Across the Kola Peninsula to St. Petersburg
Duration: 12 days / 11 nights
Driving distance: 2300 km
Types of driving: Highway, snow and ice off-road
Type of tour: Self driving tour (Fly&Drive)
Vehicles: UAZ PATRIOT
Minimum driver age: 21
Group size: from 6 to 16 person
Accommodation: Best hotels on the route
Meals: 3 times a day
Best time: February - March
Day 1. Murmansk - Teriberka (Arrival). Distance: 130 km
Our team meet you at airport arrivals, with the SUVs ready to take you on a journey through the Real North! We conduct a short introduction and briefing, and then explore some of Murmansk. Just a bit over 100 years old, Murmansk is located on the rocky coast of the Barents Sea, and is both the most populated city in the Arctic and one of the largest ports in the world within the Arctic Circle, as the sea never freezes due to the Gulf Stream running nearby. .
A city with a rich history and memory of the Second World War. We’ll visit the impressive 7-meter tall Alyosha monument, a stone soldier facing west, toward the Valley of Glory, where the fiercest fighting of the Arctic Campaign occurred when the German invaders were turned back from the approaches to Murmansk in 1941. The hill where the monument stands also offers spectacular views of the harbour.
We have also have planned a tour of ‘Lenin’, the first nuclear-powered icebreaker in the world, that is currently a cultural heritage entity. The icebreaker was built at the Admiralty Shipyard in Leningrad in 1956-1959, over 500 Soviet factories and scientific labs took part in the creation of this engineering marvel. Commissioned on December 3, 1959, it provided navigation on the Northern Sea Route over the next 30 years. It also served as a “nuclear university”, where the personnel for the nuclear-powered fleet gained experience during the year-round Arctic navigation. Lenin has traveled 654,400 nautical miles (more than three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon!) helping thousands of ships on their way through the ice of the Arctic.
Once we have seen the Arctic capital, we set off on a 2-hours journey across the tundra to reach a former fishermen’s village of Teriberka.
Should the North be willing, we get to see the first Northern lights in the evening.
Accommodation: hotel in Teriberka on the coast of the Arctic Ocean! (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 2. Teriberka
We find ourselves on the literal edge of the earth, the village of Teriberka, located on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. We have covered over 100 km of the snowy desert of the tundra to suddenly arrive at a sandy beach washed by peaceful waves (remember, the Barents Sea doesn’t freeze?), a somewhat surreal experience. Once a fisherman’s village, Teriberka looks somewhat abandoned now. Still, life here does not fade away thanks to the tourists who come here in winter to contemplate the North radiance, while different festivals are held here in summer. It has also become an internationally recognized center for kitesurfing with camps, festivals and trainings.
We will pay a visit to the Dinosaur Eggs beach – famous for its huge and perfectly round boulders, very similar to eggs from dinosaur nests in their size and in appearance. Another impressive place is the cemetery of abandoned ships, where a bunch of wooden skeletons stick out of the water like ghosts, reminding us of their glorious past
Discard all the perishing traces of civilization, the harsh northern nature remains. Smooth hills passing into the steep rocky coast of the Arctic Ocean stretching beyond the horizon. The piercing silence broken by the rare cries of gulls and gusts of wind. The cold reigns here.
Not to worry, we can get cozy again when we get back to our warm hotel! And maybe see the Aurora once again.
Accommodation: hotel in Teriberka (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 3. Teriberka – Sami Village – Kirovsk. Distance: 360 km
We start driving towards towards Murmansk along the Kola highway in the morning. After a while we turn right to visit a settlement of the local indigenous Sami people, the real northerners since Stone Age! We get to see the traditional tent houses, take photos in ethnic clothes and even pay tribute to the pagan idols! Locals guide us around their territory, share stories about their culture and history and introduce us to the wonderful animals of the North: reindeer, elk and polar foxes. Feeding reindeer from your own hands is an incredible experience!
Naturally, reindeer sledding is on the list as well.
Lunch with traditional courses on the menu. Then we continue on our way.
Let’s hope we get to see the birth of the Northern Lights outside the city lights and enjoy the magnificent dancing colours once again after dark.
