Northern Lights In Russia

Published by hussam barazi on

Only eight countries reach north above the Arctic Circle, but without a doubt, Russia reigns supreme. While this means freezing winters with uninterrupted nights that linger for weeks, it’s also the setting for one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring spectacles – the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.

Here are 6 of the top unique destinations to view the northern lights in Russia:

1) Murmansk, Kola Peninsula

Murmansk, in the extreme north-west near Finland, enjoys over 40 days of uninterrupted night, making it one of the world’s premier destinations for the Aurora Borealis, and with over 300,000 residents you can enjoy all the cosmopolitan comforts of civilisation amidst the serenity of the Arctic.

You can get to Murmansk by train (30h) or flight (2h) from Moscow or St Petersburg, what makes this region is easiest to get in order to experience the Northern Lights from late August to May, with the condition that the night temperature is below -10 ° C, so plan your trip for mid-September to mid-April.

The Northern Lights is a poorly predicted phenomenon and depends on the magnetic activity of the Sun. In other words, you have to wait and literally “hunt” it, which means it’s worth a week or more to go. You can diversify your vacation in the Kola Peninsula by skiing in the Khibiny Mountains or dog sledding in Kirovsk.

2. Arkhangelsk

There is a general rule for observing the Northern Lights in Arkhangelsk region – the heart of Russian North – the further from the large populated areas, the brighter the “dance of the sky” is. Severodvinsk city is where you’d like to go for the Aurora Borealis hunting from mid-September to mid-April. The radiance of the lights here is distinguished by a green shade and specific flicker. Aurora borealis lasts here from 10 minutes to several days. Well, while waiting for the sky to blossom, you may visit the open-air museum of wooden architecture “Malye Korely”.

The flight from Moscow to Arkhangelsk will take two hours, a journey by train – about 22 h.

3) Naryan-Mar

This forgotten northern outpost lost prominence when easier routes across Siberia opened through the Ural mountains, leaving it a preserved vestige of Nenets culture. Enjoy learning myths, legends, and indigenous lore (like not whistling during the northern lights) in a truly unique journey through Russia’s heartland.

The Aurora Borealis in the polar Naryan-Mar is very beautiful, it consists of several colours and is accompanied by a flicker, that turns the night sky into a fairy tale. The best time for observation is the season from November to March. This natural phenomenon is observed usually with a sharp change of weather.

The flight to Naryan-Mar from Moscow takes slightly less than three hours.

Northern lights green Russia
©Photo by Andrey Snegirev

4) Novaya Zemlya

Only reachable by special permit, this northern archipelago is one of the most extreme locations to view the northern lights. Watch the glow of lights bathe herds of reindeer in subtle greens as they stroll on islands stranded in a frozen sea during the polar night. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Novaya Zemlya northern lights

5) Taimyr Peninsula

Taimyr is called “the edge of the cold”, because the duration of winter here is from 235 days in the south, up to 285 days in the north of the peninsula. The climate is extremely stiff: in winter it’s from -40 ° C and to -60 ° C. Taimyr is also known as the land of rare amazing northern lights.

You can get to the peninsula by plane from Moscow to Norilsk (4h), and then to Dixon, Igarka or Khatanga villages by car. These villages are actually renowned for its bright white light show seen only during summer. But don’t get too excited – the year-round high never gets above +5C (43 F), so don’t forget to pack your coat.

Taimyr northern lights
©Photo by Andrey Fetkulin

6) Salekhard (Yamal)

The only “city” in the world located north of Arctic Circle, Salekhard thrives on the northern lights. Known for a specific tint of green local Nenets people call “Nger Harp – the light of the dead,” Salekhard is a city with its own unique connection to the winter light show. 

The Nenets are the native people of the Yamal, and one of the largest native communities in Russia also called ‘Samoyeds’ – a nomadic people who used to live by herding reindeer and are close to the Scandinavia’s Sami (or ‘Lapps’).

If you spend a week out in the tundra or taiga at a nomad camp of Nenets, then you are likely to see the Northern Lights. In general, they can be viewed from August until April, but are most common from November to March and best of all in January and February, when nights are long and dark and colder temperatures bring about multi-coloured Northern Lights, rather than the green ones that appear when it’s “warmer”.

To get to Salekhard you can by train from Moscow (45h) or by direct flight (2h).

Yamal northern lights
©Photo by Sergey Anisimov

In Russia, the Northern Lights can be seen even in the more southern areas – in, for example, Karelia, Valdai, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

Categories: Early Bird

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