Kiruna, Lappland – Exploring Sweden

Welcome to the northernmost town in Sweden – Kiruna. The town is famous for everything from iron mines to space exploration. Well, maybe not everything, but there is a great deal of activity up here, a whopping 145 kilometers north of the arctic circle. In fact, a big part of the town is currently being moved to make room for the ever-growing mine.

Kiruna, Lappland, Sweden

Kiruna – A Short History

The area where Kiruna is located today was for centuries one of the most remote areas in Sweden. Archeological findings show that the region around Kiruna has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years.

For a long time, it was mainly populated by the Sámi people and the iron ore at the two mountains here was not excavated. The mountains were Luossavaara and Kiirunavaara and these two had a major impact on the later development of the town.

The mining corporation Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) was founded first in 1890 and it was a driving power to get the railroad from Malmberget extended to Luossavaara and Kiirunavaara. The railroad came to Kiruna in 1899. It was further extended to Narvik in Norway in 1902.

Kiruna was founded in the year 1900 and the town was built on a third mountain – Haukivaara. Initially, the area was a township or slum with very basic buildings, but these were soon replaced. Most of the 20 century has been centered around the mine, with LKAB as the town’s major provider. But there are a few exceptions. The Esrange Space Center was established outside Kiruna in the 1960s and the town has grown into a major tourist hub for the far north of Sweden.

In the last decades, the biggest ongoing discussion has concerned the need to move the town. The growing mine at Kiirunavaara is undermining the town center is being undermined. In 2004 it was decided that the present center of Kiruna be relocated. The first work started in 2007 and the actual move began in 2014. The current plan stretches to the year 2100.

Kiruna, Lappland, Sweden
Kiruna, Lappland, Sweden

Things to Do and See in Kiruna

There is a lot to do in and around Kiruna, but remember that the distances up here are great. The municipality of Kiruna covers an area of 20.5 thousand square kilometers. That is about the size of Israel or Slovenia. In addition, there are also other towns and areas nearby, such as Jukkasjärvi – the home of the Ice Hotel. We will cover them in other posts.

Sights Within Town

There is a lot to see also within the town of Kiruna. One of its most famous structures is the wooden church from the beginning of the 20th century. This is still one of Sweden’s largest wooden structures.

A walk along the central streets will take you by the normal shops that you usually find in small Swedish towns as well as a few restaurants and cafés. It is once you walk towards the temporary railway station a bit north-west of the central parts of Kiruna that you will see a few more old wooden buildings. I have been trying to confirm the history of these buildings. It looks like the buildings were old dwellings for workers at the railroad.

Something that is hard to forget is that several of the more historical buildings in Kiruna will either be moved or destroyed in the coming years. So don’t be surprised if a building has been moved between your visits to Kiruna.

Kiruna, Lappland, Sweden
Kiruna, Lappland, Sweden, Wooden Church
Kiruna, Lappland, Sweden
Kiruna, New center, Lappland, Sweden

LKAB’s Iron-Ore Mine

LKAB’s mine in Kiruna is the world’s largest underground iron-ore mine. The mine is an impressive sight from a distance, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Visits to the mine are possible but need to be booked in advance. Check out Kiruna’s tourist site for further information >>

Esrange Space Center

About 40 kilometers east of Kiruna you find the Esrange Space Center. The center is actually closer to the village of Jukkasjärvi, but still within the municipality of Kiruna. Esrange was an abbreviation of European Space Research Organisation Sounding Rocket Launching Range. The center was opened in the 1960s by the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), but was taken over by Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) in 1972 and since the name has only been Esrange.

Esrange has a visitor center next to its gates. There are no public visits inside the gates. You can find more information here >>

The Nature of Northern Sweden

There are several famous nature sights around Kiruna and here are a few of them.

  • Torneträsk, the sixth largest lake in Sweden and a popular site for fishing both during the summer and winter.
  • Kungsleden, a 425-kilometer-long hiking trail between the villages of Abisko in the north and Hemavan in the south.
  • Kebnekaise, the highest mountain in Sweden with its northern peak reaching 2.096 meters. One part of the hiking trail Kungsleden leads pass this mountain.
  • The Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights is a possibility in the whole area.

How to get to Kiruna

Flights: Kiruna Airport (KRN) is outside of the town and it has both domestic and international flights.
Car: The highway E10 runs through Kiruna and connects the town with Gällivare and Luleå to the southeast and Narvik to the west.
Train: There are a few trains per day connecting Kiruna with especially Gällivare and Luleå. Longer routes are available to Stockholm and Narvik.
Bus: Mostly regional buses connect Kiruna with the surrounding area.

The driving distance from 5 major Swedish cities, according to Google Maps:

Stockholm – 1235 kilometers (13 h 53 min)
Gothenburg – 1579 kilometers (18 h 22 min)
Malmö – 1843 kilometers (20 h 6 min)
Luleå – 342 kilometers (3 h 57 min)
Linköping – 1430 kilometers (16 h 13 min) 
Kiruna Airport, Lappland, Sweden
Kiruna, Lappland, Sweden
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