Northern Hospitality

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The best locals tours in northern Russia

It is always a good idea to know what you’re getting into before venturing out to places like Murmansk or Yakutsk. But regular online or printed tour guides offer little help and your average travel agency will most likely churn out a generic, uninspiring tour for you, leaving your best bet to recruit a local, who can give you an illuminating adventure for the right price. Lenta.Ru searched the best tours offered by locals and listed the best deals they could find.

It’s tough in northern Russia. It’s tougher still to find an adequate guide. While even the smallest European cities generally have around a dozen varied and fun routes, Russian locals in remote areas able to point tourists in the direction of local landmarks are few and far between. It isn’t for want of trying, it’s just that the tourism industry there is grossly underdeveloped. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, let’s take a look at some of Russia’s hidden gems.

Krasnoyarsk

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As a rule, car tours are the best way to get acquainted with a city. Local guide Sergei - born and raised in Siberia, just like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather - promises to show tourists the best spots in town. His tours start at a symbol of the city in Paraskeva Pyatnitsa Chapel, from where you’ll drive to Krasnoyarsk’s main street Prospekt Mira, home to buildings dating back to the 19th century. The next destination is Svyatitel Nikolai, a steamboat-turned-museum which is followed by the Roev Ruchey zoo and Bobrovyy Log amusement park.

When you’re done with the city, you’ll drive on to Divnogorsk and the Krasnoyarsk Dam, a 6,000 MW hydro power plant. Other stops include the village of Ovsyanka, home of prominent Soviet and Russian writer Viktor Astafyev and the Stolby Natural Reserve, with a picturesque 9km long trail. The trip will set you back 4,440 roubles ($70) for a group of up to four people, taking around six hours to complete.

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If you’d rather spend more time at the Stolby reserve, you can hire Sergei for a tour dedicated solely to this woodland area. The name of the sanctuary is translated as “pillars” and stems from the region’s peculiarly shaped mountains.

“We will drive to the tour starting point. Then we will take a 7km walk through a walkway to the actual reserve,” Sergei writes.

He also suggests stocking up on seeds or nuts for crafty chipmunks who have learned to stalk visitors in the hope of snacks.

Although it may seem like a walk in the park (pun intended) - it is anything but. Sergei warns that the trekking trip takes about six hours and requires some endurance. But you can take a shortcut right to the fun part if you pay 2,500 roubles ($40) for a car pass and drive through to the sanctuary area.

The tour costs 3,600 roubles ($55) for a group of four or fewer and takes six hours.

Murmansk

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Just like in Kransoyarsk, there is only one tour guide: Vladimir, who has a degree in local history. His default option is a car ride through the city at 4,800 roubles ($75) for a group of four but we prefer the two other options he offers.

The first will help you discover the Sami people, indigenous to Russia's Kola Peninsula with the tour headed to a village located 170km from Murmansk and where northern traditions are their way of life.

The travelers will be served traditional dishes in the Petrophlyph café specializing in ethnic cuisine and will be able to take a look at native housing and tools, learn the history and traditions of the Sami people - even provide an offering to the old gods of love and luck.

You will become acquainted with the local fauna as well including arctic foxes and deer. If you fancy (and you should!), you’ll be able to book a ride on a sled, snowmobile or even a reindeer sleigh, play traditional Sami games and visit “Seven keys of Sami” - an ancient spring lake.

The tour will set you back 7,200 roubles ($115) for a group of four or fewer, taking around three hours to complete.

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You know, you don’t have to go to Norway to see fjords. There’s plenty of these in Murmansk Oblast.

“The word ‘fjord’ invokes a sense of mystery," Vladimir writes. Our northern bays are essentially the same as fjords abroad – long, narrow inlets with steep cliffs. Kola Bay is a typical example of a fjord.”

The bay is 57 km long, 7 km wide and up to 300 m deep.

A tour through the cove will take you from the starting point at Kola Bay Bridge to the Abram Mys village with an observation area from where you’ll be able to see Russia’s nuclear fleet in all its glory, stationed across the bay.

