Arkhangelsk (population 390 000) is a regional center in Northwestern Russia, located on both banks of Northern Dvina river near its inflow into the White Sea, about 1100 km to the north of Moscow and about 1500 km northeast of Saint Petersburg.
The city was founded in 1584 and became the first Russian port playing the major role in trade with Europe until the foundation of Saint Petersburg in 1703. Since that, Arkhangelsk has been developing as a provincial city. The second negative impact on its importance went from the foundation of Murmansk, a trans-polar non-frozen seaport at Barents Sea, in the beginning of 20th century. The honour came to the city again during the years of World War II, when Arkhangelsk was the key destination point for Allied sea convoys those helped Soviet Union to confront Hitler's aggression.
Arkhangelsk claims itself the capital of Russian North. This is a bit pretentious, but reasonable at least in matter of cultural life, which is very active comparing to most cities of the same size in Russia.
The economy of Arkhangelsk is based on timber trade and paper industry. The city has a large commercial and fishing port.
Located off the beaten path of major tourist flow, Arkhangelsk can be a transit point during a travel to Solovki, but also worth a separate visit.
The most comfortable time to see Arkhangelsk is summer. During May, June, and July the sun seems to spend 24/7 in the sky. This is actually not so: Arkhangelsk is 300 km south from Northern Polar Circle, that is why it hasn't polar days or polar nights. But prepare to be awaked by sun looking at you window at 2 AM in summer. The other side of this is 2-3-4 hours of light per day in winter.
Spring is late (snowfalls in May are quite usual), summer is relatively warm (+20-25C), first snow comes in October or November, winters are harsh (-20-30C, windy). November to May Northern Dvina and White Sea are covered with ice, and ship navigation is possible with icebreakers only.
Getting to Arkhangelsk is most comfortably done by air. There are 6 daily flights from Moscow, and 4 from Saint Petersburg. A one-way flight from Moscow Sheremetyevo-1 airport costs around 4000 rubles and takes about 2 h. There are also direct connections with Murmansk (Russia), Kirkenes (Norway) and Rovaniemi (Finland), but these could have irregular and seasonal basis. Arkhangelsk has two airports: Talagi for interregional flights and Vaskovo (Васьково) for flights within Arkhangelsk region. Talagi airport is about 25 min drive from the city centre. The going rate for a taxi to the airport is about 200 rubles, but in the opposite direction, enterprising cab drivers ask for around 400 rubles. So if you speak Russian order a taxi by phone for a lower price than the taxi at the airport. There is also a bus connection with the city centre costing 16 rubles but takes a long time and has poor service.
A slightly more adventurous traveller will probably opt for the train, which from Moscow's Yaroslavsky Vokzal takes about 20-21 h with two to three trains per day. A train journey from Saint Petersburg clocks in at around 25 h with up to three services per week, other cities with direct trains to Arkhangelsk includes Kotlas and Murmansk. Also, there is one train service from Minsk, the capital of Belarus, every Wednesday taking three nights. As in most northen Russian cities extra trains to and from the Black Sea usually appears during the summer months, catering to domestic tourists but open for anyone to use. Schedules change from year to year so check beforehand.
The train station is situated on the eastern edge of town, at Prospekt Dzerzhinskogo 2. Buses and taxis are available and will whisk you to the city centre in a just few minutes.
1200 km by M8 road from Moscow via Yaroslavl and Vologda, and you are in Arkhangelsk (couple of hundreds km more if you drive from St Petersburg). The road is paved, but its quality wishes to be much better.
Archangelsk is a significant commercial and fishing port acting as well as a gateway to Northern Sea Path (Северный морской путь). But there are no any regular ship connections with Arkhangelsk excluding river commuter ships.
Arkhangelsk is spread for 42 km via Northern Dvina river and has even several islands with no bridge connection included into its metropolitan zone. So getting around certain districts can be complicated. But all main attractions are located in the center and can be explored by foot.
Public transportation is represented with buses, trolleybuses, and marshrutki (shared minibuses). The price for a ride within the city is 16 rubles. It is difficult to use without knowing Russian.
River transport is active during the summer season to connect river island vicinities with the city center.
Commuter trains service connects several suburbs with the city, but is interesting mainly for locals keeping their dachas. Each destination usually have one train in the morning and one in the evening. It's possible to get to Severodvinsk by such a train, but the bus service is faster, more frequent, and more preferrable.
Getting around by car or taxi is probably the best way to explore Arkhangelsk. Taxis are inexpensive and could be found near most attractions. Car rental service is represented by local providers only.
All means of transport including taxis reduce their activity significantly after evening rush-hours. This can be especially sensitive in winter, so do not allow yourself to stay half an hour on a -30C frost - order taxi by phone.
Arkhangelsk had been founded in 1584, but until the 20th century nearly all buildings were wooden. That is why there are not so many examples of old architecture here. Outside of the center buildings become very typical, but the core part of the city has some diversity.
Orientation is easy from Lenin Square, where the only Arkhangelsk's skyscraper is built. This 24-floor administrative building is seen from many parts of the city and can act as a lighthouse for a traveller. Streets called ulitsa (улица) are positioned perpendicularly to the river, those are called prospekt (проспект) are parallel to the river. Area of interest is limited by Dvina's embankment (Naberezhnaya) in the west, Kuznechevsky Bridge in the north, Obvodny Kanal prospekt in the east, and the Sea and River Station (Морской и Речной Вокзал) in the south. Most of attractions e.g. views, buildings, museums, restaurants, theatres etc are located within this shape.
Outside of the center
Shopping infrastructure in Arkhangelsk is being developed, but yet hasn't achieved the level of 400 000 people regional center. Most of goods are brought from Moscow or St. Petersburg, so they are more expensive than in these cities. There are some local tourist goods to buy:
Most tourists visit Arkhangelsk as a transit point to Solovetsky Islands, so the sleeping infrastructure there is quite scarce and oriented mostly on business visitors.
Solovetsky Islands are a group of islands in the White Sea, about 200 km northwest from Arkhangelsk, famous because of its monastery (Solovetsky Monastery). Its massive stone walls together with severe northern nature form stunning views. The site is included into UNESCO World Heritage List.
During the Stalin era, Solovetsky Monastery was used as a concentration camp and acted as a cornerstone of gulags.
Now the monastery role is back but you still need a permit to visit islands. Expect at least 4 days to spend there, and take a lot of anti-mosquito spray with you during summer.
There is a direct flight from Arkhangelsk's Vaskovo (Васьково) airport to Solovki (1-2 times a week). During the summer season there is also irregular ship connection. Ask local travel agents for more information.
Pinega (Пинега) is a river in Arkhangelsk region (say 300 km from the city), locally known for beautyful gypsum caves on its banks. Pinega is reachable by bus, extreme lovers can try local train No. 666 (the road to hell as it is), but most probably the best way is to organize the trip via local travel agents.
Siyskiy Monastery is about 200 km to the south from Arkhangelsk, accessible by car. Beautiful site inside taiga.
Severodvinsk, pop. 200 000 is the capital of Russian nuclear submarine production. The city is 35 km away from Arkhangelsk and is easily reachable by car or by bus. If you're not a Russian citizen, you probably need a permit to enter Severodvinsk. There is nothing exceptional in the city's typically Soviet view unless you have a governmental pass to see submarine wharf. It is worth going to the beach at the White see coast if you are visiting the city in June- August, if the weather permits you can even have sunbathing and go swimming, water temperature 18-22 degrees is not that high though.