Travel guide to Kiruna

Basics

Kiruna is Sweden‘s northernmost town and one of the largest of European Lapland.

This remote town was founded in 1900 and has the world’s largest and underground iron ore mine. Kiruna is located above the arctic polar circle, meaning that the Sun doesn’t set in the summer and doesn’t come out for almost a month in the winter.

Northern lights can be easily observed from the town throughout the winter, and there is a whole lot more to see and do, namely dog sledding, snow-bike tours, an Ice Hotel, space research and rocket launching centers, Sami culture, the highest mountain in Sweden, and a lot of wild reindeer and moose; all surrounded by tundra forests and prairies that extend beyond the horizon in every direction.

Temperatures and hours of light

Winter:

  • Temperatures: from October till April. Daily average of -18ºC, the lowest months being January and February. Temperatures can easily drop to -30ºC from December to February, with a lowest of -43ºC. Do bring warm gloves and socks and decent winter boots, and be willing to enjoy the cold! Winter clothes can be bought in any of the several sports shops in town.
  • Hours of light: daylight hours in winter gradually decrease till the second week of December, where the Sun is down all day and the whole region remains in the dark till the first week of January. Life takes place as usual during this time of the year

Summer:

  • Temperatures: from May till September. Daily average of +8ºC, but temperatures vary constantly. Expect above 15ºC in June-July, but don’t be surprised if it snows in the middle of June. Do not bother to bring winter clothes, but make sure to use thermal clothing and a 5ºC-sleeping bag if you are planning for week-long hikes.
  • Hours of light: the Sun remains above the horizon all day from the end of May till mid-July. People take this chance to ski at midnight, or enjoy the midnight Sun.

Time and Date offers accurate tables on sunrise and sunset times, daylight and darkness hours, etc.

More practical info

  • Free public Wi-Fi is available in the streets between the main bus station and the tourist office. The signal is too weak elsewhere. No need to register an account beforehand.
  • Free use of computers is possible in the public library and the language-learning center.
  • Free maps of Kiruna city and Swedish Lapland are available at the tourist office located at the city center.
  • Practically everyone understands and speaks English in Kiruna.
In Swedish,

  • Hello = Hej (“hey”)
  • Good bye = Hej då (“hey-doh”)
  • Thank you = Tack
The whole city is covered in snow in the winter
The whole city is covered in snow in the winter

Transportation

Road E10, as well as the train, connects Luleå with Narvik (Norway) passing through Kiruna and Abisko. Kiruna airport is located 7 km east of the town. Norwegian and SAS airlines connect Kiruna with Stockholm. SAS offers cheaper tickets for travellers under 26.

Buses

  • Regional buses: Länstrafikken Norrbotten manages a network of buses throughout the whole Swedish Lapland; including connections with Luleå, Svappavara, Gällivare and Umeå; as well as Narvik (Norway). All timetables can be found here. Note that some bus lines are seasonal, such as the one that connects Kiruna and the national park of Nikkaluokta only during the summer. LN’s website also includes a Trip Planner option on the sidebar, which offers a detailed options breakdown to get between two specified places (in and out of Kiruna). A one-journey ticket is typically 25 SEK. Major LN lines are:
    • Line 501: Kiruna bus station – Space Physics Center – Jukkasjärvi
    • Line 91: Kiruna – Abisko – Riksgränsen ski station – Narvik
    • Line 92: Kiruna – Nikkaluokta
    • Line 10: Kiruna – Luleå
  • City buses: there’s a network of local buses to get around the city. Every route is covered by a bus of a specific color. Timetables and further details on the stops can be found at the tourist office or the city hall.
  • Airport shuttle bus: the bus between the airport and the main bus station is run by Horvalls (100 SEK/adult); the bus is always waiting outside for every arriving flight. Payment is made on the bus. You can check the detailed route of the shuttle bus here.
  • Train station shuttle bus: the bus between the train station and the main bus station is free. It departs from the train station for every arriving train; and from the bus station 30 minutes before a departing train.

Pro Tip: Bus line 501 has a stop that is 2 km away from the airport (at 67°50’44.3″N, 20°20’59.9″E); taking this walk might be worth the difference in money versus the 100 SEK shuttle bus.
Pro Tip: Locals and students in Kiruna use the Kiruna Bus Card; which provides free transportation with any LN or local bus. This card can be obtained at the city hall.

Taxis

Kiruna taxi service can be reached at +46 (0) 98012020 (or their website). Although expensive, it is sometimes the only option for travellers leaving the city on an early flight. Taxis can be shared with other passengers taking the taxi at a similar time; make sure you ask for this option when you call them.

