The largest city in the world north of the Arctic Circle, in the zone of the eternal frost and 630 mi/1,015 km north of St. Petersburg, Murmansk, Russia, is a port town and base for the Northern Fleet (submarines). It's said that Murman translated as the "end of the Earth" when the town was named—and with nine months of winter and 52 days of continual darkness, we can believe it.

Still, Murmansk is much warmer than most northern cities lying on the same latitude; because of the gulf stream, the average winter temperature there is 5 F/-15 C. Polar night lasts early December-early January, polar day late May-late June.

If you do find yourself there, go to the Panorama Restaurant for a full (and warm) view of the city, which stretches for 12 mi/20 km along the shoreline. Note the port's overhanging cliffs, which sheltered Allied supply ships from German air attacks during World War II. Sights in town include the Military Museum of the Northern Fleet (displays about the fleet's role from World War II to the present;, Gun Monument (in memory of town defenders), St. Nicholas' Church and the aptly named Regional Ethnography Museum (natural displays and regional history exhibits).

Nearby is the ancient settlement of Kola, the northernmost city in Russia, with remnants of 13th-century earthen ramparts and a 400-year-old cross. Murmansk is still the base of the Northern Fleet and the nuclear submarine Kursk, which sank 93 mi/150 km offshore in 2000. Cruises to the North Pole also originate in Murmansk.

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