DISCLOUSURE: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get commission if you decide to make a purchase through my link at no cost to you.
For years I have dreamt of visiting Lapland. I can only imagine that on one of Santa’s visits he cast the arctic spell on me, as I’ve felt the pull to visit ever since I was a young kid. I dreamt of sledding across frozen rivers with a pack of huskies and of sitting by the fire entranced by the stories of the Sami people. We had already had one failed attempt at seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, so the opportunity to watch nature’s best night-time show was yet another reason that I really wanted to go. There was just one problem. I couldn’t afford it! Or that is what I thought until I stumbled across Kiruna, Lapland’s most affordable town! In this guide, you will find everything you need to know about Kiruna, including the best things to do while you are here.
What's in this post:
Kiruna is the most northerly city in Sweden, located 200 km north of the arctic circle and within the Swedish Lapland region. Lapland is very often associated with Finland. However, the Lapland region actually spans four countries: Finland, Sweden, Norway, and the Kola peninsula in Russia. In essence, Lapland covers the territories inhabited by the Sami people, which are predominantly the Scandinavian territories found north of the arctic circle.
Kiruna itself is famous not as a tourist destination, but rather because it sits above the largest iron ore mine in the world. Fun fact, the city of Kiruna was moved 3 km east so that they could continue mining! More about that below! The area’s industrialisation is one of the city’s most significant advantages. Easy and affordable to get to and with plenty of accommodation choices, it caters to a very different client than your usual “Lapland Santa getaways”. This makes it much less touristy but doesn’t detract from the beautiful Lappish countryside surrounding it. Home to the tallest mountain in Sweden, you can expect breathtaking views, snow-capped mountains, and pristine forests surrounding the town. Furthermore, it is rooted in traditional Sami culture, so you can expect to experience all of the activities that Lapland is famous for.
Lapland is considered one of Europe’s last true wilderness areas, and the options for things to do are endless. So whether you come to Kiruna to enjoy the midnight sun or the Northern Lights, I am sure you will enjoy an authentic Lapland experience. Below are my top recommendations, but first, let’s get you there!
How you get there, of course, depends on where you are coming from and what your adventure levels are! I was going to suggest dog sledding from Stockholm, but I can’t find that as an option in any of my searches! For more traditional options though…
The most convenient way to get to Kiruna is undoubtedly by plane. It also happens to be one of the cheapest options. Most flights will connect via Stockholm. I recommend using Skyscanner to find the best route and deal for you.
From the airport, you can either take a taxi (£15-£20) or the local bus. The local bus runs according to the flight schedule and costs 110 SEK (£9).
If you are looking for more of an adventure, then perhaps Kiruna will be one of many stops as part of a Swedish road trip! Just a word of warning! The roads are long and straight, and the speeding fines are so high that nobody speeds! What started as pure delight a few years ago turned to “not another pine tree”! Of course, this was with work, so I couldn’t explore along the way, but it certainly was draining!
For a better adventure, why not choose public transport instead? Of course, it will still be the same scenery, but I always find one of the best things to do when travelling is to meet new people, so why make a trip to Kiruna any different?
The Arctic Route runs daily overnight buses from Stockholm to Kiruna. The route takes roughly 16 hours, and you have the added benefit of not needing accommodation for the night. The tickets cost around £80, which is not dissimilar to a flight from Stockholm to Kiruna.
The greenest way to get to Kiruna from Stockholm is by train, which like the bus, runs daily and travels overnight, saving you a night’s accommodation. The train has several sleeping options, from reclinable seats to bunk beds, and even the choice of a 2-bed cabin. Prices start at £80, so in line with the cost of a flight. You can purchase your tickets from Norrtag.
Now that we have established how to get to Kiruna, let’s get stuck into the best things to do while you are there.
Below I have highlighted the things I enjoyed most in Kiruna. All of these I have done, and therefore I am recommending from personal experience. Further down, I have added additional activities I wish I’d had a chance to complete.
The main reason we found ourselves in Kiruna was to see the Northern Lights. We had tried to see them in Iceland a few years before but had no luck. Yet in Kiruna, we were treated to a display on our first night! We were returning to our log cabin after dinner when nature’s artist started using the sky like a blank canvas. Streaks of green started dancing above us. We rushed to the room to get our cameras and headed to the darkest spot we could find. As we watched in awe, we forgot how cold we actually were. The tiny bit of exposed skin that had previously been screaming was now quiet and warm as the adrenaline of finally seeing one of nature’s best wonders took over our bodies.
