Northern lights above the Snowhotel in Kirkenes

Photo: Snowhotel Kirkenes

5 reasons you need to have Kirkenes on your bucket list

Just a few miles from the Russian and Finnish borders, the small town of Kirkenes perfectly encapsulates the Nordic spirit at its most nuanced. Surrounded by diverse, untamed nature and rich both in history and in wildlife, Kirkenes is one of those destinations that may not instantly be in your radar — but that are guaranteed to help you make memories to last a lifetime once you visit them.

Here’s 5 reasons why you need to have Kirkenes on your bucket list:

You’ll get to experience the Borderlands

Wide open space in Kirkenes with flat snowy landscape
Photo: Sven Erik Knoff | Visit Norway

The Borderlands, aka the area where the Norwegian terrain gives way to the Siberian and Finnish landscapes, is a wild and wondrous region — and Kirkenes is its beating heart. Sitting at the mouth of the Pasvikelva River, the town is your perfect pied a terre for delving into the great Taiga forests which freeze solid in the winter, for walking amid brown bear territory, or for venturing to the three-way cairn where the countries of Norway, Finland and Russia meet.

And just a few kilometers outside Kirkenes, you can find the Borderland Museum, which will help you immerse yourself into this fascinating place even more!

You’ll understand Norwegian history better

A man standing in Andersgrotta bomb shelter under the town of Kirkenes
Photo: Snowhotel Kirkenes

Kirkenes is one of those places where layers upon layers of history sit on top of one another. Home to the indigenous Eastern Sami population for thousands of years, Kirkenes only became officially a part of Norway in 1826. You can see proof of its cultural pluralism to this very day: signs, for instance, are written in many different languages to accommodate for the Sami, Finnish and Russian population that either lives here or travels back and forth between the borders a lot. Kirkenes’s position on the map also meant that the town played an important part during WWII, and was even the first of all Norway to become liberated afterwards.

More information on all this awaits you at the Andersgrotta museum, which used to be an old WWII underground bunker.

You’ll feel like a true Arctic explorer!

Husky safari in the wilderness in Kirkenes
Photo: Snowhotel Kirkenes

There’s so many things to explore in the Borderlands, on land and at sea both! You could head out to these mystical, frozen forests we talked about earlier, where the light makes the frost on the bark of the trees almost glittering. You can traverse ice-covered lakes and frozen bogs, all with the help of a snowmobile, your skis, or a traditional dog sled. There’s something about moving through a frozen landscape where all you can hear is huskies happily huffing, that makes the whole experience even more special!

As for the sea part? Here you can fish for the local delicacy that is King Crabs, or embark on a cruise along the coastline that ends in Bergen.

You’ll make the most out of Polar Nights

Northern lights chasing in Kirkenes by bus
Photo: Snowhotel Kirkenes

Because of its latitude, Kirkenes experiences two full months of Polar Nights: from November 21 to January 21, the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon. Which means, you have a lot of time to experience the magical phenomenon that is the blue light of Polar Nights and how it transforms even the most mundane things…

And speaking of magical phenomena, during that time you’ll also have a great chance to witness the green rays of the Northern Lights: the Aurora is often visible over Kirkenes when the skies are clear.

You’ll get to sleep… on ice

Imagine a hotel made entirely out of ice and snow, melting every Spring. At the town’s snow hotel, you’ll be dazzled by ice sculptures and themed rooms, and be able to enjoy a cold drink at the ice bar. That experience alone is definitely worth putting Kirkenes on your bucket list for!

A bed made of ice at the Snowhotel in Kirkenes
Photo: Snowhotel Kirkenes