the second largest time difference across any land border in the world. Getting into Russia is sadly difficult, with a visa required and no fast-track process available in Kirkenes or at the border.
While Kirkenes has a small airport providing quick links to Oslo and Tromso, it is also the end of the line for the famous Hurtigruten cruise boats. From here it is a couple of days sailing to Tromso, 3 days to the Lofoten Islands and 6 days all the way south to Bergen.
A visit to Pasvikdalen National Park to the south of Kirkenes offers the chance to see landscapes typical of the vast Siberian taiga. It’s a sub-Arctic wilderness rich in natural beauty where you can hike in the summer and take a dog-sledding tour in the winter.
In winter months it is the prospect of seeing the Northern Lights that draws warmly wrapped visitors to Kirkenes. With the sun below the horizon from November 21st to January 21st the dark skies offer some of the best opportunities to see the magic of the aurora. And with plenty of winter sports and visits to the SnowHotel on offer, there’s little chance of getting bored while waiting for nature to do its thing.
See our site for suggested itineraries of holidays around Kirkenes.