Kirkenes is located in the extreme northeastern part of Norway on the Bøkfjord, a branch of the Varangerfjord, near the Russian border. We're about 400 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and actually as far east as St. Petersburg. Most of the approximately 7,000 inhabitants are of Norwegian background, while a minority is Sami. Others originate from Finland and some 500 immigrants have recently arrived from Russia.
In Kirkenes you will notice strong bonds and cultural influences from Russia. A prominent example is the Russian Monument – a memorial for the liberation of Sør-Varanger by the Red Army in the autumn of 1944. There is a Russian market in Kirkenes once a month. Road signs are written in both Norwegian and Russian. The Russian border can be visited either by bus riverboat, or ATV/Quad. The Grenselandmuseet exhibits permanent and temporary exhibitions from the border area. The Art Museum Savio is built up around the well-known Sami artist John Andreas Savio (1902-1938), with art depicting the Sami reindeer herders, culture and nature in the north.
The nature in and around Kirkenes is different from the rest of Norway. Many eastern plant species grow here that are rare or non-existent in other parts of Norway. The forest in Pasvik originates from the Siberian taiga; the world's largest continuous forest area. Even the wildlife has many eastern elements, especially among the bird species. You will find all the major predators in the municipality. Best known is the brown bear, and the Pasvik Valley is the home of around 20 of them. Kirkenes is also the home of wolverine and lynx. Wolves are observed on rare occasions, but these are only stray animals coming from Russia. Your chances are much higher of seeing reindeer and elk. The Barents Sea is home to the huge King Crab.
In winter and spring Kirkenes is the home of a fantastic snow hotel, and activities like snowmobiling and dogsledging are popular. Activities in summer include boat trips, hiking, fishing, canoeing, climbing and diving.
If Kirkenes is your city of departure or arrival before your expedition with Hurtigruten, you can explore more of the area as part of our pre/post-voyage programmes. Spend the night outside in the Polar wilderness on our overnight snowmobile tour or husky tour. If this is too extreme, how about an Arctic experience in the Snow hotel or a traditional Sami hut called Gamme. On a King Crab Safari you will have the chance to meet and eat this gigantic - and delicious - crab.
The area around Kirkenes was a common Norwegian–Russian district until 1826, when the present border was settled. The original name of the peninsula was Piselvnes ("Pis River headland"), but this was changed to Kirkenes (meaning "church headland") after the Kirkenes Church was built here in 1862.
In 1906, iron ore was discovered nearby, and Kirkenes became a major supplier of raw material for artillery during WWI. Early in WWII the Nazis coveted its resources and strategic position near the Russian port of Murmansk, occupied the town and posted 100,000 troops there. As a result, tiny Kirkenes was, after Malta, the most bombed place during WWII, with at least 320 devastating Soviet raids. The retreating Nazis burned what was left of Kirkenes, before advancing Soviet troops liberated its ruins in October 1944. Subsequently rebuilt, Kirkenes continued to supply iron to Europe, but the costs were too high to sustain the industry. In 1996 the mines closed down.