Kiruna, Sweden: wandering Kiruna and the northern lights

So, what is there to do in Kiruna? In November? Even though it’s a shoulder season, there is still plenty going on. This post covers wandering around Kiruna and getting to see the northern lights.

Curious how I got to Kiruna and what else I did? Check out all of my posts on Kiruna.

Itinerary

Here’s roughly what my itinerary ended up looking like:

Monday 8 November

  • Catch train to Kiruna in evening

Tuesday 9 November (this post)

  • Arrive Kiruna
  • Wander Kiruna, LKAB mine tour?
  • Northern Lights tour

Wednesday 10 November

  • Wander Jukkasjärvi (Sámi open air museum, Ice Hotel)
  • Dinner at SPiS

Thursday 11 November

  • Whatever I may have missed
  • Train home in the evening

Friday 12 November

  • Arrive in Stockholm, onward travel home

Accommodation

I stayed at SPiS in Kiruna. I chose it because:

  • Central location
  • Good reviews
  • Attached to a restaurant that I wanted to try
  • Hostel and regular rooms, which means hostel-like perks such as a kitchen

It was fine and I’d recommend it.

Wandering Kiruna

Kiruna isn’t actually all that big, especially if you stick to the central section. It’s an interesting town as it was built by the LKAB mining company in the 1890s specifically to service to the Kiruna mine. LKAB stands for Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag – Kiruna is built in the valley between these two mountains. It’s neat because you can see that the mining company has built many things with the well-being of the residents in mind – for example, there’s a ski slope on one of the mountains mostly for residents.

Coming back to the mine, the Kiruna iron ore mine – it’s the largest underground iron ore mine in the world per Wikipedia. The mine is so extensive that they have needed to move the town over by three km to ensure its safety. There’s a lot of information about this and you can wander through a park composed of areas that have already been moved. I did take a look at the park but there was a lot of snow and it was difficult to get close enough to the signs to read them – plus, daylight was limited.

Here’s a view out towards the mine

Given that Kiruna is so focused on mining, there’s a tour of the mine available. Unfortunately this was just starting up again after the latest COVID wave and wasn’t available when I was there. Note that you need to book this in advance, either online or at the tourist office.

Kiruna’s church was well worth visiting though I spent more time outside taking photos. It’s one of the largest wooden buildings in Sweden and is meant to reflect elements of the Sámi indigenous people.

Kiruna Church

I usually end up at coffee shops and cafes – this trip wasn’t any different. My favorite was Cafe Safari – it looks a bit rundown, but their coffee is delicious and they have nice cakes. There’s a big seating area that’s cozy and warm with a good view outside. It felt more like a place for locals than tourists.

These two turtles (I think they’re both turtles) were in a square that I walked through most days. I think it’s eating a rock. Either way, I thought they were a neat addition.

I think downtown Kiruna would have been more interesting if it wasn’t covered in snow and ice – it would have been a lot easier to cover more ground.

Northern Lights

I figured that if I was in Kiruna, I might as well try and see the northern lights. We hadn’t spotted them in Iceland and I figured that either way, it would be a nice way to see more of the area. There are lots of northern lights tours in Kiruna – I went with Lights of Vikings because their site worked the best, they had more scientific explanations, and they had good reviews.

My plan had been to go on a northern lights tour on the second night in Kiruna, giving myself a chance to catch up on sleep after the train ride. The tour guides called and said “the weather is better tonight, can you come tonight instead?” So I said yes!

I was picked up at my hotel in Kiruna in a big van and then we all drove to their main location in Abisko, about 100 km further north. It was a cozy group with another solo traveler from Germany, a couple from Peru, the tour guides themselves, Onur from Turkey and Cristina from Spain, along with Cristina’s parents who were visiting from Barcelona.

We gathered in a sort of tent/cabin which was heated by the central bed of coals. Dinner was reindeer cooked with vegetables and cream – warming and delicious. There was plenty of warm tea, too.

Cooking dinner

As we were eating, one of the guides kept slipping outside – and then he called us out to show us the first part of the aurora. I don’t know if they get this excited for every trip, but it was a good sign for our adventures that night!

They packed us into warm clothes and then back into the van. We were only just outside Abisko when we pulled over and there were more lights in the sky. I tried taking a photo with my camera, but no luck – you need a DSLR with a long exposure, which Cristina had. Interestingly, the lights aren’t as darkly colored as you would expect from photos – to the naked eye, they look almost mint-green. That doesn’t make them any less spectacular, though!

Time lapse by Lights of Vikings

Cristina took photos of all of us – you can see that I’m rocking coveralls and mittens here.

Me and the Northern Lights, by Lights of Vikings

The guides put out reindeer skins for us to sit/lay on so that we could enjoy the dancing lights.

The lights were dancing across the sky, by Lights of Vikings

We finished off with a warm fire and more tea with cookies. We even had roasted marshmallows. 🙂

We climbed back into the van to warm up and head back to our hotels. I was dozing on the way back when we suddenly stopped because Onur had spotted more lights!

Northern lights with a little purple, by Lights of Vikings

What a brilliant night – this was the highlight of my trip and worth every penny. It felt special and I felt honored to have seen the lights so brilliantly.

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