Kirkenes is a town in the Finnmark region of Norway, far east near the Russian border, more or less in the end of mainland Norway. This is the last port for Hurtigruten and the end of Norway's main road E6, 2500 km from Oslo and 3120 km from Trelleborg (Sweden).
The region was Germany's staging ground for its northern front against the Soviet Union during World War II, and this has left marks in the area. The town of Kirkenes was totally destroyed by almost 350 Soviet air raids, and holds the record as the most bombed-out town in Europe during the war. Upon an imminent Soviet advance the population was forced by the Germans to relocate to Tromsø and further south. However, more than 3,000 residents and their livestock hid for around ten days in the mines and appeared when the town was liberated by the Red Army in October 1944, more than six months ahead of Norway as a whole. Norway's flag was raised on liberated territory for the first time at the Kirkenes mines. The buildings at the mines were the only ones remaining, and the first administration in free Norway was set up there.
Kirkenes is also known as a mining town, and mining for iron ore has been taken up again after a hiatus. Kirkenes has some 3,500 inhabitants.
The mother of US actor René Zellweger was born and grew up in Kirkenes. Her parents met at the Hurtigruten ferry.
The municipal tourist information is at the public library downtown.
Note the time zone difference if coming from Finland (1 hour) or Russia (2 hours). Check what timezone is used in timetables for international services.
- Kirkenes is at the very end of the all-through-Norway 3,000 km long highway E6. Visitors can also enter by road from northern Finland (about 7 hours from Rovaniemi), and north-western Russia (about 4 hours from Murmansk, including border formalities).
- From southern Norway or Germany by car, the shorter and faster route is through Sweden and Finland. The normal route would be over Rovaniemi, although from Sweden there is a shortcut over Pajala and Kittilä which is shorter but slower. Kirkenes is some 2,600 km from Hamburg through Sweden, through Norway well over 3,000 km from Hamburg (some 40–50 hours drive, meaning 6 days if driving 8 hours per day). It is advised to visit interesting places along the way, even if this takes time, not just drive as much as possible per day.
- Long distance buses, with connections to most of Norway.
- Regional buses [formerly dead link]
- Buses to Finland (direct connections in summer, in winter you have to transfer at Tana)
- Buses to Russia (get a visa, make a bus reservation, and do not miss the bus on the trip back)
- 1 Kirkenes Airport, Høybuktmoen (KKN IATA) (some 15 km outside town). Due to its remote location, most visitors arrive and depart by plane. Daily flights to Oslo, Tromsø and others by Norwegian, SAS and Wideroe. Also flights to Russia and Germany (summer only). Most flights have a bus to town waiting outside (timetables snelandia.no), kr 85, credit cards accepted. A taxi will set you back some kr 300.
On certain occasions it is considerably cheaper to fly into Ivalo in Finland, some 240 km away, mainly if you are a small group or a family and plan to rent a car anyway. Rental cars are not cheap in Northern Norway.
There are no passenger trains to Kirkenes, but it is possible to go by public bus from cities with railway station.
- The Russian rail network reaches Murmansk, for travelling from as far as Moscow, Vladivostok, Ulan Bator and Beijing.
- The closest Finnish stations are Kolari and Rovaniemi (some 500 km away).
- The northernmost railway station in Norway is Narvik (on the "iron ore line"), while Kiruna, Luleå and Boden are stations in Sweden on the same line. The Norwegian railways are even farther away, with railhead in Bodø.
Local buses [formerly dead link]. Long distance buses leave outside the main shopping center in the middle of town. Some buses only take cash, however there is an ATM inside the shopping center.
- The midnight sun in summer
- The Aurora Borealis in winter
- The Russian border, including the 1 three-borders-mark, where also Finland joins in. Caution should be exercised; presume all movement is under surveillance near the border. It is allowed to go almost to the border on the Norwegian side, but not the Russian. Respect the border and border zone as if we still had the cold war (e.g. long lens use is restricted, talking over the border forbidden except in emergencies). The easiest place to reach the border is 2 Skafferhullet, signposted from road E105. The three-borders-mark is in the Pasvik–Inari Trilateral Park, see below.
- 3 Grenselandmuseet (The Border Area Museum), Førstevannslia, ☏ . 9.30-14.00 (20.6-31.8: 9.30-17.00). Showcases history and lifestyle of the far north of Norway including a section devoted to the devastating effects of Second World War on Kirkenes. Also has a fine exhibition of woodcuts by the Sami artist Jon Savio Entrance NOK 80/60,-.
- 4 Ä´vv Skolt Sámi museum, Neiden (40 km drive from Kirkenes). A museum about Eastern / Skolt Sámi people. First opened in June 2017. Adults: 80 kr, Pensioner: 60 kr, Groups 10+: 60 kr/pers, children under 16: free.
Fishing, both salt and fresh water, including salmon. Hiking.
