The morning train arrives in Kiruna on a summer day in July. The city is known for its mine, nature and culture. All year round, under the aurora borealis or the midnight sun, Kiruna is interesting for the world’s travelers. But because of the mine, the whole town is now moving. So how do you write a guide to a city that won’t exist in a few months? Other than that there is a rush. You have 48 hours to do something exciting in a city that will soon be another.
Morning: When the train arrives in Kiruna the last part of the journey has been dominated by the view towards the Kirunavaara mine. The one who, in a sense, sets the rules for the city. You decide to take the bus into town and walk away to Camp Ripan, the hotel you booked this evening. If you have an old image, or memories of Kiruna, you can quickly revise the image. The city’s old skyline, with famous architect Ralph Erskine’s classic block “Ortdrivaren” and the city’s old entertainment center Scandic Hotel Ferrum is now being dismantled. In a way sad. But when Erskine himself was asked what he thought should be done with the Ortdrivaren block – when it was clear that the city had to move – he is said to have replied: “Blow it up”.
Lunch: Check-in at Ripan is a breeze and you can book dinner as well as SPA at the facility. Both award-winning experiences. The kitchen is one of Europe’s most eco-friendly and Aurora SPA has won a prize in the World Luxury SPA awards. The SPA ritual, like the hotel itself, takes its strength from the cultures that meet in Kiruna; of the settlers, the Sami and the Tornedalings. After you leave your things at the hotel, put on your hiking boots. Lunch will be at nearby STF Malmfältens Folkhögskola – judging by the number of mining trucks outside the school, the lunch is worth the money. That’s right.
Afternoon: The area around Camp Ripan and the school are parts of the “old” Kiruna that remain. It is land that will not be affected by the mine’s growth in the near term. After lunch you walk along the tracks in the forest, which in winter are fantastic cross-country tracks but now suit runners and hikers better. You hike to the top of the Luossavaara mountain.
Kiruna is a small mining town located smack centre of the Aurora oval. Home to Abisko National Park, Sweden’s highest mountain Kebnekaise and the ski resorts Björkliden and Riksgränsen, and the original Icehotel in the small village of Jukkasjärvi, by the Torne River. The name means “meeting place” in Sámi. Kiruna is also a town on the move (yes, they’re moving an entire town) towards a sustainable future for its inhabitants.
Have a chat with the local tourist information for more insights: kirunalapland.se
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Afternoon tea: At the foot of Luossavaara mountain, some new buildings have been erected, but several of Kiruna’s classic wooden houses have also been moved here. Not least the Hjalmar Lundbohm building, Kiruna’s first real house, where the superintendent himself often welcomed Sweden’s financial as well as cultural elite. It is impossible to ignore the fact that the city played an enormous role in modern Swedish industrial history. But Hjalmar Lundbohm also worked for the culture to gain a foothold in the Arctic. Today, the building is a café run by Spill. Among good pastries, I learn something about the farm and about the city, as well as discovering some beautiful art. Among other things, a wood chest painted by Nils Nilsson Skum.
Evening: You walk through the Norrmalm district, where the classic Mattojärvi ice farm is located. This is Sweden’s oldest existing ice rink and has shaped a number of hockey players. Not least Börje Salming, one of the all time greats who called “Matto” his second home. At Camp Ripan, you enjoy your SPA ritual and an extra moment in the sauna, before taking a seat at the table in the restaurant. Here you can experience flavors from the cultures that have characterized this city since the mine came into being. Kalix löjrom and lamb, Västerbotten cheese and gahkku, reindeer and char, all in a perfect order.
Morning: The tour down into LKAB Visitor Centre is a three-hour excursion into the underground. But here, 530 meters below, you will learn about the mining of the past as well as the future. You decide at the last moment to come along, and are lucky that there is an available seat. The tour is in every way an investment to understand why Kiruna has to move. How the mine helped shape this place.
Lunch: You have decided to change accommodation for the evening. Normally you don’t do that, but since the city is a bit divided, you feel that you want to experience the new part of the city as well. Scandic Kiruna is the alternative. For lunch you visit another classic in the city. Empes has existed in Kiruna since 1945. A classic Swedish “grillkiosk”, which the rock journalist Markus Larsson once called: “A church of class and fat where everyone is welcome”. There are of course many other lunch options. For example, in the new Kulturhuset Aurora in the new center.
Early afternoon: After Empes, which is also to be moved, you go to Kiruna’s church. The red building has been named Sweden’s most beautiful building several times. The church, with neo-Gothic features and a nationalist spirit, is partly reminiscent of a Sami hut. Some of Sweden’s most recognized artists have left their mark on the work. Gustav Wickman was the architect, Prins Eugen created the altarpiece, Christian Eriksson made the twelve gilded statues on the side of the church, but Albert Engström and Ossian Elgström also have works here. Art has always been important to Kiruna. For a long time there was a plan for a 33 meter high Picasso sculpture at the Högalid school. Something that unfortunately did not happen. According to plans, the entire church is to be moved in 2025.
Late afternoon: After a visit in the new center; where, among other things, Kiruna’s bookstore has books about Kiruna’s history and the outdoor shops – Vildmarkshörnan and Höjdmeter – stand out well; you check in at Scandic. The architect Thomas Sandell, from SandellSandberg, has designed the hotel with inspiration from the Giebmegaisi mountain. You cross the square to Kiruna’s new town hall, Kristallen, designed by the Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen. The town hall is a round snow-white building that opens up into a kind of golden living room for people to meet. You take the elevator to the top floor and walk down, floor by floor. Here is Konstmuseet with various exhibitions. But the walls of each floor of the house hang parts of Kiruna Municipality’s art collection. You meet famous artists such as Britta Marakatt-Labba, Lars Levin, Nils Nilsson Skum, Christian Eriksson and others. But also artists with typical Kiruna connections, such as Aili Kangas and Alvar Jansson.
Dinner: At Momma’s Steakhouse you go for the Shiitake soup as a starter and suovas for the main course. The restaurant name Momma’s has been brought with it from the Ferrum hotel to the new Scandic. The restaurant is an institution in Kiruna’s history, dating back to 1969. The name Momma belongs to the mine, after two Dutch brothers who tried to make mining profitable in the north as early as the 17th century. But if you don’t want to eat at the same hotel you’re staying at, there are cafes, pizzerias, kebab and sushi restaurants in the new center. When Elite Hotels completes its new hotel in 2024, there will be more restaurants and a new nightclub in town. But this evening you’ll settle for the view from the roof bar at Scandic.
Packing up: You eat breakfast before heading to the train. The journey is once again about to begin. You could choose to go towards the mountains, to Abisko, Björkliden, Riksgränsen or Narvik on the Atlantic coast. You could also go to Nikkaluokta and the Kebnekaise massif. You realize that you didn’t make it to Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi this time either. But when your train departs along Malmbanan, one of Sweden’s most significant industrial projects, you have time to think about what will have changed by the next time you see each other.