A Kiruna Winter Itinerary – Five days in Swedish Lapland

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In the far north of Sweden above the Arctic Circle is a small town named Kiruna.  During the winters, Kiruna is a white wonderland. Winter comes early and stays late, yet that does not slow the city down.  Over a Thanksgiving break, I spent five jam-packed days exploring Kiruna and Swedish Lapland.  Here is my five-day itinerary for Kiruna.

Background on Kiruna

Kiruna is located 89 miles (144km) north of the Arctic Circle.  It experiences periods of 24-hour sunlight (midnight sun) and times total darkness.  Kiruna is home to about 20,000 people.  It is the largest city in far north Sweden and Swedish Lapland.  The population is due to the LKAB iron ore mine.  It has the world’s largest underground and modern iron ore mine in the world. The mine directly employs about 2,000 people.  The ore mine is why Kiruna exists as a large city but also the cause of the most significant threat to Kiruna.  The town center and a substantial portion of the town is to be relocated due to the expansion of the underground mine.

Getting to Kiruna

There are daily flights from Stockholm.  Seasonally, there is a small selection of flights from London, United Kingdom and Tokyo, Japan. The cheapest flights are to fly to Stockholm and then up to Kiruna.  The flight from Stockholm to Kiruna takes an hour and forty minutes.

Night trains run from Stockholm to Kiruna.  The trip takes about 16 hours and makes several stops along the way. If booked far in advance, this can be the most inexpensive option.

Unfortunately, there is no direct bus from Stockholm to Kiruna, but it is possible with several bus transfers.  Most routes take 16 hours and involve getting to Luleå first.  During winter, the bus can be more reliable than the trains.

From Stockholm, it is 14 hours of driving to reach Kiruna.  Unless one is experienced at winter driving in significant amounts of snow, I would avoid going this route, but it is possible.  During the summer, I would love to make a road trip out of it.

Where to stay in Kiruna

Kiruna and the surrounding area has a range of options from luxury lodges to hostels. In Kiruna, there are some hotel, hostels, and guesthouse at all price ranges.  About 20 mins from Kiruna is the world-famous ICEHOTEL.  Every winter, the ICEHOTEL builds a hotel made of ice, and recently they opened the ICEHOTEL 365 which offers ice rooms year around.  Scattered throughout the area are numerous small lodges and cabins that provide a variety of services.

Personally, I enjoyed staying in the city of Kiruna at the SPiS hostel and hotel.  This hotel is located in the center of town and is a short walking distance from bus station, local eateries and visitor services.  I enjoyed not having to eat at my hotel every night.  That being said, the food at SPiS is impressive.  I loved my roasted lamb, and the deserts are uniquely Swedish and yummy.  The atmosphere at SPiS is young and hip.  It offers affordable luxury.  The rooms are decent in size and the beds come with the warmest comforters (I was tempted to steal one of these and bring it back with me). Check out my review of the SPiS Hotel and Hostel.

Getting around Kiruna

Personally, I did just fine without having a rental car, and frankly, after spinning a rental car out in Iceland, I was happier not to drive.  Personally, I would not drive in Kiruna unless you have significant snow driving experience

It is about a 15 min walk from the city center to the outskirts of Kiruna.  There are sidewalks and crossing signals around the city. A layer of snow builds up on the roads and pavement.  Since the temperature does not get above freezing the snow will get packed down, but it does not usually form slick ice.  The snowplows do an excellent job of plowing the roads, and the sidewalks are clear as well.

For travel outside of Kiruna, there is the Kiruna public transport system.  Most of the tourist’s attractions such as ICEHOTEL and Nutti Sámi Siida are along the 501 bus route.  The bus schedule is subject to change, but it can found here.

My Kiruna Winter Itinerary

Feature Activites

  • Reindeer farm and Sámi village
  • LKAB mine tour
  • Evening snowmobile tour
  • Wildlife and nature phototour
  • Aroura Spa
  • Day snowmobile tour
  • Evening Dog Sledding
  • Northern Lights Tour

Day 1 – Nutti Sámi Siida

Take the 501 bus from Kiruna to Nutti Sámi Siida– (if you cannot pronounce Nutti Sámi Siida, tell the bus driver you are going to the reindeer farm).  It takes about a half hour to get from Kiruna.  The village opens at 10:00 am.  They offer guided tours twice a day at 10:00 am and 1:00 pm.    The tours are led by a local Sámi and are a great way to learn about the culture. The Sámi are the indigenous people of the northern Scandinavia.  Traditionally, the Sámi people practiced nomadic reindeer herding.