We’ll be spending the night at a hotel in the town of Kirovsk at the foothills of the Khibiny mountains. Relax in a fluffy bed after a day full of impressions.
Accommodation: hotel in Kirovsk (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 4. Kirovsk
We won’t be rushing anywhere today, but the day will be full of activities. We explore the very center of the Khibiny range with our SUVs. The difficult terrain will allow us to test the cars on some nice off-roading patches.
Located at the foot of Mount Kukisvumchorr and Yuksporr, the city is both the northernmost mountain ski area in Europe and one of the nerve centers of PhosAgro, the mining giant that extracts phosphates in the neighbouring regions.
It’s exactly the place to enjoy the most exciting snowmobile rides, and we shall absolutely take advantage of that!
Options to pick for the day: snowmobiling, alpine skiing, snowboarding.
We will also visit the Snow Village – a huge labyrinth made under the snow with beautiful wall carvings and ice sculptures made by artists from all over the Arctic region. Illuminated with coloured lights, its halls and caves carry us into a fantastic world of winter fairytales, where Father Frost (the Russian Santa Claus) and Snow Girl welcome their guests. We head back to Apatity in the evening.
Accommodation: hotel in Kirovsk (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 5. Kirovsk – Kalevala. Distance: 570 km
Today, we leave the Kola Peninsula and reach North Karelia. Gradually abandoning the Arctic deserted terrain, we are starting a fascinating journey through the land of a thousand lakes. A rare tourist rides here, especially in winter, when everything around is covered with snow. We need to cover a significant distance on a real road adventure.
Our brave convoy will pass Apatity, the name of the city stems from the phosphate ores mined in this area. During World War II, the village of Apatity was responsible for food production for the region, since the Kola Peninsula itself was cut off from the country. Just imagine the agricultural work carried out in these conditions, involving the entire able-bodied population. The Lapland Biosphere Reserve - the largest natural park in the European part of Russia with a huge number of reindeer living in the wild – is located 30 km from Apatity. Moose, brown bears, wolverines, martens and wolves can also be found here.
After lunch in Kandalaksha, we travel for another 100 km to take the signature selfies at the Polar Circle sign, officially marking the first leg of our trip.
We reach the hotel by evening and hope that luck strikes today and we can once again see the Aurora! This is the closest place to St. Petersburg tourists come to in order to see the Northern Lights. Latitude here already allows for the unique natural phenomenon to be observed.
Accommodation: cottages in Kalevala (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 6. Kalevala – Medvezhyegorsk. Distance: 400 km
Kalevala is currently an urban-type settlement, formerly know as Ukhta village. It was renamed in honour of the famous Kalevala epic poetry from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology, highly regarded as the national epic of Karelia and Finland.
The largest number of Runes (tales and songs) were supposedly put in written form here. We get to learn more about the runes in the Museum of the Rune Singers Museum, which is also part of our program. After that, we’ll proceed further south, to the village of Povenets, the starting point of the renowned White Sea-Baltic Canal constructed in 1931-33.
We are once again on the Kola federal highway, heading to Medvezhyegorsk (roughly translated as “Bear’s Hill”), the road stretches in a fabulous route, quiet backwaters, small villages occasionally found along the way. By evening, we reach a comfortable tourist lodge.
Accommodation in cottages (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 7. Medvezhyegorsk – Petrozavodsk. Distance: 190 km
We leave Medvezhyegorsk to see more of the marvels Karelian wilderness has to offer. After breakfast, we head towards the city of Medvezhyegorsk.
Our path will go along the coast of the Onega, another huge lake, partly off-road, with a bunch of stops along the way to capture the magnificent landscape.
One the interesting stops on our way will be Girvas, the 3 billion year old volcano crater, currently almost obliterated by the river. The very picturesque petrified lava flows in the drained channel of the Suna are still clearly visible.
We continue further on to the Kivach Falls. Translated from Finnish as "powerful, impetuous”, the name fully reflects the soul of the 10.7-meter high waterfall located on the Suna River. It had been even more powerful before a hydroelectric power plant was built 30 km up the river.