- Arctic Adventure. A number of offers, the most desired being a King Crab Safari, catch guaranteed!
- 1 Kirkenes Snow Hotel (Kirkenes Snøhotell), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The hotel is open from December to early April. A range of activities, some of which vary by the season (you do not have to stay at the hotel to participate): king crab excursions, including catching and eating, husky tours, reindeer watching.
- 2 Øvre Pasvik National Park, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. The largest area of primeval forest in Norway, part of the Russian taiga. Forested hills, lakes and bogs. Also eastern species seldom seen in western Europe. Bears. Some open wilderness huts, wild camping allowed. The visitor centre (nasjonalparksentre) is in Svanhovd, Svanvik, and features also a botanic garden, best visited in Jul-Aug.
The Piilola trail (35 km, 21 mi) leads from 2 Sortbrysttjern to the 3 Kessintie road in Finland and has information boards telling about the nature and cultural history of the area. To get to Sortbrysttjern, take the road towards the tripoint, but turn to the right after the lake Vaggatem and drive that small road for some 10 km. Crossing to the Finnish side is allowed, as long as you stay out of the border zone (far from the trail; about from Krokfjellet and southward along the Russian border) and have cleared with customs if needed.
- Local summer festival Kirkenes Days around the first week of August multiplies the activity level.
Russian visitors often buy clothes and home products, which tax-free (not available to EU/Norwegian residents) are cheaper than similar non-Russian products in nearby Murmansk or Nikel.
Local Norwegians can get a 5-year multitravel visa and they like to go to Russia to buy petrol (less than half the price) and some Russian products and services. They are not allowed to bring meat over the border, and alcohol only if they been in Russia for 24 hours (and then only a small quota), products which otherwise are the most bought by Norwegians in the border trade in Sweden and Finland. Visitors need a visa, which is costly and tricky to get.
Being a small settlement dining opportunities are not abundant. There are however a few restaurants.
Try Ritz or Ofelas.
- (between the airport and town, up the hill after the bridge as you drive towards town), ☏ . Camping site. Also rents cabins. Summer only.
- 1 [dead link] Sollia, By the Russian border, some 10 km from town. Has a good restaurant.
- [dead link] Barents Frokosthotell. From kr 675.
- [dead link] Wessel Hotell, Dr Wessels gate 3, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Kirkenes Overnatting (1 km from town center). Apartment from kr 500 a night.
- Overnatting Liv Mikkelbrog, Kronprinsensgate 21, Kirkenes (Down the hill from the old Rica Hotel), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Private rooms.
There have been incidents with GPS blocking, probably because of the border and Murmansk being nearby. Don't get confused if your GPS stops working properly.
- Go up the Pasvik valley for quite a change of flora. Here you find the last bit of the enormous Russian Taiga, a pine forest that stretches all the way to Siberia. At the southern end of the valley (105 km of paved road, 15 km of dirt, then 1h15m walking along the Russian border) is the Tri-Border Mark, where Norway, Russia and Finland meet. Heavy fines for trespassing into Russia! The Pasvik-Inari trilateral park, including areas with different protection status in the three countries, features much untamed wilderness, but also some services and cultural attractions.
- At Grense Jakobselv (58 km east from Kirkenes), the open Barents Sea washes a beautiful sandy shore. Never gets above 8°C, though! You can also peek at the "King Oscar II" church.
- The highest peak around is "Øretoppen", at 466 metres. It is a 2-hour hike along a marked path from Ropelv, where buses go. Magnificent views in a landscape of large stones spread upon the hills.
- If you are planning on crossing the border into Russia, you will probably need a visa. In theory, this should be obtainable at the Russian Consulate in Kirkenes, but you might find it worthwhile to pay a local travel agency to do the job for you. You need quite a few documents like pre-paid hotel booking and insurance forms, especially if you are traveling by car. Start the process one month before leaving home.
- If you are heading for Finland, and feel that you need some euros, there is an ATM at the DnB bank that will hand them over. The nearest border crossings for vehicles are at 4 Neiden/Näätämö and Nuorgam.
The route by foot straight through the forest to the Finnish side is possible for experienced wilderness backpackers, by the Piilola trail (or finding your own routes, but the area is hard to navigate), see Øvre Pasvik National Park above. Clear with customs beforehand if needed, sleep in huts on the way and arrange somebody to fetch you with taxi from the Finnish trailhead or from Nellim, or by boat over Lake Inari from a suitable shore, to Ivalo or Inari. There is no marked trail from the tripoint itself, and the shortest route from there is blocked by the border zone.
- Alternatively, if your travel budget allows, you can take the Hurtigruten cruise ferry to your destination of choice along the Norwegian coast. A trip to Bergen will take a full week, to places like Nordkapp, Tromsø, Lofoten or Trondheim a couple of days.
|Routes through Kirkenes|
|Narvik ← Tana ←||W E||→ END|
|END ←||NW SE||→ → Murmansk → St. Petersburg|