Cheeky reindeer, an accidentally free tour of the Ice hotel, snow sculptures and hurricane winds – all of this was Kiruna for me.
Kiruna is a mining town in the far north of the Swedish Lapland, known for its huge iron ore LKAB mine, which is one of the largest in Sweden. Kiruna is also famous for its Esrange Space Center and their amazing space research, and for having a Space engineering detachment of the Luleå Technical University, the university I attended during my MSc, although luckily not in Kiruna. Apparently the winter months there are quite miserable for students, because there is no housing close enough to the university buildings and the town itself is quite calm and boring. Anyhow, I spent a couple of days in Kiruna with my mother in February 2019 and from what we could see the town is definitely worth a visit.
Among other things, Kiruna has one of the largest wooden buildings in Sweden, which is the Kiruna church, built in the Gothic revival style, and a small museum about the Sami culture, called Samegården, which is a little bit harder to find, but quite interesting and well worth the visit. During the winter they build snow slides and igloos in the city centre, which are great hits with the local kids, who were dressed in so many clothes that they looked like little inflatable balls.
Impressions of Kiruna
Someone or several someones with a lot of talent had also made a couple of snow sculptures in the main park of the city and one of them, the snow queen, was incredible. The level of detail was crazy, as she even had eyelashes.
You can see a lot of wind turbines on the hills surrounding Kiruna and the area is also home to many Sámi families (the native Lapland people) and their numerous reindeer herds. About 17 km out of the town is the village of Jukkasjärvi, where the two main tourist attractions in Kiruna are located – the Ice hotel and the Nuti Sámi Siida reindeers.
In Jukkasjärvi you can get to meet the reindeer and feed them their favourite lichen, which they will be quite eager for, so don’t let them rush you! You can read more about how I met the cheeky reindeer here, because they did manage to rush me. 🙂 The Nuti Sami Siida venue also features an exhibition on the traditional Sami living and they offer delicious Sami food cooked over an open fire in a tent, which includes reindeer meat, so I suggest you eat first before meeting the reindeer…
The reindeer encounter at Jukkasjärvi
Next up was the Ice hotel in Kiruna, which was the first and the original ice hotel in the world. It used to be rebuilt from scratch every winter, but now has a permanent section, which is open 365 days per year. The temperature inside the cold rooms stays at a chilling -5°C, so the guests are encouraged to buy thermal sleeping wear, with the Ice hotel logo of course, which I personally thought was a very expensive tourist trap, but to each their own.
Nonetheless, the Ice hotel is beautiful and well worth a short visit. There are official tours of the interior, but we accidentally saw most of it for free, as we wandered in after a wedding group and there were no signs for buying tickets or any kinds of ticket checks, so we only realised we were supposed to do that after we’d already been inside whoops. I guess the Balkan blood wins out even when we’re not even trying. 🙂 The hotel also has an ice bar and an ice chapel, which we didn’t get to see, because we figured there was no point in paying for the whole tour after we’d already seen most of it.
The cold beauty of the Ice hotel
On the last day of our stay in Kiruna there were severe weather warnings on the TV, which proved true: all trains and buses got delayed and it was indeed very smart to stay inside as the locals advised. You can see some videos and read a bit more about the wind blasts here, because it was quite a sight.
Besides the things we saw, you can visit a part of the Kiruna LKAB mine with a guided tour, but we did not have time to go and you can only see the Visitor centre anyway. There is another mine that can be visited in the nearby working town of Gällivare, which also happens to be the gateway to several beautiful hiking trails and national parks, so it has made its way on my travel list. Bizarrely, Kiruna was once also the home of the artistic Solar Egg sauna, which was so successful that it has hence gone on a European tour (read more about it here) and ended up staying in the lake resort town of Rättvik.
The details of Kiruna
Travel tip: The bus and train delays are apparently a common thing during winter, since Kiruna is so far north. Even though I’d say that the train is the best option for visiting the city, I would recommend you keep in mind that your train may be cancelled at any time and have a back up plan. It should however be more than reliable in the summer, when you can take the train during the night to experience the midnight sun. The train line between Kiruna and Narvik further north in Norway is called Ofotenbanen and is one of the several scenic railways in Scandinavia, so it is well worth a trip too.
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Some photos taken by my mother.