Are northern light tours worth it?
Although you can see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) from towns, you want to be away from artificial light to see the true spectacle. Sadly, we had cloudy weather for the rest of our stay, so we didn’t get to see them again. But if you are lucky with the weather, then definitely go on an Aurora tour. You will be taken out into the wilderness, away from any light source, where you will see a truly magical display.
If you have a hire car, you can head out on your own, although make sure you are comfortable driving on snow and ice. Alternatively, book one of the many tours available. They will be able to take you to the best spots and can always be combined with additional activities if you wish.
We had provisionally booked to go with a photographer so that we could get specific help to help us capture incredible shots. However, you can combine it with dog sledding, snowmobiling, or even enjoy a tasty dinner instead! You can expect to pay £110 and upwards, depending on your activity choice.
The best time to see the Aurora Borealis is between September and April, although please never expect it will be guaranteed! Nature does what nature wants, and we have to be OK with it not matching our plans!
The best things to do in Kiruna: Dog Sledding
Dog sledding was, without a doubt, the highlight of our time in Kiruna. In fact, it was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Kiruna, as dog sledding has been on my bucket list for a very long time. Now that I have done it, it remains firmly on my bucket list to do it again! That is how good it was!
There are lots of options available starting from around £150 per person. We opted to go with Kiruna Dog Sled, even if it was a little more pricey than others. We chose this tour because we got to drive our own sleds, it included a light lunch (and a warm fire!), and they were highly recommended by other fellow travellers.
The kennels are located 30 minutes outside of Kiruna, and as soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the excited chatter of the dogs. Barking and howling, they were eager to get going. Mushers were in their pens, prepping them for the day ahead. And once we had put on our extra layers of warmth, we too were given the chance to meet our team of 5 huskies. Luckily they knew what they were doing as despite our crash course on how to musher, the best we could manage was to hang on for dear life! They were quick!
Best learn some Swedish!
Everything is done through verbal commands. However, Duolingo hadn’t covered any of them during my Swedish lessons! But, not to worry, the huskies knew what they were doing. All we had to do was brake before corners and get off to run up hills!
We covered 12 km before stopping for lunch in a small, and more importantly, warm, Swedish cabin. We all thawed around the fire and enjoyed a delicious bowl of soup before setting back off again. Hands down, dog sledding is the best thing you can do in Kiruna. Please don’t skip it!
A stay in the Jukkasjärvi Ice Hotel is meant to be one of winter’s “once-in-a-lifetime experiences”. However, with the cheapest room starting at £750, it wasn’t something I was about to try. Instead, we opted for a tour of the hotel. You still get to experience every one of the rooms without paying over the odds for a freezing sleepless night!
There are now two ice hotels in Jukkasjärvi. A seasonal one that melts away in the spring, and a permanent one that is essentially a fridge. When we were there in early December, they were still building the seasonal one, but we got to enjoy the permanent one, which was incredible!
The hotels are made from ice and snow, a mix that they call “snice”. The snow acts as an insulator ensuring the hotel is always at -5 degrees Celsius regardless of the outside temperature. All the ice used is gathered from the River Torne at the end of winter, when the ice is at its thickest. It is then kept in a cooler until they are ready to use it the following winter.
It’s more of an art gallery than a hotel. Every year the world’s best ice sculptors gather to create the rooms. Each room is different and can vary from contemporary designs to classic masterpieces. There is a tremendous amount of detail in each and every one of the rooms. Even the hallways are decorated with little ice chandeliers! My favourite room was a Victorian room with an ice library, two chairs, an ice fire, and removable ice books! The actual bedroom even had an ice radiator!
Whether you stay there or not, definitely visit the Ice Hotel. It is incredible and certainly deserves a spot amongst my favourite things to do in Kiruna!
Pick up some speed on a snowmobile!
If you want to truly get away from it all, nothing beats snowmobiling in Kiruna. This thrilling winter activity will take you deep into the Swedish wilderness and introduce you to some of the area’s most stunning scenery. Beware though, it gets frigidly cold on a snowmobile!
Snowmobiling is a popular winter transportation form involving driving a specially designed vehicle across snow or ice. It’s often used as a fun recreational activity or for practical purposes such as hunting or fishing. Snowmobiles are available for rent at many locations around Kiruna and can be driven with a valid driver’s license.
