The Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea are one of the most intimate secrets of Russia. This is a northern oasis of fresh air for tourists looking for something different. Six islands and islets form an archipelago that separates the White Sea from Onega Bay and belong to the Arkhangelsk region.
Location and route
Where are the Solovetsky Islands on the map of Russia?
Solovki is located in the western part of the White Sea, less than 100 miles from the Arctic Circle, the complex consists of six main and numerous small islands. The largest is Bolshoi Solovetsky Island, which is famous for its medieval monastery. You can get to Solovki both from Moscow and from St. Petersburg, where you need to take an internal flight to Arkhangelsk, the northern regional center. Local flights from Arkhangelsk to Solovki depart 2-3 times a week with some seasonal changes.
How to get to the islands by train and ship:
- trains running between St. Petersburg and Murmansk stop at Kemi station on the St. Petersburg – Murmansk line;
- buses run daily from 6:20 (on weekends from 7 am) to 21:00 every 20–40 minutes between the Kem railway station and the Rabocheostrovsky pier;
- boats from Rabocheostrovsk (a village on the shore of a lake near the city of Kem, Karelia) leave for the islands daily from 8 am. One way ticket costs 1,600 rubles (adult) and 800 rubles for children from 3 to 10 years old.
What to do in Solovki?
The island itself is quite large, but its infrastructure is concentrated around the monastery. The village has a supermarket, bakery and several restaurants, bike rental and souvenir shops. The best way to get around is by bike, although it can be quite challenging (over wetlands and mud).
Sophisticated tourists will appreciate the silence and remoteness of the Solovetsky Islands. In addition to lakes, the archipelago consists of wild bays and capes, dense forest and tundra with mosses and berries. The natural beauty of these remote islands is breathtaking and provides a 100% escape from hectic city life.
In the forests of Solovki, you can see elks, red foxes and hares, and in the sea – seals and beluga. More than 200 species of birds live here.
The Solovetsky Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve includes over 1000 objects of cultural heritage.
- Assumption complex.
- Transfiguration Cathedral.
- Nikolskaya Church.
- Bell tower.
- Holy Trinity Zosimo-Savvatievsky Cathedral.
- Fortress towers and walls of the XVI-XVII centuries and many others.
In the early 90s, the ensemble was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Monastery on the Solovetsky Islands
The largest of the islands, Bolshoy Solovetsky, is only 24 kilometers long. The main attraction of the Solovki is located here – the Solovetsky Monastery. The beautiful complex was founded in the 15th century and is one of the most famous monasteries in Russia. The structure is surrounded by huge walls 11 meters high and 6 meters thick.
This place is associated with many dark moments in the history of Russia. Due to its remoteness, Stalin used the monastery as one of the most notorious gulags in the Soviet Union. According to experts, more than a million prisoners died in the camp, which was described in Solzhenitsyn’s book The Gulag Archipelago.
During World War II, the monastery was used as a naval base before becoming home to monks again. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992, it is now a historical complex with a museum. Big Zayatsky Island and mysterious labyrinths
The island is located southwest of the village of Solovetsky. Here are the 18th century Andreevsky Skete, prehistoric labyrinths and the first stone pier in Russia. The landscape of the island is very picturesque. A boat trip to Bolshoi Zayatsky Island is breathtaking.
What to see here first? Of course, mazes. Some of them are stone, while others are formed from earth embankments. Dated 3000 BC BC, these labyrinths have retained their integrity and form fascinating structures.
No one was able to determine the purpose of these labyrinths. It is believed that they were used for mystical purposes. Perhaps the locals built them as traps for evil spirits, portals to the underworld, or altars for ritual ceremonies.
Church of St. Andrew the First-Called
The beautiful St. Andrew’s Church is also located on Bolshoi Zayatsky Island. It was built by order of Peter I in 1702 and is the only example of wooden architecture in the archipelago. It is said that the king was forced to stay on the island due to bad weather and spent several days on it. According to the chronicles, he himself chopped down trees with an ax to help build the church.
Between June and August, the waters of the archipelago are home to one of the most unusual whales in the world. Beluga whales, or white whales, have gathered at Cape Beluga for thousands of years to give birth to new offspring. Whales can chirp, make strange whistles and clicks, which is why they are called “sea canaries”.
Beluga Cape is the only place in the world where beluga whales can be observed from the shore. Twice a day at low tide, these graceful creatures swim close enough to provide a great opportunity to take unique photos.