The guided tour takes about a 45 mins to an hour. The guide will go in depth about the reindeer herding lifestyle and explain the nuances of the culture.  They value their culture, and their lives are a mix of traditional lifestyle as well as modern culture.

After (or before), explore the village.  It showcases historically authentic tepees and food storage methods. Be sure to check out the shed with the traditional handy crafts of the Sámi. The highlight of the visit is entering the reindeer paddock.  You can buy a bag of lichens to feed the reindeer at the cafe.  Don’t be put off by the massive antlers.  They do not mean any harm.

The only place to get lunch is the Sámi café.  It offers reindeer and Arctic char. The meals are cooked over an open fire.  Be sure to have a pastry.  I highly recommend the chocolate with lingonberry.

If you are feeling adventurous, you can extend your Sami experience by adding in reindeer sleigh ride as well.

Day 2 – Kiruna and the Mine

Spend the morning exploring Kiruna. Kiruna is a city undergoing an enormous change. The town is between a rock, and a hard place or better said as a mine and a collapse.  The city was built to provide homes for the workers of the LKAB iron ore mine.  Now that mine has expanded to such a depth, the land under part of the town will collapse.

Much of the town is being relocated 3 km east; it is going to be a long process that has seen a new town hall is being built. The old Kiruna city hall is still open to the public and is worth a visit.  The city has a vast art collection that is displayed around city hall along with a model of the town.  The model shows how much of the city much be move along with an exhibit on the moving process.

In the afternoon, take a tour of the LKAB mine.  This guided tour in English leaves at 2:00 pm from the Kiruna visitor center and takes guests 540 m (1,771 ft) down into the mine.  This level was the primary mining level in the 1980s. Around the level are a small mineral museum and displays about the mine as well as retired equipment from the mine.  The actual mining takes place at 1365 m (4478 ft).

In the evening take an evening snowmobile tour with Kiruna Guideatur.  Depending on the weather, you might get lucky and see the northern lights.  It is an exciting experience to be driving a snowmobile thru the Swedish wilderness at night. We drove over lakes and river and thru the woods to a small cabin where we had a lovely snack of moose and reindeer sausage. Check out my review of my snowmobile tours.

Day 3

Get an early start with Scandinavian Photoadventures and head off into the surrounding artic wilderness.  The wildlife and nature phototour gets out of inhabited areas and into the actual wilderness.  The tour takes the roads that lead to the small northern villages in the mountains.  If the weather is not snowy, the mountains and landscapes are spectacular.

During the winter, the wildlife such as moose is in the valleys searching for food.  The goal is to find some tracks and follow them to the moose.  Reindeer in Sweden are only semi-wild.  The Sami own all of the reindeer in Sweden; they are just free to wander around.  Scandinavian Photoadventures has set-up a small bird feeding station to bring in small songbirds.

At the end of the tour, a small snack of traditional sweets and coffee and tea are provided at a riverside cabin.  My group opted to snack outside and enjoy the weather and watch the water flow.

In the evening, walk over the Camp Ripian and the Aroura Spa.  Get the spa bucket to enjoy a traditional Swedish spa ritual with an outdoor hot tub and two different saunas and getting a bucket of cold water dumped on you.

Day 4

Head about out on the frozen lakes and river outside of Kiruna with Kiruna Guidetur for a day snowmobile tour.  Feel the power of a snowmobile while exploring the fantastic scenery of Swedish Lapland.  During winter, there are numerous snowmobile trails on the lakes and in the woods.  Depending on the group skill and size, the tour will take advantage of fresh powder and fantastic scenery.  I paid for a solo trip, and it was early season, so we got to do some trail breaking to get to a few overlooks and explore into the woods. The tour stops for lunch on one of the lake’s islands where there is a small selection of cabins.

