Why you should visit Nenets Autonomous Okrug – Russia’s hidden gem

Hidden away in the far north, the Nenets Autonomous Okrug region of Russia is a special yet barely visited place.

One of the most sparsely populated areas of the country with under 50,000 people, much of the region actually lies north of the Arctic Circle (!) and as such winters can be very cold, but summer here can be a very pleasant 20 degrees Celsius.

So why visit Nenets Autonomous Okrug?

There’s many reasons, but I’ve picked out what I think are four of the most important for why you should visit this stunning wilderness.

And if any of them convince you, then find out how to get to this remote and wild place at the end of this article 🙂

A Nenets village from above (credit: Peter Prokosch)

For the incredible wildlife

The capital of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, a city of 20,000 people called Naryan-Mar, hints at the amazing wildlife you can see in this remote region of Russia – the city’s flag and coat of arms is a reindeer.

Fact is, this remote wilderness has a diverse range of wildlife – from stunning polar bears and the arctic fox, to reindeer and walruses. In fact there are over 160,000 reindeer here!

There are also dozens of peninsulas and islands off the coast of the region, where you can go whale watching and seal spotting.

You can even go reindeer herding here, with the Nenets people who have lived in the region for centuries. They know the area and this magnificent animal better than anyone else in the world, and a day or two with them opens up a completely different culture, way of life, and experience to any budding adventurer.

You can go reindeer herding in Nenets Autonomous Okrug

To see the Northern Lights

One of the advantages of being this far north is being able to see the earth’s most spectacular lights display – known as the aurora borealis, or northern lights.

The northern lights can be incredible in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, and that’s not just due to it being so far north.

This region has such a small population that there is very little light population.

As such, the night sky here is perfect for stargazing, watching out for comets and asteroid showers, and getting a glimpse of those illusive northern lights.

The northern lights can be seen from this far northern Russian gem

For the culture, beliefs, and food!

The Nenets people have lived in this part of the world for over one thousand years, and their culture and way of life has evolved around the harsh, yet beautiful, landscape.

Traditionally the people here are reindeer breeders, and while nowadays the usual jobs and education opportunities are available, the traditional way of life does still continue.

The Nenets traditionally believe that the natural world is made up of spirits, with plants, animals, mountains, seas and everything else having ‘spirit masters’. And everything in the world was created by a god – ‘Num’.

It’s a place that is so vastly different from other parts of Russia in terms of beliefs and traditions, that it deserves to be appreciated and experienced.

And with that, the food is also pretty different! A lot of the traditional food is meat based, especially reindeer. While fish caught in the freezing waters here are often eaten raw or frozen!

All in all, this is a fascinating place with an incredible culture that continues to live on, and one that should be experienced by everyone at least once in their lifetime.

A Nenets family in the 1980s.

To visit fascinating Naryan-Mar

The capital of Nenets Autonomous Okrug may only have a few thousand people, but Naryan-Mar has an awful lot to offer.

It’s become known in Russia for it’s saunas, with many situated in and around the city.

It also happens to have a great little museum (the Naryan-Mar Museum of Local Lore) that lets you delve into the history and culture of the region, has a variety of artifacts on display, as well as traditional outfits and items relating to the great reindeer herding history here.

If that’s not your thing, you can try sports fishing – fishing is a big part of Naryan-Mar and the region, and competitions also take place.

Another must-visit is the Epiphany Cathedral in the city – a stunning wooden cathedral that looks like it’s been taken out of the Harry Potter movies.

How to get to Nenets Autonomous Okrug:

The best way to get to Nenets Autonomous Okrug is by plane.

You can get flights direct from Moscow to Naryan-Mar Airport, or you can also fly here directly from St. Petersburg, Arkhangelsk, Kirov, ad Yekaterinburg.

Flights from Moscow are daily, and will set you back around 100 euros one-way.