Nikel is an small industrial town a few kilometres away from the Norwegian border with just over 12,000 souls living and working here, down from 21,000 in Soviet times. As the town's name hint Nikel owes its existence to the vast quantities of nickel that have been mined nearby since the 1930s. Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel owns the mines and operates a huge smelter plant just outside the town where a large part of the population finds employment. This smelter also happens to be one of the world's biggest emitters of sulfur dioxide affecting the environment (and people!) living nearby - including those on the other side of the border. Emissions and the future of the Nikel smelter continues to engage both the Norwegian government as well as the general population.
Visa requirements have been eased in the last few years in the border area which has led to a large increase of visitors from Norway, mostly interested in cheap gasoline but in the process driving a small boom economy.
Buses connect with the regional capital Murmansk up to six times a day taking 3½ hours. A single ticket costs about 500 RUB. Also, the daily bus from Kirkenes, across the border in Norway, to Murmansk makes a stopover in Nikel, tickets are about 300 NOK.
Regional trains linking Nikel with the rest of Kola have been cut since early 2014.
- 1 Nikel Zoo (Никельский зоопарк), Oktyabrskaya 1, ☎ . Possibly the world's northernmost zoo. Small but still holds about 100 animals, including several monkeys.
Visit Art Centre Вторая Школа (second school, https://www.the2school.ru/), a new centre with an international outlook bringing together society and the arts. The welcoming staff would be happy to show you around, and speak English, Norwegian, Russian and German. They are likely have events you could join.
A majority of foreign visitors, almost exclusive from Norway, comes to Nikel for buying cheap gasoline. Prices here are less than half of those across the border.
- 1 White Nights (Белые ночи), Gvardejiskij Prospekt 6/1, ☎ . One of the larger restaurants in town, serving hearty Russian cuisine.
- 1 Club Oasis (Ночной клуб «Оазис»), ul. Mira, 26, ☎ .
- 1 Hotel Northern Lights, ul. Sportivnaya 12, ☎ . Small hotel in the lower part of town, the priciest and arguably the best hotel in town but don't expect anything too fancy. There's a small café downstairs, breakfast must be ordered the night before. Singles from 1800 RUB, doubles 2600 RUB.