Kiruna offers plenty of options for snowmobiling enthusiasts. From scenic trails winding through the forest to vast open expanses of frozen lakes and rivers, there is something here for everyone. You can even experience traditional Sami culture by visiting one of their settlements and learning about local customs and traditions. No matter where you go, you are sure to be awed by the beauty of Kiruna’s snowy landscape!
Most snowmobile tours combine the snowmobile with an activity. In our case, we used the snowmobiles to go to the ice hotel and then combined it with a visit to a Sami settlement, where we learned about their customs and traditions. But you could also combine it with the northern lights!
Other things to do in Kiruna that we ran out of time to do!
Kiruna is a winter wonderland and is home to some of the most unique and exciting winter sports experiences. This small Swedish town has something for everyone, from downhill and cross-country skiing to snowshoeing and ice fishing.
There are several ski resorts and slopes that offer incredible views of the surrounding landscape while giving both novice and experienced skiers and boarders plenty of trails to explore. From family-friendly slopes with gentle runs to more challenging terrain for those looking for an adrenaline rush. It is worth noting that Kiruna is not the Alps! Adjust your expectations! But the slopes are lit for night-time skiing. A great activity to do during the endless hours of darkness!
We also discovered some cross-country skiing trails right in the heart of the town (well, more accurately, right on the outskirts). It appeared to be one of the local’s favourite pass times. Incredible, they seemed capable of speeding uphill as quickly as they did downhill!
Try your hand at ice fishing
Something I have always wanted to try and do is ice fishing. Don’t ask me why, but for whatever reason, it seems like a cool thing to do (excuse the pun!). During winter, local fishermen set up tents along frozen lakes where they can fish without having to brave icy temperatures outside. It’s a great way to get out and enjoy nature while challenging yourself with a new skill! Make sure you bring along some warm layers though – it gets chilly out on those frozen lakes! Undoubtedly, it is one of the more unique things you can do in Kiruna.
Could it be the most northern festival in the world?
I’m not sure if it is indeed the most northerly festival or not, but every January Kiruna does host a Snow Festival. It is a great way to experience Kiruna’s distinctive culture. You can expect the “snow blower world championships”, dog sledding, figure skating, painting exhibitions, live music performances, and a kids’ playground made of snow! However, the showstopper is always the Kiruna International Snow Sculpture Competition. The show attracts the best snow artists from around the world. The festival has been taking place since 1986 and is run on the last weekend of January every year.
Explore Abisko National Park
No visit to Kiruna is complete without exploring Abisko National Park. Located an hour north of Kiruna, Abisko National Park spans over 4,500 hectares and is home to some of the most spectacular scenery. Imagine mountain peaks, crystalline lakes, and plenty of wildlife like reindeer and moose. I’m gutted we didn’t have the time to go as it sounds like the ideal place for nature lovers seeking adventure.
You can enjoy various outdoor activities in the park, such as hiking, skiing, fishing, and canoeing. The main attraction however, is the Aurora Sky Station, from where you can watch the Northern Lights. It also happens to be the park’s highest peak! It is also meant to be one of the best places to watch the sunset.
Take a Tour of Kiirunavaara Mine
Kiruna is built on top of the world’s largest underground iron ore mine! As I mentioned at the beginning, the town had to relocate 3 km east to allow mining to continue! Kiirunavaara has been in operation since 1898 and is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing things you can do in Kiruna.
You can arrange a tour of the mine through the Lkab Visitor Centre. You will go deep into the tunnels to explore this ancient mining site while learning about the history and culture surrounding these mines. In addition, you will gain insight into how the mine continues to shape life in Kiruna today. It is a fascinating operation predominantly managed by remotely operated machines and driverless trains.
If you’re looking for a unique way to explore the culture and history of the Sámi people, look no further than the Nutti Sámi Siida Open Air Museum. This fascinating museum is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the traditional lifestyles and customs of the Sámi people, providing visitors with an immersive cultural experience unlike any other.
The Nutti Sámi Siida Open Air Museum opened its doors in 1996 to preserve and protect traditional Sámi culture and lifestyle. The museum consists of several buildings that demonstrate how the Sámi people lived hundreds of years ago. One of the most popular exhibits is a full-scale replica of a traditional house known as a siida. Here visitors can learn how the Sámi constructed their dwellings, what they ate, how they dressed, and other aspects of their daily life.
The museum also offers a variety of activities for guests to enjoy, such as guided tours through the various displays and demonstrations on traditional crafts like leatherworking and wood carving. There’s even an area where visitors can try their hand at building a Lappish tent (leaivi) using only natural materials!