Our day trip finishes in Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia region. Among the town's landmarks are the outdoor statues of Emperor Peter I and Gavrila Derzhavin (who was the governor of the region in the 18th century, but was vastly known in Russia as a poet).
The appealing waterfront promenade on the Onega Lake invites for a leisurely stroll.
Accommodation: hotel in Petrozavodsk (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 8. Visit to Kizhi Island
Today we embark on a trip with a ‘khivus’ (hovercraft) for a slide along the smooth ice surface of Lake Onega to Kizhi Island. This ride takes about 1.5 hours.
Wooden architecture can be found throughout Russia, but Kizhi Island boasts some of the nation's most famous and most intricate pieces. These structures from various times (the oldest one is believed to date back to 1300s), were carefully collected and transported to the island to be preserved and displayed for the public. Masterpieces of church architecture, iconography and household items created in Karelian, Veps and Russian villages over the centuries are all to be found here.
After a fascinating tour of the museum grounds, we return to Petrozavodsk to enjoy dinner at one of the city’s coziest restaurants.
Accommodation: hotel in Petrozavodsk (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 9. Petrozavodsk – Sortavala. Distance: 160 km
This morning, we leave the enchanting city of Petrozavodsk to head on to Sortavala.
We visit a fabulous place hidden on a river bank in thick Karelian woods - a Siberian Husky farm. Meet the playful energetic Huskies and experience the speedy sledding – both absolutely delightful. Learn how to harness a sled, and experience how amazingly fast the team of these dogs can go.
By dark, we will arrive at our hotel, hidden in the woods on the bank of a charming pond.
Sortavala is a distinctly Finnish name, which has to do with the history of these parts. You may also notice the architecture bits that are much closer to the Nordic style than your regular Russian town.
Accommodation: hotel in Sortavala (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 10. Sortavala – St. Petersburg. Distance: 300 km
First thing after breakfast, we explore the Ruskeala Nature Reserve – a definitive must-see location.
The Ruskeala quarry, that had been a source of marble since the 1600s, was closed in 1985. The stone extracted here was widely used for decoration of palaces, churches and even some metro stations in St.Petersburg. The quarry was later officially recognized as a cultural heritage site.
Operated by a private travel company since 2005, the Ruskeala Mountain Park is a tourist attraction not to miss. Take a walk around the flooded quarry, see the monuments of industrial architecture, enter the mystical tunnels and passages. The winter ice sculpture festival in the canyon is another spectacle that attracts crowds of guests.
Imagine the fairy tale vibe when the canyon and sculptures are lit with a variety of colours in the evening! Absolutely recommended for mountain admirers.
Having explored the canyon for a couple of hours, we continue to Saint Petersburg on the last bit of our road trip. Former capital of Russia in the glorious day of the Russian Empire, St.Petersburg welcomes us in the evening with all of its grandeur.
Share your impressions of the road at dinner in a cozy downtown restaurant!
Accommodation: 5* hotel in St.Petersburg (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 11. Saint Petersburg
In the mood for sightseeing? We are happy to offer you some ideas. Explore the most significant landmarks of Russia’s Northern Capital. Take a stroll along Nevsky Prospekt with our shrewd guide who shares some entertaining details of the city's history and present-day life. The 2.5 mile avenue is adorned with Russian History. Time to make the multiple iconic photos in front of the gorgeous Winter Palace, admire the breath-taking bridges and impressive St.Isaac’s and Kazan Cathedrals, view the whimsical Zinger Building, marvel at the extravagant Church on the Spilled Blood… The Russian Museum, the Admiralty, the elegant Spit of Vasilyevsky Island, the formidable Peter and Paul Fortress – Saint Petersburg surely has it all to blow the guests away!
OPTION:Visit the Hermitage (up to 2 hours). You can be absorbed by Hermitage ‘s treasures for days and still come out wanting more. The enormous collection (over three million items, only a fraction of which are on display in 360 rooms) almost amounts to a comprehensive history of Western European art.
Accommodation: 5* hotel in St.Petersburg (Meals: B/-/-)
Day 12. St. Petersburg. Departure
We will be saying our goodbyes tonight, while the guests are taken to their flights home.
Hope to see you on the road in Russia some time soon!