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Kiruna town and mine
Kiruna, a mining town, is the northernmost town in Sweden. The entire town is in the process of moving, house by house, a little to the east. The ground under the town is about to become too unstable to support buildings due to the deep mining close by.
Photo credit: Jonatan Stålhös/imagebank.sweden.se

Kiruna – an arctic city bathed in the Northern Lights

Kiruna – Sweden’s northernmost city – has a lot to offer. This is where to see the Northern Lights and experience the Midnight Sun. It also boasts the country’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise.

Nestling some 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in Norrbotten province, Kiruna is a gem of a city that forms part of Swedish Lapland. This vast area covers about a quarter of Sweden and stretches across the very north of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia.

An outdoor enthusiast’s dream destination, Kiruna is surrounded by varied and vast terrain – from deep forests and expansive marshes to lakes, rivers and mountains – including Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain, towering at 2,106 metres. These landscapes are ideal for activities such as hiking, fly fishing, skiing, snowshoe walking and dog sledding. The city of Kiruna is celebrated as the best place to see the Northern Lights and soak up the Midnight Sun.

Kiruna is fascinating from an urban perspective. This historic mining community – first established in 1900 – is undergoing a transformation due to the impact that the mining has on the area. For the mining to be able to continue, a large part of the city needs to be moved. This involves the physical lifting and shifting of buildings and the occasional demolishing and erecting of others. The modernist Kiruna City Hall – known as “the crystal”– was the first landmark to be completed in this major push to create a new urban landscape.

Mining in Sweden

Mining and the iron industry have always been of great importance to the Swedish economy. Sweden accounts for a large percentage of Western Europe's iron output.

Photo: Sonia Jansson/imagebank.sweden.se

Kiruna – land of the Northern Lights and Midnight Sun

Kiruna puts on two natural light shows – the Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights. The Aurora Sky Station in Abisko – an hour’s drive from Kiruna – is known as one of the best places in the world to admire this kaleidoscopic display. The spot benefits from relatively low levels of precipitation and cloud cover, and although the electromagnetic interplay between sun and earth – the trigger behind this otherworldly effect – occurs constantly, you’ll only be able to see it when it’s dark from August to April.

If you’re keen to experience the Midnight Sun – the 24/7 sunlight you get summertime north of the Arctic Circle – plan your trip between May and mid-July. You can also combine the experience with skiing as late as midsummer (mid-June) in the popular ski resort Riksgränsen.

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Northern Lights

The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is a natural light display that is frequent during the winter months in northern Sweden thanks to the geographical proximity to the Arctic Circle and the magnetic north pole.

Photo: Asaf Kliger/imagebank.sweden.se

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Northern Lights

Photo: Asaf Kliger/imagebank.sweden.se

Northern Lights

Photo: Hjalmar Andersson/imagebank.sweden.se

Midnight Sun over the Scandes

Photo: Jonatan Stålhös/imagebank.sweden.se

Midnight Sun

Photo: Asaf Kliger/imagebank.sweden.se

Midnight camping

Photo: Erik Leonsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Kiruna – an ultimate hotspot for outdoor activities

Take advantage of the long days by setting off on an epic hike along the famous King’s Trail (Kungsleden). The section extending from Abisko to Nikkaluokta takes you through the lake-studded Abisko National Park, with its barren mountainside and high peaks. Kebnekaise is one of the trail’s star attractions and there’s a separate 18 km round-trip trail that will take you up to the top.

With thousands of lakes and numerous major rivers, Kiruna is a fly fishing paradise. The clear waters are inhabited by species such as Arctic Char, pike, whitefish, grayling and salmon. There is a range of guided fishing tours to choose from – complete with fishing licence – lasting from a few hours to several days. Go pike fishing in the flowing water of the Caledonian mountain range or take a short boat ride from Riverside Lodge near the Torne river to fish for grayling and trout. This trip is one of many organised by Lapland Wilderness Tours.

As for wintertime experiences, dog sledding through Kiruna’s magnificent Arctic landscapes is a definite highlight. The friendly huskies are a joy to spend time with and there are various tours to choose from. Family-run Husky Home is one that offers an array of exhilarating experiences, including the opportunity to drive your own dog sled.

