The Swedish Lapland in the far northwest is a huge area of Arctic glaciers, forests, plains, lakes, mountains, and rivers. It is quite remote and wild, yet acclaimed by white adventure lovers and enthusiasts for having fun on snow or soaking oneself into the natural wonders of Northern Lights and Midnight Sun.
Kiruna is the northernmost city nestled at around 150 miles above the Arctic Circle. Inhabited by just a few thousands, this Lapland area has gained popularity as the closest city not only to the Arctic but also to Jukkasjärvi, the destination of the world-admired attraction called the ICEHOTEL built on the bank of the Torne River.
Photo Credits : Benhere
Formerly an inactive mining town is now a hustling hub of activity, especially during the winter when the city becomes the vibrant centre of the annual Snow Festival. Despite being sparsely populated, the city’s Snow Festival, snow adventures, and natural wonders pulls thousands of travelers and tourists each year.
Photo Credits : Michiel van Nimwegen
The evidence of human occupation dates back to over 6000 years, contributing to an interesting historical backdrop that led to the city development not before 1900s. Since then, the town is a major hub of mining, science and tourism.
In the town as well as in the surrounding neighborhood, visitors love to enjoy activities such as ice sculpting, dog sledging, and expedition to observe Northern Lights in winter and hiking, river rafting, canoeing, and expedition to view the Midnight Sun in summer, along with exploring the local Sami culture at any point of time.
Overview of the Local Sami Culture
The citizens of Kiruna are known as Sami who are rightly tagged as the ‘No-Problem People’ for their behavior to the tourists and travelers as well as for being unruffled at the news that their town is on the brink of sinking into a big mine pit. Therefore, the government is planning to move the town a couple of miles northwest in next 20 years, beginning with the downtown in 2016. The Samis are native inhabitants and are known for their exquisite arts and crafts in northern Sweden.
Photo credits: Chol Theatre
Getting Around Kiruna
You can reach Kiruna either by plane or train (17 hours) from Stockholm. While the airport is nestled just a few kilometers away from the city centre, the Kiruna train station is nearer from the city centre. Within the town, you can roam through a bus or taxi. You can rent a car but keep in mind that the roads are a bit narrow as well as not in a good shape, and that the speed limits are low. Nevertheless, a road trip can be more interesting than thought for, due to snow and frequency of wildlife spotting such as reindeer, hares, and moose.
Things to See in Kiruna
Kiruna Kyrka: Is one of the Sweden’s biggest wooden constructions and appears as a big Sami kåta (hut or tent-like structure). Voted as the most attractive building in 2001, the Kyrka is a Neo-Gothic church set against a snowy backdrop.
Photo Credits: James Losey
Gardi: Is a reindeer yard nestled close to the church (at 18 km from the city). It is recommended exploring it with a Sami guide who explains the Sami culture and reindeer farming in detail.
Photo Credits: Alain
LKAB Iron-ore Mine: Is a historic site upon which the city has relied heavily for livelihood. It is perhaps the world’s largest deposit of iron ore with the depth of 4 km into the ground as well as mining occurring at 914 m down the surface. For a visit, you sit in the bus traveling to the InfoMine, a closed mine tunnel section where you hear astonishing stats and see jaw-dropping big equipment like mills for crushing. Tours start from the tourist office between June and August daily.
Photo Credits: Peggy
Hjalmar Lundbohmsgården: Is a beautiful museum in an old office and home of Hjalmar Lundbohm, the first LKAB manager responsible for building the city of Kiruna. The museum reflects the city’s early days, the initiation of LKAB, and the construction of the Kiruna-Narvik railroad.
The Stadhus: Is an heir of Sweden’s most gorgeous public building. The main attractions here are a clock tower, bizarre collection of Sami handicrafts, and a modest art collection.
Photo Credits: realdauerbrenner
Samegården: Is the cultural hub where you can view the displays about Sami culture as well as visit a handicrafts shop affixed to a hotel-restaurant for buying some souvenirs.
Esrange Space Centre: Is where you can study a lot about the vibrant Northern Light. It is nestled at 28 miles east of the city and it is recommended taking a guided tour during summer.