Trains

SJ national trains connect Kiruna with Stockholm (south), Luleå (east) and Narvik (west, Norway). Tickets can either be booked online or at the train station’s self-service machine. Among other discounts (check their website), there is a discount for travelers under 25.

Pro Tip: Tickets booked during the 24 hours prior to departure are sold at a discount price. There is no risk of a Kiruna train being fully booked, with the exception of the ones connecting with Stockholm.

Car rental

Car rental by Avis, Hertz and Europcar is available at the airport, and can be booked online beforehand. Each company has additional offices/parkings downtown or around the big malls area of the city.

Hitchhiking

Albeit some locals may seem to not recognize the meaning of a thumb up, hitchhiking is possible in and out of Kiruna. Be extra careful in the winter, since distances are big. Consider rejecting rides that only take you to a halfway town where the chances for another ride will be lower. Check Hitchwiki for more info.

The ugly clocktower everyone in Kiruna seems to hate
The ugly clocktower everyone in Kiruna seems to hate

Sleep

In case of emergency, indoor shelter can be found at the hospital. The same applies to nearby towns who are big enough to have a hospital.

Additionally, Kiruna enjoys a decent CouchSurfing network of both locals (including unique hosts like mine workers and tour guides) and university students who live in the city temporarily. A night in an ice room at the ICE HOTEL costs 2150 SEK. Budget accommodation includes:

  • STF Youth Hostel: well-located, simple and the cheapest option. Has a nearby supermarket. Ideal for backpackers. 100 SEK a night in a shared bedroom.
  • Yellow Houseanother cheap option in town, starting from 170 SEK for a 4-bed room. A number of complaints on the hostel being too dirty and the staff a little bit weird has given the place a very bad reputation. It has a sauna.
  • Tommys House: small youth hostel, very well-equipped and only 200m from the center of the city. From 225 SEK.
  • Hotell City: located halfway between the bus station and the city center where the tourist station is. From 250 SEK.
  • Camp Ripan: cabins located on the northern end of the city. Very close to the forest, ideal for northern lights excursions.

Food and Drinks

There are multiple ICA and COOP supermarkets spread through the city. Small, in-city small ICA supermarkets open Mon-Fri until 7pm/Sat-Sun until 2pm; COOP supermarkets open Mon-Sun till 10pm.

The largest ICA and COOP malls are found in the big shopping area (south-east of the city). Reindeer meat can be found in any big supermarket in Kiruna. Alcohol -with the exception of low-alcohol beer- can only be bought at Systembolaget, which has different opening hours every day of the week, and is closed on Sunday. Recommended food places are:

  • The Bishop Arms: beautiful British pub with decent food and wide beer selection. One-time visitors and locals often drink here. It has a side-room full of book shelves, a perfect atmosphere for chilling indoors. Located near the city center.
  • Cafe Safari: this would be the hipster place of the city. Nice cafe atmosphere. Many young locals gather here.
  • Arctic Thai & Grill: delicious Thai food! Reasonable prices.
  • Annis Grill: cheap burger menus. Delicious french fries.

Night clubs in Kiruna are expensive, but located right at the city’s central plaza, which helps gather the activity in one area. After clubbing, people typically go grab a bite at Sylliba’s or Manuella Pizzeria, which are located at the plaza as well.

  • Royal Diner: restaurant that becomes night club. It has a 1950s Grease-ish style, with a central dancing floors and several tables, chairs and sofas around it. It’s the hip place of the city. Club entrance fee around 100-130 SEK.
  • Scandic Ferrum: larger night club, with two floors and many areas. Live concerts take place on the second floor every now and then. Club entrance fee around 100-130 SEK as well. The crowd is older than Royal on average.
Kiruna, the mine and the lake from the ski slopes
Kiruna, the mine and the lake from the ski slopes

Activities

Year round

  • Climb Kebnekaise (2,097.5 m): Sweden’s highest peak lies 70 km west of Kiruna, near the King’s Trail (Kungsleden) between Nikkaluokta and Abisko. To get to the base of the mountain from Kiruna, take bus 92 from Kiruna (only runs in the summer), a taxi or hitchhike your way to Nikkaluokta national park. You can either set up a tent anywhere or use the lodge at the base camp, and start the ascension from there the next day. The climb becomes more challenging in the winter.
  • Visit Esrange Space Center, a rocket launching facility 40 km north-east of Kiruna. Their launches (check their schedule here) can be seen from the city. They launch sounding rockets and stratospheric balloons. Guided tours are possible.
  • Mine tours: guided tours to the iron mine run by LKAB are offered on specific days of the week. The tour takes you down to 540 m underground, where you can walk around the tunnels a bit and check the Visitor Centre. The price (325 SEK) includes transfer bus from the city center, the tour and some snacks.
  • Kiruna church, or kyrka, is the main landmark of the city and ressembles a Sami tent in a way.
  • Road trip towards Norway to the amazingly beautiful Lofoten islands, or to the North Cape passing through a few Finnish villages.

