Kiruna in Sweden is the northernmost city of the country – and besides the largest iron ore mine in the world, this dreamy city comes up with much more that is worth a visit. Most people come here for one thing: nature! Welcome to Kiruna, the gateway to a stunning winter wonderland and to the northern lights.
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Traveling to Kiruna, Sweden – Flying and driving into the darkness
If Stockholm is your starting point for this adventure, a flight to Luleå, a city at the northern end of the Baltic Sea, is one of the fastest and best options. Norwegian Airlines for example offers some cheap tickets. Anyway, their airplanes are modern and they even include free WiFi on-board.
Visitors of Luleå should take the time to visit the historical city core, if you own proper winter clothes. Please note that these clothes are an absolute must-have as the temperature can easily drop below -30 degrees. Just imagine that the mean annual temperature is about frosty 1.3°C. And on a windy day, the perceived temperature is even lower.
Packed in warm clothes the journey by train begins at the central station of Luleå, heading north by train through endless snow landscapes and darkness. As Kiruna is located above the Arctic Circle, the sun is not visible in winter. Most residents of Lapland are suffering from the continuing darkness – how can you blame them for that?
Kiruna in Sweden – A moving city
Kiruna itself offers lots of sights for tourists: first there is the legendary ice hotel which is build out of ice blocks from scratch every winter, then there is the historical wooden church, which is the largest wooden building in the country and there is the Kåppashålagrotte, an impressively huge cave system.
Visitors who are interested in mining are able to take a guided tour through the exhibition mine. You like space more? Good, then you should definitely check out the Kiruna spaceport, a launching site of European research rockets. Actually, this spaceport is supposed to be the starting point for commercial space flights in a couple of years.
As the city of Kiruna is limiting the grows of the ore mine because is is already sinking because of the holes in the ground, there is a plan to move the whole city by three kilometers to avoid a collapse of the city.
In other words, if you want to visit the current, historical grown Kiruna, you should hurry up. The movement of the city is just about to start and the new town hall should be already finished in 2016. Some buildings will be rebuilt, others such as the historical church will be moved to the new place.
Snow mobiles and Huskies: Activities in Kiruna, Sweden
Lapland – most people might think of it as the land of the huskies. No visitor in winter time will leave Lapland without ever having made a dog sled ride. I have visited Lapland two times in the past years and I took a dog sled ride on both visits. The two-day tour was organised by the local tour guide called Henrik Taube Activity in Kiruna and it costs 1.800 SEK for adults.
It includes a ride on a snow mobile to the camp, an overnight stay at the camp in the camp itself in the middle of the wilderness of Lapland and it includs food and drinks. The camp is located at the Torne River next to the Alajaure and Rautas wildlife and nature preserves, 10km away from the nearest road without any electricity or running water.
Until last year, an additional one hour dog sled ride had been included in this tour. However, it is no longer part of the tour offered by this operator. But no worries, even without the huskies the tour is good and worth the money.
Dog sled ride in Kiruna, Sweden – Sled through the snow
The cheap and simple Gullriset Lägenhetshotell is a good starting point for the tour. I booked it on both stays and was allowed to leave my luggage in the room for free while I was off at the tour for the night. Believe me, afterwards it is a great feeling to return to your room and have a shower without any waiting time.
It’s a short ride by car to the assembly point, where you will receive appropriate winter clothing by Henrik. In addition to the warm (an even fashionable) Swedish military pants you also receive proper snow boots. But don’t forget to bring gloves, warm underwear and the jacket by yourself.
After getting dressed all participants help to unload the dogs of the dogs trailer. They are clamped in one of the four dog sleds under the command of the English speaking dog sled guide. The tour starts after a short introduction by the guide.
The best thing was, that every participant was allowed to control the sled for a couple of minutes by himself. The dogs are pulling the sled permanently, to slow down you have to use a foot-operated claw-break. And if the gradient is too high, the sled driver is required to support the dogs by pushing the sledge.
Off to camp: lap food & wood-heated sauna
The dog sled tour ends after about an hour at the point of departure. The distance to the camp is overcome by snow mobile. These vehicles are alternately driven by two participants, too. If the ice is not thick enough, the last meters to the camp will be covered by boat. Anyway, end of January the ice cover should be thick enough to walk this short distance.
Once the group arrives at the camp, the first task is to chop wood for cooking the meals, heating the cabins and the sauna. As there is no running water or electricity, the fire is the only source of heating up the cabins.
And it gets even more adventurous: The water supply for tea and the meals is covered by sawing holes in the ice cover and carry the water to the camp by foot. The simple beds are located in typical Swedish wooden cabins, sleeping bags are available and required despite of heating the cabins.
The meals served in the wooden kitchen-cabin are traditional lap dishes such as reindeer stew. After the meal they offer lots of outdoor activities for participants such as cross-country skiing, sledging, winter fishing and snowshoeing. Also the wooden sauna is heated up by fire with temperatures around 70°C that will heat up the icy coldness.
Northern lights – The most impressive spectacle of nature
And then there are the northern light – or aurora borealis (named after the roman goddess of dawn aurora and the greek name for north wind borealis). They are definitely one of the most impressive spectacles of nature I have ever seen.
The different visual forms are just beautiful, they are normally greenish colored curten-like auroral arcs. It is really hard to describe it… You just need to see it by yourself to understand the elegance and purity of these lights. If the sky is cloudless and the conditions are good, the best time to view the northern lights is around 11pm.
The bad news: There is no guarantee to see the northern lights; you just need to have a lot of luck. Actually, the first time I had bad luck, the sky was cloudy and it was rainy. But then at my second visit it was way better and after being cloudy first, the sky cleared up and the aurora was visible for more than one hour.
My tip is to download the smartphone app Aurora Forecast beforehand. It shows the intensity, the chance to see the northern lights and the best time for the actual day.
The morning after – Welcome to a winter wonderland!
Especially in the morning, Sweden’s wonderful nature could be admired by taking long walks through endless snow landscapes. The contrast between the white of the snow and the red of the dawn are a good start for fantastic photos. After lunch, a Lapp barbecue using typical Swedish meat sausage and a snow mobile ride back to Kiruna is a dignified final of the adventure in the snow. And after a hot shower, you can top it all up by a visit to the famous ice hotel of Kiruna.
Kiruna in Sweden – Hard Facts:
Operator: Henrik Taube Activity
Costs: 1.800 SEKfor adults (about 200 Euros); 1.400 SEK for students (about 150 Euro)
Tours from Kiruna in Sweden are available between November 20th and April 20th
Tour includes: guide, transfer, riding snow bikes, activities in the camp, sauna, overnight stay, snow pants und snow shoes
Acknowledgements: Without Sven, a good mate, the photos of the northern lights near Kiruna in Sweden would not have been possible. Thank you!
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This post is also available in Deutsch.