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Hiking the Kings's trail, Swedish Lapland

Don't forget a sturdy pair of boots and waterproof clothing during your hike on the King's Trail in Swedish Lapland.

Photo: Cody Duncan / Swedish Lapland

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Hiking the Kings's trail, Swedish Lapland

Photo: Cody Duncan / Swedish Lapland

Northern Lights at the Kings's Trail

Photo: Cody Duncan

Fishing

Photo: Anders Tedeholm/imagebank.sweden.se

Guided riding tour

Photo: Anna Öhlund/imagebank.sweden.se

Dog sledding adventure

Photo: Anna Öhlund/imagebank.sweden.se

Sleddogs in the woods

Photo: Anna Öhlund/imagebank.sweden.se

Learn about Sami culture via authentic experiences

Swedish Lapland was originally known as Sápmi, the land of the Sami people. Sweden’s indigenous people have inhabited the region for thousands of years. Reindeer herding is a major Sami industry and don’t be surprised if you come across herds of these beautiful, placid animals when out in nature. If so, take care to keep your distance so as not to disturb them.

To immerse yourself in Sami culture, pay Nutti Sámi Siida a visit, which is run by reindeer herders and based in the Sami village Saarivuoma. The village is located in Jukkasjärvi, some 20 km from Kiruna. Experiences vary according to season – in May for instance, you can spend time with a large reindeer herd and watch calves take their first steps. To refuel, you’ll be served a traditional Sami meal cooked over an open fire in a lavvu tent. Wintertime, a three-day-package is available, taking you reindeer sledding through snowy landscapes to see the Northern Lights.

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Sami

The Sami people have their own folk costume, the kolt. The traditionally blue costumes have at least 12 different styles and differ for men and women.

Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se

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Sami

Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se

Feeding reindeer

Photo: Tina Stafrén/Visit Sweden

Sami eco tourism

Photo: Asaf Kliger/imagebank.sweden.se

Sapmi Nature Camp

Photo: Lennart Pittja/Sápmi Nature/Visit Sweden

Kiruna on a plate – local specialties and where to find them

Kiruna’s culinary identity is influenced by Sami food traditions. Local produce and ingredients harvested from nature form an important part of the diet. Reindeer meat comes in many forms, including sausages and smoked steak, and you’ll also come across elk meat. Fish found in local waters – and on many restaurant menus – include Arctic Char, pike, trout and whitefish. Make sure to try some Kalix vendace roe – the first Swedish produce to receive Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the EU, joining the ranks of Champagne and Stilton Cheese.

Kiruna locals are keen foragers taking full advantage of the offerings available in nature. Thanks to Sweden’s right to roam (Allemansrätten), anyone is free to pick mushrooms, berries and herbs found growing wild. Like in much of Sweden, you’ll find plenty of blueberries and lingonberries come late summer, and up here in the north, you’re also in for a treat in the form of cloudberries – a highly nutritious, amber-coloured delicacy that thrives in marshy terrain. If you’re new to foraging, we recommend you let someone with experience guide you.

Restaurants serving up the best of the region include Abisko Mountain Lodge’s in-house restaurant Brasseri Fjällköket, where you can literally look around you and see where ingredients are sourced. Dishes – prepared according to slow food principles and season – consist of produce such as Arctic char, moose meat and cloudberries. In a similar vein, The Veranda at Icehotel offers a changing twelve-course tasting menu allowing you to sample a broad range of locally sourced ingredients, cooked in front of guests by chefs keen to share their knowledge. Spis in central Kiruna is another notable restaurant focusing on local delicacies including Suovaspanna, a smoked reindeer meat dish. It also has a deli counter, should you wish to take an edible piece of Kiruna with you home.

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Outdoor cooking in Swedish Lapland.

Fresh Arctic char caught in a mountain lake and cooked outdoors over an open fire.

Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi

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Outdoor cooking in Swedish Lapland.

Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi

Outdoor cooking in Swedish Lapland

Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi

Outdoor cooking in Swedish Lapland

Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi

Lingonberries

Photo: Ted Logart/imagebank.sweden.se

Practical information before your trip to Kiruna