You'll find mountains of things to do in Kiruna, home to the best ice hotel in the world in Swedish Lapland. But forget about huddling around a fire all day long. Wrap up warm for the Arctic Circle and get ready to get moving.
Even in winter, Sweden lives her life outdoors.
Things to Do in Kiruna in Winter
If you book through these links, we may earn some commission at no extra cost to you. Here's a hand-selected collection of some of the best things to do in Kiruna.
Go Husky Sledding
Borne out of necessity rather than a kooky tourist trick, one of the best things to do in Kiruna is to hitch your fortunes to a dog and go husky sledding.
You can read my full article about husky sledding here, but in short, those white dogs with impossibly blue eyes will glide you across the snow to a chorus of leaping and barks.
Be warned, though, that sitting on the sleigh can be cold with a capital C. If possible, opt to be the driver, as the action of bending and stretching as you guide the dogs allows you to stay a little warmer.
Sleep in an Ice Hotel
Lapland has several ice hotels. I've visited a few and my favourite, by far, is the original.
The Ice Hotel in Kiruna, Sweden is a masterpiece in glacial sculpture. Built and then dissolved by the sun each year, it’s a feat of snowy engineering and a mesmerising one at that. Rooms vary in their level of sophistication. Some are straightforward. Others, gothic horror, James Bond, abstract art and iced floral wildernesses.
Artists travel from around the world each year to carve sculptures for these rooms and by day the hotel is a museum, the quality of work is so high. One year, a full size front carriage from a London Underground tube train stood in in a state of frozen bedroomness.
And as a side note, just how cool (ahem!) would it be to announce that as your job title at customs? Ice builder extraordinaire.
Where is Lapland?
Lapland is a stunning, snowy extravaganza that shimmers with the oomph of the human spirit. Lapland itself spans Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. It reflects the long held traditions of the Sami more than modern map making convention.
Each country in Lapland has unique things to do but there are, not surprisingly, activities that overlap as well.
So that’s the ice part, but what about the hotel?
Well, common sense does prevail and you actually only spend one night sleeping on the ice. Most guests stay for 3 nights (but you can stay for more) and spend the other two in the modern, heated timber hotel building a short walk away.
And when the temperature is minus 40, you need any walk to be short.
In addition to the rooms, you'll also find an icy bar with spirits only, since beer and wine freeze below zero. Staff bring hot lingonberry juice to you in the morning and diplomatically kick you out before day visitors arrive to see the sculptures.
WHAT DO YOU NEED FOR A NIGHT IN AN ICE HOTEL?
- The Ice Hotel kits you out with all the outer garments you need: body suit, giant boots, gloves the size of a floppy leather tennis racquet. But when it comes to bed time, only you’re advised to keep it light.
- A training session advises you to sleep in thermals – and to remember to go to the toilet before you go to bed.
- Couples are advised to snuggle together beneath one sleeping bag atop the reindeer skin.
- Singletons are encouraged to find a couple.
Ride on a Snow Mobile
While possibly ranking as one of the least traditional things you could do in Lapland, it also rates as the most fun. And I'm not one for motorbikes or go-karting in particular.
Snow mobiles are the modern day car in Lapland and after surprisingly little training, they're agile through the forests and across the open frozen plains.
In most places, you'll need a valid driving license and should wear a helmet. Not only will this save your life, it will also save your ears from the cold!
See the Northern Lights
Well, look for them at least!
The very words the Arctic Circle and the promise of the Northern Lights are enough to send shivers down the spine. The reality of trying to find them can morph shivers into frostbite with a frozen camera to boot.
Please don't set your heart on seeing the Northern Lights. They appear and disappear with nature's whims and plenty of people don't see them at all.
However, the icy landscape remains stunning, even more so at night and so you'll have a great time regardless. You can go hiking, snowshoeing or head off on a reindeer sleigh or snow mobile journey into the nearby Abisko National Park. There, you'll find the Aurora Sky Station, an enclosed viewing platform accessible by ski lift.
In short, you have many ways to get away from the lights of Kiruna and increase your chance of seeing that green glow in the sky.
You also don't to be alone. You can find photography tours, guided tours, Northern Lights tours and more to help you put trips together.
The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights . A greenish glow, occasionally scarlet, expressed as a paintbrush sweep across the sky, as fickle and fast as a dream.
Despite studying science, there are a few things that always seem magical to me (or perhaps I just enjoy thinking of them that way.)
I’ve heard the explanations: how oxygen and nitrogen release photons after colliding high in the atmosphere and how that energy looks green or red, according to the time frame or distance, or something else that only ever seemed semi-plausible.
Their other name, Aurora Borealis, comes from Aurora, the Roman Goddess of Dawn and the Greek word for north wind, Borealis.
Yet in the middle of the night, braced against the glacial breeze, I wasn’t paying much attention to the science, nor thinking about names.
I was simply enjoying the view: mother nature’s pyrotechnics at their very best.
In Sweden, reindeer aren't just found at Christmas.
They live here. Work here. Pay taxes here, or near enough given their contribution to local society.
They can grow antlers at a rate of 2 cm a day and can run at a speed of 80 kilometres per hour.
Their hollow-fibred hair functions as a kind of down jacket, one with ferocious efficacy. Reindeer can survive temperatures of minus 50 degrees, quite a feat, even in a country that considers minus 27 to be a breeze.
But, of course, they're not here just to look pretty.
Through their meat, fur, strength and speed, reindeer have helped men, women and children to survive beyond the arctic line. Today, you can also see them on wildlife trips, through sleigh rides, farm visits and walking tours with local experts.
Learn about Sami Culture
The Sami people live across Lapland, with a wealth of nomadic tradition and culture.
Close to the reindeer farm in Kiruna, a farmhouse dusts off the centuries to reveal thick-threaded Sami clothing in striking scarlet and black. Appropriately heavy and rusting machinery hangs on wooden walls, the sort that allowed farmers to thrive.
Sleds await, along with shovels and trowels, but a giant nutcracker stood out for its story as much as its shape.
A castration device, E.U. approved, no less. It replaces the more traditional method, whereby herders used their teeth, and not all that long ago at that.
The mind boggles. The men, I'm guessing, wince.
Go Ice Fishing
With a knife and hook at the ready, learn the survival techniques people have used in Lapland for years. This activity takes some patience and is probably one of the best things to do in Kiruna for people who have plenty of reserves for standing around.
Will you catch a fish? Well, if you do, it'll be exciting. But there's still a thrill to carving a hole in the very ice beneath your feet and seeing water deep below.
Learn a new skill with a chisel and block of ice (and a sturdy pair of gloves.)
You can also take ice sculpting lessons at the Ice Hotel, which take around an hour or so and are one of the best things to do in Kiruna if you don't like the action and adventure side of things.
The best ice sculptures are displayed at dinner later the same day. It pains me to say that Mr Lab's was chosen and mine was...definitely not!
Where is Kiruna?
Kiruna lies in the Artic Circle in Lapland in Sweden. The most popular way of visiting Kiruna involves either a flight or train from Stockholm. B in winter, you can also sometimes find direct flights from the UK.
More Nordic Travel Tips
- Glide through the snow by dog sledding in Sweden
- 21 fun facts about Sweden
- What the fika?! What you need to know about this Swedish tradition
- The perfect itinerary for one day in Helsinki
- The best souvenirs from Helsinki, the Nordic capital of design
- How to spend two days in Copenhagen: an itinerary from locals
- What is hygge? And how can you get some?
- Visiting The Scream in Oslo