Photo Credits: jackandlina
Jukkasjärvi: Is a tiny town located at 18km east of Kiruna and is famous for its church and ICEHOTEL. The church is one of the ancient but intact wooden edifices and is popular for its modern Sami painting behind the altar and a handcrafted organ. ICEHOTEL during winters is another major attraction that acts as a museum for 10-18 days by displaying magical ice and snow sculptures. Thereafter, the hotel is open for guests only, who wish to spend a night in a snow room. Located 124 miles inside the Arctic and 7.5 miles from the Kiruna Airport, the hotel is designed each year around mid-November with a new look by gathering ice from the Torne River and molded into furniture and sculptures. During summer, an ice exhibition is held in a big freeze house but is not open for visit every year. Bus 501 regularly runs between the town and Jukkasjärvi daily.
Photo Credits: Rainbow Matter
Things to Do in and around Kiruna
- Take a tour of the Sarek National Park accessible in 1 hour 15 minutes by bus. This is where you can enjoy watching the alpine high landscape, Rapadelta with its rich fauna, glaciers, narrow waterfalls, rapid-flowing streams, and Arctic animals such as moose, bears, reindeer, and wolverines. Through a difficult terrain, you can choose to trek the King’s trail passing through the southern park area in summer or late spring. No marked trails or amenities exist.
- Be a part of the greenish or pinkish Northern Light tour anywhere from September to March.
- Participate in the annual Snow Festival held in last week of January each year, wherein you can enjoy watching an ice sculpture contest; participating in competitions such as sledging and reindeer racing, and scooter jumping; skiing; snow mobile; and enjoying nightly feast under the Northern Lights.
- Take up a Midnight Sun tour in Kiruna between May and Mid-July and enjoy playing gold at Björkliden Arctic Golf Course in the Arctic Circle and white water rafting on the Trollforsen River. The Midnight Sun is an incessant 24-hour spell of sunlight occurring in summertime when the situations are right (not cloudy or raining). Darkness is expelled and unique and wild landscapes trigger dream-like surroundings.
- Join a trip to Lake Torneträsk for canoeing and rafting in summer.
- Enjoy dog sledging and snowshoe walking from Jokkmokk.
- Enjoy backcountry and cross-country skiing.
- Stay in an igloo at the foot of Saltoluokta Mountains.
- Take a 15-minute helicopter sightseeing in Ritsem towards Kebnekaise (Sweden’s highest mountain) and over the Sarek National Park.
Places to Eat in Kiruna
Because Kiruna and its surroundings farm many reindeers, the local food right from sandwiches to kebabs here involves reindeer meat. This means vegetarian options are only a few. Here are some restaurants/hotels in Kiruna or cafes to consider:
- Camp Ripan Restaurant at Campingvägen for affordable lunch buffet and extravagant dinner menu; has strikingly veggie-heavy buffet and Sami-inspired à la carte menu made from the seasonal local produce
- Arctic Thai at Förareg 18 under the Hotel Arctic Eden, offering burgers and Thai food; worth going on Sunday as very few places are open on that day
- Thai Kitchen at Vänortsgatan 8 offering delicious Thai dishes cooked in authentic spices; specialty is the sour and spicy glass noodles
- Brända Tomten at Föreningsgatan 6 in the city centre as a fast-food and café joint offering delectable coffee and filling lunch dishes such as salads and layered sandwiches while enjoying people from its big windows
As a tip, do taste the herbal tea cooked at a Sami home, probably for which you will have to mingle up with a local family.
Places to Shop in Kiruna
- Ateljé Nord at Lars Janssonsgatan 23 as a handicraft shop where you can meet the artisans who are experts in different types of Sami crafts
- Nils-Johan Labba at Kengisgatan 14b for woodwork, reindeer bone jewelry, knives, leather ornaments, and belts
- Carl Wennberg shop in Bergmästaregatan 2 and the Jokkmokk winter market being held at the end of January for exploring the Sami culture through wonderful handicrafts sold directly by the Sami artisans.
Places to Stay in Kiruna
You can choose to stay in one of the activity-based camps, mid-range hotels, and splurge ICEHOTEL. For those who are on strict budget, a camp is a great option.
Europe Tours from Kiruna
- Abisko National Park
- Rail journey to Narvik in Norway
- Space where a Spaceport is getting built for providing sub-orbital flights
Best Time to Visit Kiruna
- September to March for winter fun
- Mat to July for summer fun
Due to mining, Kiruna might not be the most visually appealing city but it is an amiable destination with the highest number of restaurants and lodgings in the northwestern corner of Sweden. Its closeness to the vast stretches of wilderness explored by hiking, the propagation of winter activities, and the iconic ICEHOTEL make it a matchless base for adventures and excitement.