What attracts me the most to the museum though, are the reindeer! For those who want to learn more about reindeer herding—an essential part of Sámi culture—the open-air museum offers informative presentations on this topic. This includes not only enjoying a reindeer sled ride through the forest, but also learning everything about their care and their training. Did you know reindeer racing is a popular sport amongst the Sami community?
Go wildlife spotting near Kiruna
There are a variety of animals that you might spot in Kiruna, including reindeer, moose, lynx, arctic hare, and a variety of bird species. Reindeer are especially common in the area, and you may see them grazing on the side of the road or in the surrounding wilderness. Moose are also prevalent and can often be found near bodies of water. If you’re lucky, you might spot a lynx, a small wildcat native to the region. Arctic hares, known for their white winter coats, can also be seen in the area. Finally, Kiruna is home to a wide variety of bird species, including eagles, owls, and ptarmigans.
One of the best places to spot wildlife is the Kebnekaise mountains, about an hour west of Kiruna. Nikkaloukta Sami Village operates tours that support the local community and ensure the preservation of wildlife and their habitat.
The cost of living in Kiruna is generally lower than in larger cities in Sweden, but it is still expensive by non-Scandinavian standards. Let’s face it, Lapland is not synonymous with cheap! But we certainly found that Kiruna was much more affordable than any of the other Lapland destinations whose predominant focus is Santa tourism.
Accommodation in Kiruna can be expensive, especially during the peak tourist season. Hotel rooms and vacation rentals tend to be on the pricier side, although a few budget options are available. Airbnb rentals vary from £60 a night for a caravan or £73 for a room within a house to around £200 a night for a small apartment. If you travel outside of the Christmas and summer holidays, you can get good deals on Booking.com with hotel rooms from £85 and Aurora pods from £86!
Food and drink in Kiruna can also be expensive, especially if you eat at restaurants or buy imported products. However, renting a place with a kitchen can save you money. We also lowered our culinary expectations while there and enjoyed some rather yummy, although not particularly healthy, fast food, which was no more expensive than in the UK. Our favourite was Stejk Street Food, where we had moose and reindeer arctic cheesesteaks! For £15, we got a very filling cheesesteak with either fries or salad. They also do burgers for a similar price.
Overall, Kiruna is less expensive than some other major cities in Sweden, but it is still a good idea to budget carefully and be mindful of your spending while you are there.
The best time to visit Kiruna depends on your interests and what you hope to do while there.
If you are interested in experiencing the midnight sun, the best time to visit Kiruna is during the summer, when the sun never fully sets. This phenomenon occurs north of the Arctic Circle during the summer and can be a truly unique and magical experience.
If you are interested in outdoor activities like hiking and skiing, the late spring and early fall can be an excellent time to visit Kiruna. The weather is generally pleasant during these months, and the crowds are typically smaller than in the peak tourist season.
If you want to get in the Christmas spirit, the run-up to Christmas is always a wonderful time, although brace yourself for the cold and long hours of darkness!
And if you want to see the Northern Lights, then the best time to visit is between the end of September and the beginning of April.
There are various choices when it comes to accommodation in Kiruna, from moderately cheap to eye-wateringly expensive. My recommendations are aimed at budget and mid-range travellers.
We stayed at Camp Ripan, which was running a great sale at the time. Rates typically start at around £130 per night. However, we got it for under £100 on Booking.com, which was an absolute steal! It is the perfect choice for those who want to get close to nature while still enjoying a bit of luxury. This stylish hotel is situated on Lake Tornetrask and is surrounded by stunning mountains, offering breathtaking views from almost every room. It provides lots of activities for families as well – such as guided tours, snowshoeing trips, and a daily children’s program with games and crafts – along with spacious rooms equipped with flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi throughout.
Hotell Fjällgården Björkliden
If you’re looking for something more basic but still comfortable, try staying at Hotell Fjällgården Björkliden, located near the Abisko National Park. Here you’ll find simple but cozy cabins with all essential amenities like heating and cooking facilities. There is also an onsite restaurant serving traditional Swedish dishes at reasonable prices. Its location within walking distance of scenic trails also makes it an ideal choice for outdoor enthusiasts who want easy access to hiking spots or snowmobile routes around Abisko National Park.
