The Arctic is not the cheapest place to visit and Swedish Lapland is no exception. I really wanted to visit Kiruna though, because I find it incredibly interesting that the local mining company LKAB is moving parts of the city to extend the mining. I mean, where else in the world has that ever happened?
However taking into consideration how expensive, difficult and exhausting it was to get to and from Kiruna, the last thing we wanted to do is spend even more money on expensive tours. And Kiruna offers a lot of those! If you're willing to spend $150+ on a tour that lasts 2 hours, Kiruna seems to be a good place to do so, but I can understand if that's not what you had in mind!
Neither did we, so we decided to visit Kiruna on a budget and still make the most of our time there. We visited on a weekend, spending most of Friday to get there and the entire Monday to get back, which left us with only two full days to explore the town.
I'd say it was more than enough time - however I would recommend visiting during the week, as restaurants tend to be quite crowded on the weekends and the local busses run very infrequently on Saturdays and Sundays.
If you're short on time better pin this post for later or watch the video below - this is the full guide to visiting Kiruna on a budget!
What to do and see on a budget
If you visit Kiruna in winter, you have a huge winter wonderland at your disposal that waits to be explored! Aside from going for a hike, you can also try skiing or snowboarding at the local slope on an abandoned mine.
Yes, that's right - in a mining town like Kiruna, the mine is everywhere! Mt Luossabacken hasn't been used for mining for decades and is now used by locals as a slope in winter. Renting equipment will set you back by around 300 SEK ($33) and a card for the ski lift is 150 SEK ($16) a day which overall is a very fair price if you'd just like to spend one day on the slopes!
If skiing and snowboarding are a bit too adventurous for you, why not try the locals' way of getting around in winter: kicksledding! A kicksled is essentially what the name suggest - a sled you can stand on that also offers space for one person to sit (or to carry home groceries) and that has to be kicked to go forward.
I've been meaning to try kicksledding for ages as it's very popular in Tromso as well, and I can say that it really is a lot of fun! Luckily for you, some hotels such as SPiS Hotel & Hostel, offer you to borrow their kicksleds for free!
Admiring Swedish Architecture
I know I live in Norway, THE country of colourful wooden houses. Swedish architecture however is no way inferior to Norwegian one (sorry Norway!) and those pastel, wooden houses of Kiruna are just gorgeous!
We had a blast just wandering around town and taking in the view of pretty houses - and yes, there might have been some daydreaming about living in such involved!
Discovering Street Art
Kiruna might not offer as much street art as Malmö, but for a town that is situated in the middle of Lapland, it made quite a creative impression on me.
I've never been to Detroit though so I'm not sure if the quote is true...
Anyhow, I loved the view into Kiruna's past most! The photo wall at Adolf Hedinsvägen features pictures of the 19th century and the olden days of the town. I always think that it's interesting to learn how people lived back in the day and that wall really brought history alive!
Go underground and learn how to move a town
A bit more adventurous but still on a budget, is the option to learn more about the iron ore mine in town. After all, Kiruna only exists because of the mine and in order to keep up the mining activities there, parts of the town have to be moved for safety reasons.
That means that they'll even move the town centre and the church!!
Of course we wanted to learn more about how that is done and what the mine really is like so we visited the exhibition at Folkets Hus and went on a tour with LKAB. At Folkets Hus, the community center where the tourist office is situated too, you can find a miniature version of Kiruna and the mine.
It's a three-dimensional sculpture which tells you which parts of the town are being moved, where the new town centre will be situated, and how deep the mine really goes (1365 metres). The building of the new town centre has already started and the first stores and businesses will be moving in 2018/2019.
Many people have already left their houses and moved into new buildings at the other end of town. Just to give you an understanding of how the whole process works: the mining company LKAB is buying people's old houses for much more than they would get on the market, so that nobody runs into financial issues by having to move.
LKAB stands for Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag, so taking the names of the two local ore mountains Luossavaara and Kiirunavaara, and the Swedish word for public limited company, which means that the Swedish people have a share in the company and which is why LKAB was interested in planning the move of Kiruna together with the people living there.
The company even offers tours to their show mine at 500 metres below ground, and in contrast to most other tours we've seen on offer in Kiruna, this one was fairly cheap at 360 SEK ($41). Transfer to the mine by bus was included and already quite an adventure itself.
There is an entire street system below Kiruna and the road leading from people's workplaces below ground back to the surface, is Kiruna's busiest road in rush hour! There's however no lights except for the lights of your car and some reflectors on the wall, so that your eyes can get used to the darkness (and later on the light again) much quicker.
