The 2.15-square-kilometre town has a population of 3,498; which gives it a population density of 1,627 inhabitants per square kilometre. When the neighbouring suburban villages of Hesseng, Sandnes, and Bjørnevatn are all included with Kirkenes, the urban area reaches a total population of almost 8,000 people.
The area around Kirkenes was a common Norwegian–Russian district until 1826, when the present border was settled. The original name of the peninsula was Piselvnes ("Pis River headland"), but this was changed to Kirkenes (meaning "church headland") after the Kirkenes Church was built here in 1862. Kirkenes was a village until 1998. Then it got the town status.
During the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany, Kirkenes was one of the many bases for the German Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe's Jagdgeschwader 5, and apart from that, the area served as a main base for supplies to the Murmansk front (see Lapland War).
Reportedly, Kirkenes is second after Malta on a list of European towns experiencing air-raid alarms and attacks, with more than 1,000 alarms and 320 air attacks. The town was taken over by the Red Army on 25 October 1944 when the German Wehrmacht was pushed out and fled the area after having destroyed most of the remaining infrastructure. Only 13 houses survived the war. Close to the town there is a memorial to 11 freedom fighters who helped the partisans collect information about the German occupation.
In the summer of 1943, their activities were discovered and many of them were sent to a prisoner-of-war camp near Kirkenes. Following a court-martial the 11 were sentenced to death and were killed near the memorial spot on 18 August 1943. When the common grave was opened in 1946 it was found that the men had been beaten to death. Following the post mortem and memorial service, the bodies were returned to their homesteads.
The majority of the inhabitants of Kirkenes are of a Norwegian background, and a minority is Sami. Others are originally from Finland, either members of the Kven population or of a newer influx of more or less recent Finnish immigrants. Also, about 500 people are relatively recent Russian immigrants. For several months in 2015, the town served as a border crossing point for Syrian refugees, with hundreds per week crossing the border on bicycles.
Kirkenes is located in the extreme northeastern part of Norway on the Bøkfjorden, a branch of the Varangerfjorden, which is a vast bay connected to the Barents Sea near the Russian–Norwegian border. The town is situated about 400 kilometres (250 mi) north of the Arctic Circle.
Kirkenes is located just east of the 30th meridian east. As a result, it is further east than Istanbul, which marks one of the European borders with Asia. The easternmost point of Norway and the municipality is also at a point further east than Saint Petersburg.
Unlike the vast majority of Norway, Kirkenes is located east of the neighbouring country of Finland. Because of this, travelling directly west from Kirkenes actually changes the time zone forward instead of backward, as it usually does. Travelling directly east from Kirkenes (into Russia) changes the time zone forward by an hour in summer, but by two in winter. When Russia implemented permanent daylight saving time between 2011 and 2014, there was a three-hour difference travelling forward from the eastern part of the municipality to westerly Russian areas during winter. It also shares time zones with Galicia in Spain, in spite of a solar time difference of 2½ hours.
One can drive 100 kilometres (62 mi) south, and walk 10 kilometres (6.2 mi), into the Øvre Pasvik National Park, reaching the border point of the three countries (Muotkavaara), where the three time zones meet. There are only a few such places in the world. It is forbidden, according to both Norwegian and Russian law, to circumambulate the border marker, as the only lawful route across the Norwegian–Russian border is at the border control at Storskog.
The midnight sun shines from May 17 to July 21. The corresponding winter darkness extends from November 21 to January 21. Despite its location at the coast, Kirkenes exhibits a more continental subarctic climate than further west along the Northern Norwegian coast. The all-time high 32.7 °C (91 °F) was recorded in July 1972 and the record low −41.8 °C (−43 °F) in January 1999. The coldest low after 2000 was −32.7 °C (−27 °F) in February 2003. Due to its cool summers vegetation is somewhat limited typical of the northern taiga, but it remains within the tree line and has forest of pine and birch. Considering its northerly position the climate is still very mild, especially compared with other Arctic port cities on similar parallels such as Barrow, Alaska and Amderma, Russia.
The secretariat of the Barents Region is located in Kirkenes. One of its tasks is to create cross-border cultural, educational and business relations in the Barents Region. There is now substantial optimism in the town as a consequence of the increased petroleum-drilling activity in the Barents Sea (including Russian activity). Bøkfjorden, an excellent harbour, has attracted interest from several large companies. Norway's and Russia's Foreign Ministers signed an agreement on 2 November 2010 which will make it much easier for 9,000 Norwegians and 45,000 Russians to visit each other.
Tourist attractions include Grenselandmuseet (The Border Area Museum), which shows the history of war and peace along the Norwegian–Russian border, Sami art exhibitions by the artist John Savio (1902–1938), and a history of the mining industry in the area. The museum has a small shop and café. Almost every last Thursday of each month the Russian Market takes place on the central square where traders from Murmansk sell their merchandise. Here you can find everything from matryoshkas, linen cloths, and handicrafts, to Russian crystal and porcelain dishes.
Just outside Kirkenes is a military base that is home to the Garrison of Sør-Varanger at Høybuktmoen. Connected to this base are the six border stations along the Russian border. This base and these border stations are there to protect against illegal immigrants as well as other illegal activities across the border. The only public border crossing is at Storskog, southeast of Kirkenes.
In the city centre of Kirkenes is Andersgrotta, a vast underground bunker built during World War II which provided shelter to the town's residents. Tours of the bunker are available.
Kirkenes is one end of the route of the Hurtigruten, which cruises daily up and down the Norway coast to and from Bergen. Kirkenes is served by Kirkenes Airport, Høybuktmoen. There are non-stop flights to Oslo, Vadsø, Vardø, Alta and Tromsø. The European route E06 has its northern terminus at Kirkenes. The northern terminus of the European route E105 highway is located in Hesseng, just south of the town.
Kirkenes is also the terminus of Kirkenes–Bjørnevatn Line, the world's second-most northerly railway line, used to transport iron ore from the mines at Bjørnevatn to the port at Kirkenes.
The town of Kirkenes is also the starting point of EV13 The Iron Curtain Trail, a cycling route which runs along the historic border between the capitalist West and the communist East during the Cold War.
"In Kirkenes" is translated i Kirkenes.