Riding bicycle in arctic Russian city – one of of the coldest, windiest and most air-polluted towns on Earth



Norilsk, Taimyr peninsula, Krasnoyarsk region, Russia.

Distance Traveled:

Approx. 120 km (from the most eastern district of Norilsk – Talnakh – to Dudinka).

Starting the journey

02:00 am, 17th of June. There are huge snowdrifts on the streets and the sun shines brightly. Here is polar day in Norilsk and it is light here 24 hours a day.

Norilsk, Talnakh district. Starting the trip.
Talnakh’s stunning landscapes.

Polar bear escorts me from Talnakh. Every year they are becoming more and more around Norilsk. Hopefully will not meet one on my way.

Talnakh. On my way to central district of Norilsk.

Talnakh — Norilsk. Incredible views one by one!

Behind the wheel of a bicycle, landscapes are a bit like Alaska or Finland. Dozens of lakes, rivers, trees and mountains. However, there is still a strong smell of gas and smoke in the air. The closer to Norilsk, the worse the smell…

On my way to Norilsk. Lakes are still frozen here.
Blue broken car in the left corner. Most likely, the driver lost control.
Stunning scenery every 50 meters on my way.
The northernmost railway in the world. It goes straight to Dudinka. Exactly the way I go.

Norilskaya river, half way to the central district

The river is still frozen, gradually begins to thaw. The freshest and cleanest air in all of Norilsk is undoubtedly here. And what could be more important than clean air in one of the most polluted city in the world? However, it is actually hard to believe that Norilsk is from the previous pictures.

Norilskaya river.
The river is still frozen. 03:12 am

Unexpected problems and losing 3 hours trying to fix the bike.

Buying a second-hand bike was a huge mistake of mine. Even though it costed only $150, it also gave me some problems. The chain all the time flew off the bike. It had only 6 speeds so it was really hard to get up on it, after it broke it had only 2 speeds which made it even harder for me. The bicycle was almost dead, and I did not even arrive in Norilsk. Fortunately, one of the drivers stopped and helped me repair the bike. After that, I slowly continued my way.

A small summer village and the Soviet red flag.

Norilsk, the central district. Ecological catastrophe

07:00 am, I arrived in Norilsk. I can hardly breathe, smoke from factories is everywhere. Soon a headache hurt a lot. Behind the wheel of a car, one can hardly smell it, but on a bicycle you feel how all this smoke and gas burns your lungs. ‘This is how a cancer smells like’, I thought.

Welcome to Norilsk.

So how the city looks like?

Surprisingly, the architecture of the city is sometimes very impressive. Full of bright colors (it helps in winter a lot), stadium is the only place in the whole city where you can see a pure green color (artificial, of course). The city is pretty small, 10 minutes and we are already leaving it.

Entry into the city
The stadium. A Orthodox church is far behind.
Leninsky prospect, the main street of the city.

Leaving Norilsk. Road to Kayerkan district and nightmare views.

Severe headache, eyes watering, cough appeared. But it was too late to go back, I had to get through this hell by almost broken bicycle. This is where the ugliest Norilsk starts, source of the most serious diseases of local people and ecology disaster. You should not appear here without a special mask and workwear, otherwise it could cost you a lot.

Сopper plant, my father’s workplace.
All colors are natural, no filters.
Everywhere gas and smoke, visibility is almost zero.
Ironically, but the word Nadezhda (the name of the plant) means a hope. This is where the hope dies. In this photo you can see the border between sky and smoke.
Used to be an airport in the past.
All the way to Kayerkan, I coughed nonstop. Taking a breath, I could feel the air burning my lungs.

Kayerkan. The bicycle is broken

This was supposed to happen. I drove exactly halfway to Dudinka and my bike finally broke down. Fortunately, I got to Kayerkan, the district where I grew up and where my father still lives in.

Кайеркан (Kayerkan).

Never give up! Hitch-hiking to Dudinka and finishing the trip

I could not forgive myself if I had just stopped after traveling halfway. Therefore, I decided to go to Dudinka by hitch-hiking. I have never hitch-hiked in Norilsk before. Many people have told me before that hitch-hiking in the north of Russia is one of the best in the world. And it turned out to be true. On the road, I did not spend even 5 minutes and immediately caught a car right up to Dudinka.

The easiest hitch-hiking I have ever done.
Landscape on the way to Dudinka.

Dudinka. The town of the one river

Dudinka is a port town. The great Siberian river Yenisei flows here. When I reached the city, the first thing I did was go to the embankment and put my hand towards the icy water. The trip is finished. The time is 16:35.

Yenisey river.
An Orthodox church next to the embankment

To sum up: what is Norilsk like?

At some point in my journey, I thought that Norilsk is probably one of the most beautiful and ugly cities in the world at the same time. On the one hand – mountains, rivers, lakes and tundra. And on the other – factories, waste and garbage. These 2 photos were taken at a distance of 30 kilometers from each other.

uEDu GUxto
Norilsk: picture 1.
Norilsk, picture 2.


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Igor Sobolev
Igor was born in one of the dirtiest and most northern towns in the world - Norilsk, Russia. Living there made him hungry for traveling and seeing the true world - how it works and who lives there. "Best way of traveling - Hitchhiking!"

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