When you get back from snowmobiling, take a quick hour long nap then head back over to Kiruna Guidetur for an evening sled dog tour.  Just like with the evening snowmobile tour, it is possible to see the northern lights while out with the sled dogs.  Dinner is served in a traditional Sami teepee.

Day 5

Catch the 501 bus over to Jukkasjärvi to visit the famed ICEHOTEL. The ICEHOTEL is constructed of ice and snow.  It is a work of art that is created every winter from water and ice from the Torne River.  Every year artists from around the world submit designs for the hotel bedrooms and a handful are chosen to bring their plans to life.

The hotel usually opens on December 14, but if you visit between November and December 14, it is possible to take a tour of the ICEHOTEL as it is being built.  It takes you behind the scenes in construction, and the ice is carved.

Once the ICEHOTEL opens between 10 am and 6 pm it is possible to take a tour of the ICEHOTEL and see the art suites without having to spend the night.  Tours of the ICEHOTEL 365 which features year around ice rooms is open the same hours.

Before you head back to Kiruna, be sure to have a drink at the ICEBAR.  You never know what you might find out (like they had a cancellation and there is an ice room available that night).

If you want to see the northern lights, then book a tour with Scandinavian Photoadventures.  They will do their best to chase the lights even if it means driving 1 ½ hours outside of Kiruna to find them.  The tour provides cameras and tripods and a guide who can help teach you how to take northern light photos.  They do not really have a tour time limit.  They focus on making sure the guests get to see the lights and get a few images worthy of being framed on the mantel.  Check out my review of this tour.

70 Replies to “A Kiruna Winter Itinerary – Five days in Swedish Lapland”

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  7. Mei

    Nice itinerary! We’ve never heard of Kiruna, but knowing that it’s all white during winter makes us want to explore it for a couple of days, or maybe just two days since total darkness is not quite our thing! haha… But we would love to stay at the Ice Hotel and going to the Ice bar once! And making a tour to see the Northern Lights would certainly be awesome too! Especially if cameras and tripods are provided! It’s also good to know that the tour offered by the Scandinavian Adventures don’t have a tour time limit!

    Reply
  8. Claire

    I was surprised to read there were direct flights from Tokyo to Kiruna, I guess it must be a popular place for Japanese people to visit! It does sound like a great place, I’m not keen on the cold but would live to go dog sledding and meet some reindeer!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Post author

      Based on what I have learned winter tourism seems to be a huge thing in Japan. Earlier this year, I talked to some people from the Alaska Railroad and they had sold out about 50% of the winter trains from Fairbanks to Anchorage to Japanese tour companies. This was in September. My last trip to Iceland in winter was the same thing. Huge tour buses full of Japanese tourists.

      Reply
  9. Punita Malhotra

    It would be a new experience for me to be in Kiruna. I’ve never actually been in a region of white-out! Nor anywhere with periods of midnight sun or total darkness. Such a fascinating landscape this is. I wonder how wintry the summers are.

    Reply
  10. Medha

    Moose and reindeer sausage? Not sure id want to try that, not after riding in a reindeer sleigh 😀 It looks so cold from all your pictures, id love to visit the Swedish Lapland but I’m not sure I can handle this much cold! But it’ll be one hell of an experience I can imagine. Thanks for sharing this itinerary I will refer to it when I plan a trip.

    Reply
  11. Lauren

    The ICEHOTEL looks awesome! I’ve stayed at one in Quebec and it was one of those bucket list type of items. I’m super intrigued by the fact that a portion of this town has to be relocated. Was this something that ended up being a mistake in the planning of the mine, or just an inevitable thing that would happen when you have a huge mine like this that expanded?
    Lauren’s current road . . . Limerick Airbnb | Where to Stay in Limerick IrelandMy Profile

    Reply
    • Jennifer Post author

      It was inevitable as the mine expanded. When the mine was founded in 1900, they never imagined they would be 1000 plus meters underground. The town was founded to support the mine and was located a decent distance away based on where they new the iron ore vein was as they got deeper they started realizing that the town is at risk.

      The mine is paying for the move (and pay fair market value or better). The townspeople just accept it. The mine directly employees 20% of the town so it is the jobs.

