Solowezki Islands - Highlights and Travel Tips

Solowezki-Inseln - Sehenswertes und Reisetipps
Solowezki Islands - Places of Interest and Travel Tips

Russia. In the White Sea, about 160 km south of the Arctic Circle, lies a group of islands with a moving history. Why the Solowezki Islands are worth a visit and what is worth seeing on the Solowezki Islands, you can find out in my following travel tips. Maybe you will feel like visiting this unusual destination, which welcomes you with a great subarctic nature and Russian hospitality. And with a little luck you might even be able to watch Beluga whales.

What to expect in this Article

The Solowezki Islands - Overview and History
Highlights and Sights of the Solowezki Islands
1. The Solowezki Monastery - the most visited Highlight of the Islands
2. Insight into History - the Gulag Museum
3. Beluga Whales - my personal Highlight of the Solowezki Islands
4. The Maritime Museum
5. Prehistoric Stone Labyrinths
6. Botanical Garden
7. Excursions to the neighbouring Islands
Solowezki Islands - more helpful Travel Tips for Planning

The Solowezki Islands - Overview and History

The Solowezki Islands, or Solowki Islands, consist of six larger inhabited and several smaller uninhabited islands. Nearly 1,000 inhabitants were counted in 2002.

Already in the 13th century the first monks settled on the island Groß Solowezki. In 1429 the monks Sawwati, German and Sossima founded the Solowezki monastery on the main island. It soon became the most important religious centre in the north of Russia and one of the richest monasteries in Russia.

Blick auf das Kloster von Osten
A highlight of the Solowezki Islands is the monastery.

The monastery was then expanded into a fortress and a prison in the 18th century. For over two and a half centuries, mainly political prisoners were imprisoned here.

Later, however, the archipelago took a sad place in Russia's history as the Gulag archipelago. The Solovki camp was in fact Russia's first large prisoner camp, the prototype for the Soviet camp system and became a symbol of terror. As early as 1920, a labour camp was set up in the fortress and the existing prison. In October 1923, the "Solovetsky Camp for Special Use" (SLON) was established with the first 130 inmates. The motto above the camp's entrance gate was: "Let us with an iron hand drive humanity towards its happiness." In 1931 there were then over 70,000 inmates. All the monastic buildings and even the hermitages were converted into storage facilities. The camp was also characterised by poor medical care, maltreatment, torture and lack of food. Several tens of thousands of people were murdered in the forests of the island during this period.

Inside a monastery chapel

After the time as a gulag, the Solovetsky Islands are today again dominated by the monastery complex and inhabited by Russian Orthodox monks. The complex on the main island has been restored and since 1992 has also been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most important monasteries in northern Russia and is therefore visited by numerous pilgrims every year.

Im Innenhof der Klosteranlage
In the inner courtyard of the monastery complex

Highlights and Sights of the Solowezki Islands

1. The Solowezki Monastery - the most visited Highlight of the Islands

The monastery is the main attraction of the Solowezki Islands and absolutely worth seeing. When your boat approaches the islands, the monastery is the first thing you will see. From the water you will have a great view of the buildings.

Übersichtsplan der Klosteranlage Solowezki
General plan of the Solowezki Monastery

The complex contains several smaller exhibitions, for which you can buy tickets directly on site. But I would recommend a guided tour, because the monastery is big and you might miss many things. Guided tours in foreign languages are available at the tourist information.

Still being restored at the monastery

2. Insight into History - the Gulag Museum

The Gulag Museum is easy to overlook. It is located in a dark wooden house to the left of the main road south. Only a small sign points to the exhibition.

Unfortunately in summer 2017 all texts were only in Russian. Information or an audio guide in English was not available. But the old photographs and graphics mostly speak for themselves. Even if you can only take a fraction of the contents of this exhibition with you without knowledge of Russian, I think the Gulag Museum of the Solovetsky Islands is worth seeing.

