The town of Kirkenes is the municipal centre in Sør-Varanger municipality in Eastern Finnmark, located in the northeastern corner of Norway. Of the 10,000 people in Sør-Varanger, approximately 3,500 live in Kirkenes with another 4,000 living in nearby Hesseng and Bjørnevatn. Sør-Varanger is the only Norwegian municipality that borders Russia, it also borders Finland. Sør-Varanger is the name of the municipality, it covers an area of almost 4,000 km². The distance from the municipal centre in Kirkenes to the fringes of the municipality can be more than 100 kilometres.
The name Kirkenes translates as Church-Headland. In the 19th century Kirkenes had a church, but little else, it wasn´t even the most populous hamlet in Sør-Varanger. Things changed rapidly when iron ore was found in nearby Bjørnevatn.
From a small hamlet Kirkenes grew into a booming mining town in the first years of the 20th century. During WW2 the Germans used Kirkenes as a supply base for their attack on the Soviet Union, consequently it suffered numerous attacks by Soviet bombers. The Red Army drove out the Germans in late autumn 1944, making Kirkenes the first Norwegian town to be liberated from the Nazis. In 1945 the Red Army left Kirkenes, and soon the Cold War would redefine friends and enemies. The end of the Soviet Union changed the status of Kirkenes from being at the fringe of Western Europe to being in the centre of the Barents-region. Barentssekretariatet (The Barents Secretariat) and Grenselandmuseet (Borderland museum), both located in Kirkenes, can perhaps be perceived as manifestations of the new trend. The mining of iron ore became unprofitable and stopped in the 1990es, work to reopen the mines were started in 2009 and the first boat loaded with iron-ore for China went through the North-East passage in autumn 2010.
In the old days Sør-Varanger and the neighboring areas of present Russia and Finland were regarded as a shared district by the Norwegian and Russian authorities. The borders were drawn as late as 1826. The area had an identity as a place where different people and cultures met. When the borders were drawn it became important for the states to secure the areas they held and create a strong national identity.The new borders created problems for some, like the Skolte-Sami people that suddenly couldn’t use their old travel paths and seasonal dwelling-places. When the states demand for national identity met local culture a conflict between centre and periphery was perhaps inevitable.
The 20th century with its world-wars and revolutions and the areas strategic importance, gave national security top priority, with closed borders as a result. Perestrojka and the dissolution of the Soviet Union opened the way for changes. Many had high hopes about what friendly cooperation across formerly closed borders could achieve. The better international relations have had a positive effect , but perhaps less than the optimists hoped for twenty years ago. Crossing the border is still generally forbidden, and taking photographs is restricted. Breaking the rules can cause you a lot of trouble and expenses. Check the website of Grensekommisæren (Border Commissariat) for updated information. Nevertheless it is fair to say that the area has got back some of its old identity as a place were different people can meet.
Museums: Sør-Varanger has several museums. This website provides information about the museums in Sør-Varanger, Vadsø and Vardø: Varangermuseum.
Pikene på Broen is a company involved in diverse cultural evenements in Kirkenes.
Kirkenes is at the end of the E-6. If you drive through Finland you can drive past Lake Inari, cross the border 11 kilometres before Neiden. Join the E-6 in Neiden.
A network of long-distance buses connects the towns in Finnmark.
Hurtigruten calls at Kirkenes. Northbound boats arrive in the morning (very good alternative to the bus if you want to travel to Kirkenes from Vadsø or Vardø), southbound boats leave a little after noon.
From Kirkenes roads leads south, east and west to the other parts of the municipality. All distances are given as distance from Kirkenes in kilometres, and they are approximate.
There are bus routes along the main roads (see "by car" section), Within the Kirkenes - Hesseng -Bjørnevatn area there are several buses a day, outside this area generally one or two a day.
A marked trail goes from the parking at Sortbrysttjern to Ellenkoia in the national park. Canoeing at lake Ellenvann is great, You can paddle the length of Sortbrysttjærn, carry the canoe a few hundred meters to lake Tørrfurutjern,
and carry the canoe a few metres from Tørrfurutjern into lake Ellenvann. Pine forested hills, rather than mountains surround lake Ellenvann, but real wilderness, many places there´s not even a footpath to follow, so bring compass, map and/or GPS.
Treriksrøysa (Three Country Cairn) marks the point where the borders of Russia, Finland and Norway meet. Nice background for a group portrait. Just remember to stay on the Norwegian side, walking round the cairn is forbidden.
You can paddle the length of lake Ellenvann and hike two English miles south to get to Treriksrøysa, a less demanding route is perhaps to drive to Nyrud (104 kilometres) and follow a marked path leading to Treriksrøysa.
There are bicycle paths between Kirkenes, Hesseng and Bjørnevatn. If you like to bring the bicycle into the woods, the Pasvik valley in particular has quite a lot of gravelled logging roads.
See also International Telephone Calls
Red mailboxes are found easily and post offices are plentiful, with opening hours on most being 9:00am to 5:00pm, with usually shorter hours on Saturday. Stamps can usually only be found at post offices although some popular tourist venues might carry them. Norway's postal system, "Posten", has a good website with a lot of English information including up to date prices and also details about the opening hours of the nearest post office. The most commonly sent format for travellers, letters and cards up to 20 grams, currently require the following stamps:
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