Winter

Offered by many tour agencies, “wilderness tours” and similar services are packages that include dog sledding, snowmobile rides, northern lights tours at night, ice fishing, etc. One of the highlights of these tours is the chance to spend the night inside a Sami tent, sometimes sharing the experience with people from the Sami culture. However, understand that if they are dressed up with traditional Sami clothes, they are doing it for your benefit.

  • See reindeer and moose: these animals can be spotted by the roadside rather easily, pay attention! Additionally, reindeer and moose farms can be visited.
  • Dog sledding: sleddog tours are offered by many companies in Kiruna. Some tours are short, long, include a food break and food, and some are offered at night so that you can see the northern lights throughout. Besides comparing the quality/price of several, make sure to read a couple of reviews of the chosen company first, as some companies keep their dogs in poor conditions and should therefore be avoided. A quick Google search will return tens of dog sledding companies in the region.
  • Snowmobile tours: snowmobile is also an option for wilderness tours in the winter; offered by many companies as well.
  • Ice fishing: often included in snowmobile or wilderness tours.
  • Northern lights, or aurora borealis, can be observed from September until the end of March. The requirements to see the lights are a high magnetic activitiy, cloudless sky and preferrably no bright Moon. Read more about the northern lights and why they happen in this post. Compared to nearby locations like Abisko and Tromso, Kiruna has poorer conditions to see the northern lights due to its persistent cloudy weather. When the skies are clear, auroras can be expected more than two or three times a week. Check the weather forecast and the magnetic activitiy forecast before making your trip to increase your chances, but understand that they can’t be precisely predicted.
  • Ice hotel: The ICE HOTEL in Jukkasjärvi is the main attraction of the city. Guided tours on the construction of the hotel and other activities are offered on location. Besides the basic rooms where people can actually spend the night, the hotel features many rooms built by artists from all over the world. Since the hotel melts away, the artistic rooms are different every year. Take bus 501 from Kiruna to reach the town of Jukkasjärvi where the hotel is located. Don’t miss this chance to grab a sled (they are scattered all around the place) and ride it on the frozen lake, which is an amazing sight.
  • Ski: there is a ski slope right by the city, Luossabacken, walking distance from the centre. Rental costs 200 SEK. There are a few slopes and a snowpark. The long lift takes you all the way up to the top of the hill and can be used by buying a day ticket (140 SEK) or a season ticket (1680 SEK). The short lift that takes you halfway to the top can be used for free. The hill where the slopes are used to be an iron mine, which was finally emptied before LKAB moved its operations to the new mine. Nearby (larger) ski stations are Abisko, Narvikfjellet and Riksgränsen. Cross-country skiing equipment can be rented at several places (such as Camp Ripan, where you can ask for recommended tracks as well).
  • See an ice hockey game: Kiruna IF, the local team, plays in the Hockeyettan, the third level of ice hockey in Sweden.
  • Walking on ice: either at the Ice Hotel lake or on any nearby lake, you can freely hike on a frozen lake for a unique experience. Ideal time for this is mid-January.
  • Sauna and running on snow: a nice and refreshing challenge among youngsters. Go into a sauna, go outside for a naked run on the snow in the freezing winter and go back inside the sauna!

Summer

When summer comes around, the whole Swedish Lapland becomes hiking paradise, with endless green forests and prairies and easy climbs here and there. If you go for long hikes, make sure to pack reindeer cheese in your bag for some delicious sandwiches in the wild!

  • Hiking: the popular King’s Trail (Kungsleden) passes through Nikkaluokta, a national park near Kiruna. In Kiruna, the Midnight Sun Trail that starts by Camp Ripan is a short and popular alternative if you just want to hike for a bit, it goes all the way up Mt. Loussavara (a ski station in the winter).
  • Kayaking and rafting: when the waters finally melt, the lakes and rivers of the region are great for kayaking and, in some cases, rafting as well. The same companies that offer winter activities switch to these in the summer.
  • Explore lake Torneträsk. Green and beautiful in summer, perfect for a trek and a picnic around.

Check out more travel tips and stories on Kiruna, Sweden and Lapland here!

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Have you ever thought about seeing the northern lights?
Let me know in the comments below!

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