Sweden’s northernmost city, Kiruna is the main tourist hub in Swedish Lapland. Way up in the Arctic Circle, it’s a great place to base yourself for trips out into rural Lapland, where you can go dog-sledding, skiing and get some of the country’s best views of the northern lights.
Why visit Kiruna?
Right in the heart of Sami country, Kiruna is a good place to learn more about the traditional culture on a Sami reindeer tour. And of course there’s no shortage of other outdoor activities on offer, including ice-fishing, dog-sledding and snowmobile tours.
In fact, the area around Kiruna boasts 1500km of signposted snowmobile trails, plus around 8000 snowmobiles and 3425 sled dogs, so there are plenty of ways to get around the snowy landscape. It’s also a short distance from one of Sweden’s best-known tourist sites, the Icehotel.
However, the most unusual thing about Kiruna is that it’s currently being moved some 3km to the east. Right beside the world’s largest underground iron ore mine, Kiruna is at risk of falling into the void below, so the entire city is being demolished and should be rebuilt in its new location by 2035. Even the church is being dismantled and carefully reassembled in the new town.
For many people the big reason for visiting Kiruna is to see the northern lights. The city is far enough north to offer frequent light shows, and it also has a good airport, making it quick and easy to reach from Stockholm. To really see the northern lights, though, you’ll need to leave Kiruna behind and explore the nearby countryside – either on a husky tour like this one, or under your own steam.
How to get to Kiruna
Although it’s a very long way from Stockholm – some 1230km to be precise – it’s still worth making the trip to Kiruna, especially if you make the journey part of the adventure. Here are the main options:
The cheapest, most comfortable and probably most interesting option is to take the direct night train which leaves Stockholm’s central station at about 6pm and arrives in Kiruna at around 9.30 the following morning.
Tickets can be bought online and start at around 455 SEK for a non-changeable, non-refundable seat, or around 600 SEK for a fold-down bunk in a six-seater cabin. Unless you book a long way in advance, you’re likely to pay considerably more for your trip – one-way fares of 1200 SEK are not unheard of.
If you opt for a sleeping carriage, you can choose either a mixed or single-sex cabin. If there are two of you, you may want to splash out and get a two-bed cabin with its own shower and toilet – access to a lounge and breakfast included – though this will cost about double the price of a shared cabin.
A slightly quicker option is to take the day train from Stockholm at about 6.20am which gets into Kiruna some 14 hours later. However, it’s more expensive than the night train and you’ll need to change twice, at Umeå and Boden, so it’s only real advantage is that you get to admire the passing scenery in the daylight. Both day and night trains are covered by Interrail and Eurail passes (more on those here), but you will need to make a seat or bed reservation in advance.
While Kiruna is in process of being moved, trains are running into a temporary station, some 2km north of the city, until the new permanent station is built. Free shuttle buses run from the temporary station to Kiruna bus station in the city centre.
Of course, the quickest way to Kiruna is by plane, though it’s unlikely to be that cheap. It’s a 90-minute flight from Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport to Kiruna Airport, some 10km outside the city. Airport transfer buses meet all flights and charge around 110 SEK for the 15–20 minute journey into the city centre.
Both SAS and Norwegian fly from Stockholm to Kiruna, with at least two flights each day, more in peak season. Sale prices start at around 525 SEK for a single non-refundable, non-changeable flight, but of course once you’ve added luggage, seat reservations and any kind of flexibility you’ll end up paying considerably more. One-way fares of around 1500 SEK are fairly typical, especially at short notice.
If you really fancy a bit of an adventure, renting a car is a great option. Just be prepared for a very long journey – driving will take you between 14 and 16 hours, depending on the traffic.
You should also expect long stretches with nothing much but forests to look at, especially if you take the E45 up through the middle of the country (the slightly quicker alternative is the E4, which roughly follows the coast). If you’re heading north during cold weather, be sure to brush up on these winter driving tips.
It’s no cheaper than the train, and the journey takes at least 20 hours, so there’s no real advantage to taking the bus. What’s more, there’s no direct bus between Stockholm and Kiruna, so you’d end up having to change multiple times between different regional services. The nearest big cities offering direct bus services to Kiruna are Umeå and Luleå.
Taking the bus is really only an option if you’re planning to spend a long time road tripping through Sweden and are happy to build in a couple of overnight stops.