      Reply
    • Jennifer Post author

      Yea, there isn’t an unlimited amount but there is a decent amount. The town has a couple of hotels and guesthouse. There are some Airbnb’s available as well. The surrounding area has a few more hotels and guesthouses.

      Reply
  12. Suruchi

    What a stunning destination Kiruna is? I am already blown away by your pictures and the beauty of this place. It looks magical. I would like to try my hands on snowboarding, Photo adventures and on feeding the reindeer. IceHotel too is a must visit and it is just a wonderland. Loved your post and picture.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Post author

      The Huskies were bred for pulling the sleigh. They loved to work and you can see their excitement when you get ready to start the ride.

      Reply
  13. Eric Gamble

    Exploring Lapland is definitely on my bucket list! Though I am not sure if i could handle it in the heart of the winter. Though it does seem to fit the image I have of it. I think I would love to explore the Reindeer farm of Nutti Sámi Siida and the snow mobile tour looks amazing. I have never ridden a snow mobile ever so I really would want to do that!
    Eric Gamble’s current road . . . Making An Adventurer’s InvestmentMy Profile

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  14. Anne Slater-Brooks

    This brings back lovely memories as we visited Finnish Lapland this time last year. In fact, I cannot believe how quickly the year has flown. I would love to visit the Icehotel here though and intrigued by the Ice Hotel 365

    Reply
    • Jennifer Post author

      I didn’t even know about ICEHOTEL 365 until I got there. It was pretty cool plus the building is built to be solar powered and energy efficient.

      Reply
  15. Gabby

    Kiruna looks like a winter dream! I’ve unfortunately never heard of it before now, so it seems like a well-kept secret! I would so love to have this type of experience in Sweden and see the reindeer… it just seems like a once in a lifetime trip!

    Reply
  16. Nisha

    This reminds of the time when I visited the Finland part of Lapland. Just an awesome place and I see that Swedish part is no less spectacular. Last time I was not lucky with the Aurora Borealis. So maybe in Sweden I will be luckier. 🙂 and of course stay at the Ice Hotel of which I have heard so much. I like it when you say they provide camera and tripod and will chase down the Northern Lights for you 🙂
    Nisha’s current road . . . The Sound of Music Movie LocationsMy Profile

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  17. Carol Colborn

    Fascinating winter experience. especially with the reindeer, dogs, and spa. But you didn’t see the Northern Lights???

    Reply
  18. Nathalie salcedo

    Wow!! You’re itinerary was on point ❤️ Loving all parts of it.
    I enjoy the Ice Hotel I wonder how it felt like to be there.
    The snow mobile tour as well is something I’d like to experience. Thanks for this

    Reply
  19. Carola

    Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of winter, so Scandinavia outside May to September never really interested me. But it sounds like there is a wealth of things to do in Kiruna. So I might add it to my list for next winter…
    One question, though: Did you bring all warm clothes or is there a possibility to rent a coat/snow pants and boots?

    Thank you & happy travels!
    Carola

    Reply
  20. Sandy N Vyjay

    Kiruna is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of. It seems as if all my childhood dreams have sprung to life as I look at the pictures and read your post. Snow, Santa, Reindeer, all elements of a surreal world that existed in the realms of my imagination have come to life. Lovely post, propels me to head to Kiruna.

    Reply
  21. Meagan

    I think the shorter answer would be what I didn’t want to do in Kiruna! This place sounds fabulous. We loved Iceland, and have been eyeing Sweden, as well. I love the idea of hanging out with reindeer, but I think I’d have a hard time dissociating enough to turn around and then eat reindeer sausage – but that’s just me being a sentimentalist, I think 🙂 Thank you for the delightful writeup! (Side note: I see from your sidebar that you’re in Richmond right now! We’re permanent residents and sometime-wanderers, so if you need any recommendations, hit us up!)

    Reply
  22. Nisha

    All I can say is wow!. It also looks so similar to the Finnish Lapland I went this February. However I still have to experience an ice hotel!

