One could definitely say that Kiruna is a bucket list holiday and they would not be wrong. Lapland has always appealed. Why? Because it is so different, because of the Northern Lights, the opportunity to go Husky Sledding and because of the snow. However, the more I looked into it the more I realised I didn’t know and the more I wanted to visit.
Lapland is the northernmost province in Sweden with a large portion of it lying within the Arctic Circle. Swedish Lapland is home to the indigenous Sami people and is quite possibly one of the last few places in Europe that you could call true wilderness. Although we didn’t venture far from Kiruna there was still an overwhelming feeling of being in the middle of nowhere experiencing raw nature first hand.
Kiruna itself was the perfect base from which to explore. 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle and the most northern town in Sweden it has a down to earth charm about it. There isn’t much to do in the town itself but having become a tourist hub there are endless of activities happening on a daily basis allowing you to explore the surrounding lappish territory.
But that’s enough facts for now. Below are the daily emails I sent home of our adventures. I hope you get some enjoyment from them and hopefully some inspiration to pack some woollies and visit this amazing area.
Day 1 – Northern Lights
It is cold! Actually, it is freezing, it’s like nothing I ever experienced before. A minute of exposed skin and you can feel your skin cells screaming in pain! Luckily we have LOTS of layers so other than looking like wimpy Michelin men to the locals we are managing fine apart from when we want to take photos!
It is actually an unusually mild winter for them. Normally they’d be experiencing -35 degrees Celsius by now but it is currently highs of -8 and lows of -16 so the locals are dressed somewhat tropical. Despite being mild though there is still a lot of snow about. Roads and pavements have merged together with compacted snow and away from the kept paths the snow is thigh deep. The nice thing is that it is all white unlike when it snows in the U.K. when it soon turns to slushy black muck.
Kiruna is a small settlement 90 miles north of the arctic circle which was founded in 1900 for the purpose of mining. It is actually home to the world’s largest iron ore mine, however they have dug so far and so deep that the town is no longer on stable ground so they are having to relocate the entire town.
Other than travelling we haven’t done much today as we are too old for these 4am starts. What we’ve seen so far though is great. The hotel is not dissimilar to a centre parks kind of facility with cosy wooden cabins (but on a much smaller scale). It has a really nice restaurant that does an affordable lunch meal deal (today it was Brisket of Beef a drink and pudding for £10). Not bad for Swedish prices and very yummy!
Finding somewhere for dinner was hard. We tried 8 different places before we finally found somewhere not fully booked. We weren’t hungry enough to warrant an expensive meal so we settled for Thai fast food. Not only was it nice but again we had dinner for less than £10pp therefore defying the notion that Sweden is cripplingly expensive (or at least proving that budget options do exist!).
But the best part of the day? We got treated to a Northern Lights display. Wow!! We didn’t manage to get far enough away from the lights as we would have liked but even then they were bright. Doug managed to capture a really good picture.
Day 2 -Dog Sledging
Today was AMAZING! One of the main reasons for wanting to come to Kiruna was to go dog sledding, something that has been on my bucket list for a very long time. It did not disappoint!
We got collected from our hotel this morning and driven 30 minutes further north to large husky kennels. After kitting us out with warm overalls, thicker gloves and snow boots we were introduced to our 5 dog sled team and taught the basics of driving a sled. Easy, hang on for dear life! We were too tight to pay for our own sled each so we took it in turns with me taking the reins first whilst Doug sat and froze.
It is very easy actually, the driver stands on the back and uses their body weight to steer the sled with a brake pedal that digs spikes into the snow to stop the dogs. All other commands (like telling the dogs to go, turn right or left is all done by voice commands). Our Swedish wasn’t up to scratch though but luckily the dogs just followed the guides sled in front so we just had to worry about staying on and stopping.
It was such good fun and at times really quick. Up hill the driver did have to help the dogs by running or pushing but otherwise we were able to simply enjoy the stunning scenery. I just wish it wasn’t as cold so that we could have taken photos. It was absolutely breath taking. We rode along a frozen river, through forests and over a frozen lake. We saw lots of moose footprints but didn’t get to see the animals themselves.