Other landmarks include a semi-abandoned village of Retinskoye and a Lavna River waterfall.

The tour costs a group of four or fewer 6,000 roubles ($95) and takes around four hours.

Teriberka

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Another route around the outskirts of Murmansk is recommended by the Tripster website administration.

Teriberka is an old rural locality first mentioned in texts in early 16th century, currently more or less a fishing village, and is the only Russian village located on the shores of the Arctic Ocean that is accessible by car. A few years ago Andrey Zvyagintsev used this location to film his movie Leviathan.

This summer Boris Akimov, founder of the farmer’s co-op LavkaLavka, plans on hosting a grand festival here, expected to renovate the village for years to come.

The trip will have you drive 120 km through hills, mountains and gorges is an adventure in itself. The first stop is the shore of the Arctic Ocean, with its giant round boulders and jagged rocks and after that straight to the destination village of Leviathan fame.

The guide for this tour is also Vladimir Onatskiy and is slightly more expensive at 10,800 roubles ($170) for a group of four. You should expect to spend a whole day here.

Yakutsk

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One of the trips offered in Yakutia - also known as Sakha Republic - will take you to a farm and an bee-keeping yard, where the staff explain the challenges they have to overcome to produce agricultural goods in such a harsh environment.

Visiting the production center of the Tyokhtyur village, tourists will see with the Yakutian horse and discover what it takes to be a farmer up north. Next stop is the bee yard at Oktyomtsy village, located in the Khangalassky District, where travelers get to know the production process and sample the local delicacy Yakutian honey.

The three hour trip costs 2,400 roubles ($40) per person.

Kirovsk

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“It is absolutely essential to trek through Khibiny Mountains to discover the region and truly feel the vastness of our homeland,” says Alena, a tour guide from Kirovsk.

It’s not specifically a tour, but a real hiking trip suitable for inexperienced outdoorsmen. You will travel to the Malyy Vudyavr lake valley and the “Geographer's Pass”. In summer you can ascend the 1,143m Tahtarvumchorr mountain during which you will encounter sky-blue ice pillars, brilliantly white snow and the so-called “circus”, a filming location of many Soviet and Russian movies.

After the hike the guide suggests you visit the free admission Kirovsk geological museum. It’s considered to be one of the best ones in Russia.

A group of up to five people will have to pay 6,840 roubles ($110) for the trip. It takes five hours.

Arkhangelsk

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The best way to start off exploring the region is to get acquainted with the city of Arkhangelsk. Sergei is a local tour guide with over decade of experience, and he will show you the best the town has to offer.

The walking tour with Sergei will take your through the city’s historic center, northern bridge and Russia’s northernmost skyscraper.

You will also witness the port where Russia’s first military ships embarked on their maiden voyage, take a stroll through a pedestrian street between 18th and 19th century mansions, visit the Admiralty building on the Solombala Island and see the Peter the Great monument in person. You’re probably already familiar with it as it’s depicted on the 500-ruble bill.

The tour costs 600 roubles ($10) per person, with a two person minimum and will take around two hours.

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If the stars allow, and you’re reckless enough to do it, you can take a dip in the White Sea

You can’t come to Arkhangelsk and ignore the White Sea – that’s not the way its done. The tour to the northern shore begins in the city, from where travelers will have to drive 40km to Severodvinsk. The island of Yagra Island located within the town limits has the only sandy beach in the vicinity.

It’s also the home of an enchanting pinewood and beautiful sand dunes. If the stars allow, and you’re reckless enough to do it, you can even take a dip in the White Sea.

You will then be offered a visit to the local war memorial, the location the landfall made by Richard Chancellor’s expedition, which lay the foundation for naval trade between the duchy of Moscow and England in the days of yore. Another landmark visited during this trip is the port reserved for Russian subs and military watercraft.

The tour costs 4,800 roubles ($75) for a group of four or fewer, and takes four hours.