As the Scandinavia product manager at Sunvil, I am in the privileged position – along with my team – to travel to Sweden on a regular basis. It is a country that, ever since my first visit, has taken a firm hold on my heart, and a destination that keeps on giving and inspiring. The warm hospitality, breathtaking scenery and excellent food (no chance of losing the Christmas pounds here) always leave me wanting MORE.
On my latest visit to Europe’s third largest country, I headed to Swedish Lapland and the city of Kiruna, 200km north of the Arctic Circle. During the winter months Kiruna is coated in a pristine white coat of snow and, on its doorstep one of the last wilderness areas on earth, provides the perfect setting for a host of winter activities.
This blog details the winter experiences in and around Kiruna that, in my opinion, should not be missed! I hope that it expresses my love for this wonderful region and whets your appetite for a visit. For me, this destination has it all – Northern lights, unspoiled landscapes, dramatic scenery, tranquillity and an abundance of winter excursions – and, as I sit on the aircraft homeward bound, I am already planning my next trip.
Kiruna, or Giron as it is known in Sami, is best known for its iron-ore mine which is not only the main employer in the area but also one of the key economic influences in the country. But, you do not visit Kiruna for its mine – although a guided excursion into the mine is available twice a week – you visit for its location!
On the doorstep of the city is an expanse of wilderness that is hard to beat. For mile upon mile an unspoiled landscape, untouched by time, stretches out towards the Norwegian and Finnish borders. This is the land of the Sami, the indigenous population; of their animals – the reindeer; and of moose, lynx, wolverine, arctic hares and bears. Step a little off the beaten track and look at the snow to see for yourself the amount and variety of wildlife tracks, the number of footprints will amaze you!
This location makes Kiruna the ideal choice for a winter break. A variety of snowmobile excursions depart directly from the city, and within a short drive a host of dog sled experiences (10-20 minutes drive), the ICEHOTEL (25-minutes drive) and the Abisko National Park (1-hour’s drive) are available. Kiruna is also high above the Arctic Circle and offers excellent opportunities for an Aurora (Northern Lights) sighting.
In 1992, the first ICEHOTEL was constructed in the village of Jukkasjarvi (17km east of Kiruna) on the shores of the River Torne. Today, the ICEHOTEL is known throughout the world for its spectacular design and, for many a stay at the property is on their bucket list.
Whether you decide to stay in the cold accommodation at the ICEHOTEL or just visit for a day (the ICEHOTEL is open as a museum from 10am-6pm), it is hard not to be bowled over by the sheer scale of the structure. Made wholly from ice and snow, this year’s ICEHOTEL has 58 guest rooms, an ice bar, an ice chapel, and even an outdoor terrace.
Above all though, it is the individually decorated Art Suites that will take your breath away. Over 40 artists from across the globe descend on Jukkasjarvi each winter and each leaves his/her own distinct mark on the hotel for the season. Take a guided tour of the hotel for a real insight into the property, or wander independently along the ice sculpted corridors.
Over the years, on the occasions that I have visited the ICEHOTEL, I have seen Art Suites with ice sculpted astronauts; robots; rockets; beds in an ice sculpted car; and a suite in the style of a wooden cabin with an ice sculpted fireplace. This year, yet again, the artists have outdone themselves. There is an Art Suite with a bed in a boat; another with a web over the bed and blue ice sculpted butterflies on the wall (my personal favourite); and one with an ice sculpted pinball machine.
The Abisko National Park is situated 100km west of Kiruna (1 hour’s drive) and was the first National Park in Europe, established in 1905. The mountainous, ever changing landscape of the park is a welcome change after a few days in the low valleys of Kiruna and Jukkasjarvi. From the E10 road, mesmerising views towards the Torneträsk Lake and the Lapporten, Gate to Lapland mountain pass, can be enjoyed.
Abisko is famous for its microclimate – It has one of the highest percentages of clear night skies in the world. This environment has secured Abisko’s reputation as one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights although, I have yet to see them – My friends in Kiruna believe that I am jinxed and often tell me how wonderful the lights were the day before I arrived and the night after my departure.
It is possible to visit Abisko as a day excursion by train from Kiruna on a Northern Lights tour to the Aurora Sky Station or to stay within the village. For those with a particular interest in the Aurora Borealis, or who would like to spend a day sampling the ski slopes in nearby Bjorkliden, I would recommend a 3-night stay in Abisko which, in turn, can be combined, as part of a longer holiday, with a stay in Kiruna and/or the ICEHOTEL.
HUSKY DOG SLED EXCURSION
In the community of Laxforsen, 10km from the ICEHOTEL and 15km from Kiruna you will find the kennels of Bert Ove Johansson, certified by Nature’s Best for its environmental practices. The Trap line dog sled excursion opportunity to drive your own sled, offered by B-O, as he likes to be called, is one the most professional and enjoyable husky activities that I have sampled.
There are a variety of husky dog sled excursions available from Kiruna and from the ICEHOTEL, from short 1½ hour trips to Northern Light excursions and overnight tours. There is a tour to suit everyone. The reason that I have highlighted the excursion by B-O is that each couple is allocated their own private sled and team of huskies – one of you drives whilst the other is the passenger – and I feel that this offers a greater and more memorable experience. Of course, over a 2 ½ hour excursion the dogs do not see you as their musher but they do, albeit cheekily, allow you to think that you are in charge.
In addition to the dog sled tour B-O will lead you on a short snow shoe walk through the surrounding forests. Swapping his ‘kennel owner’ hat for his ‘wilderness guide’ cap he provides a fascinating insight to the wildlife that calls this snow-covered environment their home.
To feel the wind in your hair (well, you would if you were not wearing a helmet) as you cross the frozen landscape on the back of a snowmobile is nothing short of exhilarating. As a bit of an adrenalin junkie, I love the power of these machines and their ability to traverse the frozen lakes and rivers, wind their way through forests and pass through fresh snow. I cannot think of a better way to explore the winter landscape.
As with the husky dog sled excursions, there are numerous snowmobile excursions available from Kiruna and the ICEHOTEL. My personal favourite is the Sami snowmobile tour from Kiruna. During this 3 hour excursion, your local Sámi guide provides a personal and interesting vision into the history and everyday life of the Sámi people whilst exploring the reindeer grazing grounds and the hills to the west of Kiruna.
WHAT ELSE IS ON OFFER?
Kiruna is not a one trick pony. The area offers the winter activities detailed above as well as horse-sled excursions; ice sculpting courses; the opportunity to visit the Esrange space centre; ice driving and cross-country skiing. The ski slopes of Bjorkliden and Riksgransen, and the ice climbing opportunities in Abisko, are also within easy reach.
AND TO FINISH
Transfers to the airport on your day of departure can be depressing to say the least but, not in Kiruna. A wonderful way to finish your holiday is to participate in a moose safari, by minibus. This tour will pick you up from your hotel and take a scenic drive in the valley of the River Kalix in search of the king of the forests.
Wow, just writing this blog has brought a smile to my face, remembering all the amazing experiences that I have had in Swedish Lapland. I hope that you have enjoyed reading about this wonderful destination.