3. Beluga Whales - my personal Highlight of the Solowezki Islands

Are whale watching tours also part of your favourite programme when you are at the sea? You can even watch the beluga whales of the Solowezki Islands from land. Because the calm shallow water in front of the islands is the nursery of the belugas. In summer they come here to give birth and raise their young. How you can get to the Beluga Cape Observation Point on your own and what you have to keep in mind when doing so is explained in my article The Beluga Whales of the Solowezki Islands. The Beluga Whales of the Solowezki Islands.

neugeborenes Beluga Kalb
A newborn Beluga calf at Cape Beluga was my personal highlight of my visit to the Solowezki Islands.
ökologischer Pfad zum Beluga Kap, Groß-Solowezki, Russland
The ecological path to Beluga Cape leads through an enchanted subarctic forest. Photo: Dr. Till Pasquay
Rosmarinheide (Andromeda polifolia) - Achtung giftig!
Rosemary heather (Andromeda polifolia) - Warning: poisonous!

4. The Maritime Museum

The Solowezki Islands used to be the starting point for numerous expeditions to the Arctic. Therefore a maritime museum should not be missing here. Right after Cape Beluga it is one of my favourite travel tips for the Solowezki Islands.

Rekonstruiertes Boot - Solowezki-Inseln - Reisetipps
The highlight of the exhibition in the Maritime Museum of the Solowezki Islands is a reconstructed boat with the typical shape for the White Sea.

You'll find it opposite the monastery, on the other side of the bay. It shows nautical instruments, old charts and photographs of seafaring. A large-format map also shows the routes of polar expeditions that started from the Solowezki Islands. The names of the expedition leaders of the time are also shown on associated boards. On the upper floor, there is even an entire room dedicated to Russian polar expeditions. On display are various items of equipment, warm clothing made of furs and old black and white photographs. The museum also presents the special features of the boats that were used on the White Sea and had to cope with typical short and steep waves. In the basement you can even see a replica of such a boat. A really beautifully designed museum. In front of the office on the ground floor you can also buy postcards and get them in the mailbox with a special postmark of the Solowezki Islands.

Solowezki-Inseln als Ausgangspunkt für Expeditionen in die Arktis
Solowezki Islands as starting point for expeditions to the Arctic

You can find out more about Russian polar research at the Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic in Saint Petersburg. Here you come to my article about this wonderful polar museum.

Kleidung der frühen russischen Polarforscher, die vielfach von den Solowezki-Inseln aus starteten.
Clothing of the early Russian polar explorers, who often started from the Solovetsky Islands.

5. Prehistoric Stone Labyrinths

Prehistoric stone labyrinths have been preserved on the Solowezki Islands. However, their purpose is still unclear today. Scientists assume, however, that the labyrinths are religious ritual sites of fishermen settling here. Others, however, believe that the stone spirals were made by extraterrestrials.

You can reach the stone circles by walking south from Solowezki Monastery for about 2.5 kilometers. There a path branches off to the coast.

Prähistorisches Steinlabyrinth Solowezki-Inseln
Also the prehistoric stone labyrinths on the Solowezki Islands are absolutely worth seeing and testimonies of a long history.

6. Botanical Garden

On the Solovetsky Islands there is one of the most northern botanical gardens in Russia. Unique plants grow here as well as many purple lupines. An idyllic place, very beautiful to look at. If you come back from the Beluga Cape by bike, a short stopover is worthwhile.

Gewächshaus im botanischen Garten auf Groß-Solowezki
Greenhouse in the botanical garden on Groß-Solowezki

7. Excursions to the neighbouring Islands

At the tourist information you can also book thematic tours on Great Solovetski and excursions to the neighbouring islands. Solowezki Islands - more helpful travel tips for planning and on the road Arrival

Solowezki Islands - more helpful Travel Tips for Planning

Getting there

By boat: There are two boat connections, which go regularly to the main island Groß-Solowezki: The ships Metel-4 and Vasily Kosyakov leave from June to August once a day from the village Rabocheostrovsk near Kem to Greater Solovetski (duration approx. 2.5 hours). From Belomorsk the ship Sapphire sails once a day (duration about 4 hours).

Schiff Metel-4 - Solowezki-Inseln - Reisetipps
The crossing from Rabocheostrovsk to the Solovetski Islands with the ship Metel-4 was a highlight in itself.

We started from Rabocheostrovsk. You can buy the tickets for the boat at the reception of the Turkomplex Prichal holiday complex and reserve them in advance by e-mail. The communication was possible without any problems in English. The resort invites you to stay, because it has several comfortable wooden bungalows, a cafe and a guarded parking lot. For a fee camping is possible and we could leave our camper during our stay on the islands with a clear conscience for a few days. We have booked our tickets for the beginning of July about 3 weeks in advance, which I highly recommend due to the small ship and numerous pilgrims who want to go to the island.