Although sun rise was at 10:58 and sun set at 11:12 it isn’t actually dark the rest of the time. Instead we got to enjoy 4 hours of prolonged sunset (it’s the only way I can describe it). Beautiful blue/pink skies and an augmented sense of light because of the reflection on the snow. You have to see it to really appreciate the beauty of it, my words definitely can’t describe it.
After covering 12km we stopped for lunch in a small wooden cabin where we got a fire going and warmed up with some soup before heading back along a different route. Doug drove on the way back and thoroughly enjoyed it too. We both wished we had spent the extra money to have our own sleds. Not only because of how much fun it is but because manhandling them means you don’t get anywhere near as cold! I tried to take some photos as passenger which was a bad idea, I’ve only just about thawed!
For dinner we treated ourselves to a lovely candle lit dinner of moose steak with potato cake, a mushroom sauce and lingonberries as well as some veg. Absolutely delicious! We followed that with all you can eat candy/cake/cheese buffet. Some of us were less controlled than others and are suffering for it now. I still feel it was worth it though!
To finish off our day we waited until 10pm which is when the chance of seeing the Northern Lights was meant to be at its highest. Unfortunately it was not meant to be tonight. Doug did get some nice night time shots though and we have found an area with little lighting in case they do make an appearance tomorrow.
Day 3 – Snowmobiling and Ice Hotel
Today was really cold! There is a big difference between -11 and -22, especially if you then add the wind chill created by 50km/hour speeds on a snowmobile! If I am ever captured by the enemy all they have to do to get me to talk is subject me to cold, I’ll tell them anything they want! It puts into perspective what high altitude climbers or arctic explorers must go through and how a matter of seconds’ worth of exposure is enough to cause damage and pain!
Despite the cold it was still great fun and once again we were able to enjoy the amazing scenery and light which did not disappoint. We combined the snowmobiling with visiting the Ice Hotel which was a 30 minute ride away along forest tracks and the frozen River Torne.
For me the Ice Hotel was the highlight. They now have two, a seasonal one that melts away in the spring and a permanent one which is essentially a fridge. They are still in the process of building the seasonal one for this winter. It was really interesting to see how it is done. The hotel is made of a mixture of ice and snow which they call “snice”. The snow acts as an insulator ensuring the hotel is always -5 degrees regardless of the outside temperature. All the ice is gathered from the River Torne at the end of winter when the ice is at its thickest and kept in a cooler until they are ready to use it for the winter.
It’s more of an art gallery than a hotel in all fairness with the world’s best ice sculptors gathering every year to create each room. They receive 100’s of idea every year and they have a panel that judges which 20 ideas will end up becoming the rooms. The hallways are decorated with lit ice chandeliers and each room consists of a different ice sculpture. My favourite was the Victorian room which consisted of an ice library with two chairs, an ice fire and removable ice books. The actual bedroom had an ice radiator! As amazing as it was I’m not sure it warrants spending between £400 and £900 to stay the night in temperatures of -5!
After the tour we made our way to a hut on the other side of the river where we gathered around the fire and enjoyed a salmon soup, cheese pasty and lingonberry hot juice.
I let Doug do most of the driving. I had a little go between the Ice Hotel and the lunch spot and all I can say is that I didn’t make it look as cool as James Bond! They are quite hard to steer as they try and follow the ruts of all the snowmobiles that have followed that path beforehand. It is also very bumpy for the person sat on the back. We managed to get some decent speeds though (55km/h when Doug was in charge).
That marked the end of our holiday. Another relaxing afternoon in the hotel before heading out for dinner. We tried to eat at the restaurant our guide recommended but it was closed so instead we opted for a burger in the local pub (Doug enjoyed it but I was a little disappointed considering it cost £20 for a burger!).
The likelihood of seeing Northern Lights is close to none so it will be an early night before we have to return to the tropic climates of England tomorrow.
Our stay in Kiruna may have been short (even if we had wanted to we couldn’t have afforded to stay any longer) but it has definitely delivered and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves the outdoors. Although cold with the right clothes it is very bearable and definitely worthwhile to experience such wilderness and stunning scenery. I definitely want to return to Lapland, maybe in Finland next time so that we can stay in an Igloo, go in search of Moose and ride a reindeer.