    Reply
  23. Megan Jerrard

    I would love to visit Kiruna – I’ve done Finnish Lapland (Rovanemi) during winter before, and that was incredible, so next trip to Lapland is Sweden I think! The ICEHOTEL has been on my bucketlist for a while, so this would be a definite splurge. Though thanks for the tip on SPiS if we can’t get a room. The reindeer village at Sámi looks incredible – I would be so up for a sleigh ride!

    I had no idea that you could actually visit the ICEHOTEL and tour as it’s been built, that’s actually very cool, and would probably be even more fascinating than actually staying!!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Post author

      I’m an engineer so I like knowing how things are built so that tour was a no brainier for me. It is worth staying at the ICEHOTEL but it is about 30 mins outside of Kiruna so you are kind of stuck with their activities and food unless you get your own rental car. I would do two nights out of the ICEHOTEL and then the rest in town.

      Reply
  24. Holly

    I feel like I would be walking around there with a ton of clothes on being that close to the arctic circle. I am also trying to decide if I would want to see total darkness or 24 hours of sunlight. I am sure that would throw my body way off. Love the structures made of ice. Very cool.
    Holly’s current road . . . A Christmas Story House in Cleveland, OhioMy Profile

    Reply
    • Jennifer Post author

      It isn’t as bad as you would think. A good winter jacket, pants and boots work well. If the wind is blowing it can get a little cold but otherwise I was fine 99% of the time.

      Reply
  25. sherianne

    This sounds amazing! I was super excited to see the aurora spa but imagined relaxing with jets of warm water while the lights dance above my head, not having buckets of cold water poured over me… I’m good with skipping that part of the cultural experience!

    Reply
  26. Siddhartha Joshi

    Kiruna is truly a winter wonderland! I was in the Finnish Lapland early this year and your post revived my awesome memories of the visit 🙂

    The snow and the reindeer were my favourite, and in Swedish Lapland I think my favourite will be the spa overlooking the nature outside 🙂

    Reply
  27. Samantha Sparrow

    Is it terrible that I’ve never heard of Kiruna or Swedish Lapland? I just always think of Finland for Lapland type things! that said, now I totally want to visit! I’d love to go on the snowmobile tour, and see the huskies and the northern lights go without saying! I think I’d love to do a trip just like yours!

    Reply
  28. Anu

    Staying in Ice Hotel must be a dream come true. I would definitely want to experience it once in my lifetime.

    Lately lot of bloggers have been writing about Lapland – is this going to be the next trending destination?

    Reply
    • Jennifer Post author

      I suspect with the overstaturation of Iceland (and the frankly major overcrowding), Lapaland is going to be the next treading destination as people look to go somewhere in Scandinavia without having to deal with the crowds of Iceland.

      Reply
  29. Dany

    I’ve just recently started to introduce hubby to the wonders of winter trips. But Kiruna would be such an awesome adventure! I had no idea it was just 144km north of the Arctic Circle, but I’d hear about the reindeer farm: how cute! Definitely a must do! Thanks for all the tips!

    Reply
  30. Marlene Marques

    Usually, I’m more than a beach and hot destination girl, but this itinerary in Swedish Lapland looks good! Would love to visit that IceHotel or try out the traditional Swedish spa ritual. 😉 From all these experiences, what was the one you liked best?

    Reply
  31. Danijela

    This is so interesting. Didn’t know that such town existed. Will it really collapse because of the mine? It sounds a bit dramatic, I have to say.
    Loved your tips regarding the transportation. It immediately crossed my mind that the night train from Stockholm to Kiruna would be a great idea. Even better if it turns out not to be expensive if booked in advance. 🙂
    And the northern lights, Icehotel… Bucket list for sure! 🙂

    Reply
  32. Marvi

    Kiruna looks like a winter wonderland! I’d definitely want to try feeding the reindeers and experience the reindeer sleigh ride..
    I’ve seen several posts on the Ice Hotel and been dying to see them too! Such an amazing work of art!

    Reply
  33. Medha Verma

    I am feeling cold just looking at your pictures! I’ve never been to a place this cold, I wonder what it’s like! I would have loved to visit the Reindeer Farm and take the snow mobile tour, sounds like the perfect way to spend winter. I wonder if I should visit Sweden in the summer or in the winter, both seasons would have their own charm, isn’t it? I would love to see the Aurora!

    Reply

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