Kiruna Snow Village
Kiruna Snow Village is another fun option where you can stay inside an igloo made from snow and ice! Nestled among the trees on top of a mountain ridge near Riksgränsen ski resort, this unique hotel features beautiful ice sculptures lit up by colourful lighting, giving it an ethereal atmosphere perfect for star gazing. During daytime hours, you can go dog sledding or on husky safaris nearby before returning to your igloo sanctuary!
For those seeking some comforts of home within walking distance from downtown Kiruna’s sights and sounds, STF Hotell Fjällgården Björkliden makes a great choice. The hostel has a choice of private rooms with a shared shower or ensuite, depending on your budget and preference. You will also have access to a communal kitchen so visitors can cook their own meals using fresh ingredients bought directly from local markets, a great way to reduce costs! Rates start at £68 per night.
There are also several Airbnb listings starting at £60 a night. If you are a regular on the blog, you will know I am a big fan of Airbnbs. However, I think Booking.com is your better bet for finding an affordable deal in Kiruna!
Whether you’re looking for traditional Swedish fare or something more exotic, there are plenty of great options in Kiruna. From the hearty reindeer stew to the exquisite gravlax salmon, there’s something for everyone! Try some of Sweden’s famous pea soup – it’ll fill you up and warm your soul. Of course, if you crave something sweet, save room for some Abborre baked apple with custard and Chantilly cream for dessert.
If you like trying unique dishes, then also try Langos. Langos is a traditional Hungarian street food that consists of a deep-fried dough topped with various savoury or sweet toppings. The dough is made from flour, yeast, salt, and water and is typically shaped into a flat, round disc. It is then deep-fried until it is golden brown and puffed up. Savoury toppings for langos may include cheese, sour cream, minced meat, onions, and garlic, while sweet toppings may include Nutella, jam, and powdered sugar. In Kiruna, the toppings generally include reindeer heart and liver paste!
Our favourite dish
One of our favourite dishes, which is loved among locals and tourists alike, is Reindeer Stew, or rådjursgryta, as it is known locally. It is made with tender pieces of reindeer meat that are slow-cooked with vegetables and seasonings to create a flavorful and hearty stew. Reindeer is a staple of the indigenous Sami culture and is a common ingredient in many traditional dishes in the region. Reindeer stew is often served with lingonberry jam and potatoes, and you will find it on most menus in Kiruna.
If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, look no further than Raspeball. A dish made with mashed potatoes that are formed into balls and boiled. These balls are usually filled with bacon or cooked ham and served with butter sauce on the side.
The most famous dish
If you have been to IKEA, the following suggestion won’t surprise you! Köttbullar (also known as meatballs) is a very popular dish in Sweden. They are traditionally made with ground beef, pork, or a combination of the two and are flavoured with a variety of herbs and spices. Köttbullar are usually served with creamy gravy, lingonberry jam, and mashed potatoes and are a staple of Swedish cuisine. In Kiruna and the surrounding area, you will find köttbullar on the menu at many restaurants and cafes. They are a popular choice for locals and tourists and can be found at various establishments, from casual cafes to fine dining restaurants.
The dish that requires an acquired taste!
The next dish is one we weren’t actually brave enough to try! Surströmming! Surströmming is a traditional Swedish dish made of fermented herring. It is a specialty of the northern parts of Sweden, including Kiruna. While surströmming is an acquired taste and not everyone enjoys it, it is a popular and well-known dish in Sweden. Surströmming is typically served with traditional Swedish accompaniments such as boiled potatoes, diced onions, and crispbread. It is often eaten as a summertime treat and is often enjoyed at outdoor gatherings and picnics.
If you are looking for something sweet while in Kiruna, then these are our favourite treats:
- Kanelbullar: cinnamon buns that are typically made with a sweet dough and flavoured with cinnamon and sometimes cardamom.
- Klenäter: small, round cookies made with oats and sugar and flavoured with cinnamon and cardamom.
- Västerbottenpaj: a savory cheese pie. The crust is made of butter, flour, and milk and a filling of grated Västerbotten cheese. It is often served as a dessert with lingonberry jam.
- Semlor: sweet buns filled with almond paste and whipped cream. They are typically eaten around the time of Mardi Gras.
- Prinsesstårta: a layered cake filled with jam, marzipan, and whipped cream and topped with a layer of green marzipan.
Will you be adding Kiruna to your bucket list?
Hopefully I have convinced you to consider Kiruna as your gateway to Lapland. There are so many things to do in Kiruna, and it is a great way to explore this beautiful part of the world in a somewhat affordable manner. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I love hearing from you all, and I enjoy nothing more than talking about travel!