If you are travelling without your own vehicle, you can also take the train from Petrozavodsk to Kem. From there there is a bus connection to the ferry port.

Abendstimmung in Rabocheostrovsk bei Kem
Evening atmosphere in Rabocheostrovsk near Kem

By plane: There is also a small airport on the main island with connections to Arkhangelsk. However, flights are highly dependent on the weather, as it is not possible to land on the island in fog or strong winds.

Moving around

On site you have the possibility to rent bikes. This will take you to most of the sights on the main island. Be sure to take one of the more robust mountain bikes, as the roads are unpaved and have numerous potholes. After a while, riding a bike can become a challenge, as you will need to take evasive action.

If it is too far or too bumpy for you, you can change to public buses. You can get up-to-date information about the buses at the tourist information office, which is located on the right-hand side between the pier and the monastery.

The classic vehicle on the Solowkis, however, are the UAZ buses. These are also used as taxis. A ride in the UAZ is an experience you should not miss.

UAZ-Taxi - Solowezki-Inseln - Reisetipps
A trip with the UAZ taxi to the Solowezki Islands will be a memorable experience.


Our knowledge of Russian could be summed up in three words at the time of our trip. So we went among the people armed with dictionary, note and pen. And that went surprisingly well. Whenever we couldn't get any further, someone miraculously turned up who spoke a little English and helped out.

And every time I spoke a few words of Russian, people were happy and felt invited to tell me about their families. I regretted that I could hardly talk and enrolled in a Russian course right after the trip.

At the tourist information and in our hotel we got along well with English.

Shopping and Money

There are kiosks for grocery shopping and also a small supermarket. But the shopping is a little bit different than what we are used to and has to be well prepared. Because you have to order every single item from the shop assistant, so either learn the words before or read them from a cheat sheet.

There was no cash machine on the island in summer 2017. So take enough cash with you so that you can pay for the one or other guided tour. Does your accommodation only accept cash or credit cards as well? In order to avoid surprises, it is better to check again before you go.

Einer der Kioske zum Einkaufen von Lebensmitteln auf den Solowezki-Inseln
One of the kiosks for grocery shopping on the Solowezki Islands

Sleeping and Eating

You can find accommodations on We stayed at the Hotel Ostrovito Moryushko untergebracht und bekamen dort Frühstück und es gab auf Wunsch auch Abendessen. Tagsüber haben wir gepicknickt oder in der Kantine vom Kloster gegessen. Abends ist es im Cafe Expedition sehr gemütlich, es gibt Bier und dazu einheimische Hausmannskost. Sehr beliebt ist der Solowezky-Hering. Im Cafe Expedition könnt ihr auch Bootsfahrten zu den Belugawalen buchen. Es liegt am südlichen Ende des Klosters auf einer kleinen Anhöhe. (Das Cafe Expedition heißt jetzt Kafe “Pinagor”.)

Have you ever been to the Solwezki Islands in the White Sea and what were the highlights for you? Do you have any questions about my travel tips or further suggestions? If so, please write me a comment!

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  1. Hallo, danke für diesen schönen Beitrag, den ich mit großem Interesse gelesen habe. Eine Frage hätte ich noch: Ihr ward ja mit einem “Expeditionsmobil” unterwegs. Ich habe einen ausgebauten Kastenwagen – geben die Straßenverhältnisse es her, ein solche Reise auch mit einem Kasten zu wagen?
    VG, Jörg

    • Hallo Jörg,
      die Straßen, die wir in Karelien gefahren sind, waren sehr unterschiedlich. Die E105 zwischen St. Petersburg, Petrosawodsk bis hoch ans Weiße Meer ist sehr gut zu fahren. Sobald wir aber abgebogen sind, waren die Strecken schlechter (insbesondere nach Kem und Rabocheostrovsk). Da sind wir wegen Schlaglöchern und Bodenwellen nur langsam vorangekommen. Allrad haben wir nicht gebraucht während der Tour, alles was wir gefahren sind, war befestigt.
      Liebe Grüße

  2. Hallo Mareike, vielen Dank für die Rückmeldung, das ist sehr hilfreich für meine Überlegungen. Viele Grüße aus der Nachbarschaft (Steegerstraße), Jörg


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