You’re traveling and your travels have taken you into northern Norway and you are in Kirkenes. Can you imagine being as far to the east as Cairo, then much farther east than most of Finland and only just 15 kilometers from the border of Russia? It can certainly make you feel that you are really out there in the frontier. This is also the end of the line for the Hurtigruten coastal ferry and the highway that you will have been traveling along heading upwards from southern Norway. This is a small and unusual place where you’ll see street signs written in both Norwegian and in the Russian Cyrillic script. You’ll also hear trans-border visitors and fisherman speaking Russian.
Even though the town of Kirkenes is small they do get about 100,000 visitors each year and you’ll discover that there are tours to take, things to see and activities to keep you busy.
Start off with the Grenselandmuseet or The Border Area Museum which displays the history of war and peace that occurred along the Norwegian-Russian border. There are also Sami art exhibitions by artist John Savio (1902 – 1938) and a history of the mining industry in this area. In the museum you’ll find a small shop and a café.
Practically every last Thursday of each month visitors can enjoy the Russian Market which takes place in the central square. Here traders who come from Murmansk sell merchandise and you can find treasures such as linen cloths, handicrafts, Russian crystal and porcelain dishes. They also sell matryoshkas which are those Russian dolls made of wood and come as a set with one doll inside the other.
Just outside of Kirkenes you’ll find a military base which is home to the Garrison of Sor-Varangar at Hoybuktmoen. This base is connected to six Russian border stations. It’s there to protect against illegal immigrants and illegal activities at the border. The only public border crossing is at Storskog, southeast of Kirkenes.
You’ll be fascinated by Andersgrotta located in the city center. This is a vast underground bunker that was built during WW II and gave shelter to Kirkene’s residents. Imagine going down steep stairs into this cave once serving as an air-raid shelter and bunker as Russian bombers tried to destroy the Nazi ore shipping facility. Keep warm as the temperature down below is only 3 degrees C all through the year. There are multilingual presentation and a nine minute video telling the story. Tours are also available.
Traveling in the summer time you’ll want to take the Barents Safari. This is a three-hour boat trip leaving twice daily from June to mid-September along the Pasvik River to the Russian border by the historic village of Boris Gleb. Tariffs include a salmon meal with cloudberries and cream in a Sami-style hut.
As you travel along you’re sure to notice the curious eyes of reindeer following you along your way wherever you go in this area.