Once we arrived at the show mine, we got to feel the ore that is being produced there in our own hands, got to experience the total darkness of a mine, watch a movie in what has got to be the world's coolest cinema at 500 metres below ground, and we got a glimpse of the lifts that transport the ore to the surface.
LKAB has understood how best to market the mine to tourists and not only are they offering a fair price, but they also create a great visitor experience. So even though you plan on visiting Kiruna on a budget and would usually stay away from tours, I'd highly recommend this one as I found it genuinely interesting (#notsponsored)!
Visit Kiruna Church
Kiruna Church is one of the largest wooden churches in Sweden and might I say, probably the most gorgeous of them all! It completely amazed me and I wish we'd had the time to take a look around the inside.
You can do so for free but only in the opening hours between 10-4pm or so?! Anyway, I know that we got there right after they had closed for the day which was definitely a shame but it was gorgeous outside as well!
Visit the Icehotel
Speaking of churches, have you ever visited a church made of ice? Or rather, a wedding chapel made of ice?
The famous Icehotel of Sweden is situated about 30 km from Kiruna and should definitely be on your itinerary, whether you plan on staying (or getting married?) there or not.
Unfortunately it's quite complicated to get there on a budget, especially so on the weekend, but it's not impossible. You should just check the bus schedule and be flexible when it comes to planning your itinerary for the day.
The bus only costs around 50 SEK ($5) but it doesn't go very often which means you either have too little or too much time to spend at the Icehotel. If it's even possible to spend too much time there! We spent 1000 SEK ($114) on taxi fares to get there and back, as we were on a tight schedule. If I'd visit again, I'd do so on a week day, take the bus and just take it easy.
The entrance fee to visit all the rooms of the Icehotel, the new year round Icehotel 365, the chapel and the ice bar, is 295 SEK ($33) during the summer (as you can only visit the year round structure then) and 325 SEK ($37) in winter. A guided tour is included.
The Icehotel deserves its own post though, so stay tuned for more ice magic to come!
Where to stay on a budget
SPiS Hotel & Hostel
SPiS is an absolute allrounder - hotel, hostel and a la carte restaurant - this place offers something for everyone! While the top floors are made up of hotel rooms where you can sleep for 895 SEK ($100) to 995 SEK in a standard double/single room, the basement consists of hostel rooms where you only pay 285 SEK ($30) a night for a bed in the dorm.
The highlight about staying at SPiS for us, except for the view on Kiruna church, was the food. Breakfast featured home made cheese and cold cuts and then there was brunch at the weekend with everything from pizza to salads and lots of cake on offer.
And if you'd like to splurge a little, SPiS transforms into an a la carte restaurant in the evening where they serve delicious reindeer meat and heavenly desserts!
Another hostel in Kiruna is Malmfältens Folkhögskola and unlike the hip and stylish SPiS, this one really is a classic hostel you might remember from trips you took with your school. The rooms are relatively old and basic but some effort has been made to create a cosy atmosphere, and the breakfast buffet in the morning did not disappoint.
Prices range from 500 SEK to 800 SEK ($57-91) a night (depending on season and type of room) and each room has access to a kitchen where you can prepare your own food. There's also the option to buy the lunch dish of the day for 95 SEK ($11).
The hostel is great if you only stay a day and what to hit the slopes, but it is a 15 minute walk to the town centre and the bus station where the free shuttle bus leaves for the train station, so keep that in mind when booking.
Where to eat on a budget
If you're visiting Kiruna on a weekend, you should definitely check out the brunch buffet at SPiS. For 155 SEK ($17), you can basically fill your belly for the rest of the day with pizza, salads, lots of cheese and cold cuts, and of course cakes galore!
And even though SPiS is an a la carte restaurant in the evenings, they still offer the burger of the week for an affordable 185 SEK ($21).
Arctic Thai & Grill
If you're looking for fast, cheap, but still delicious food, then Arctic Thai & Grill is the right place for you. For around 100 SEK ($11) you can get a very hearty dish of rice, chicken, shrimp, noodles, or vegetables, that will make you full for sure.
The place was packed with locals on a Sunday night (which is always a good sign) and you can decide if you want to eat there or bring the food to your accommodation. If you don't want to cook yourself but still want to eat as cheaply as possible, Arctic Thai & Grill is a really good option!
All in all, it might be tricky to visit Kiruna on a budget (especially the getting to and from part) but it's definitely not impossible to have a great time there, even if your pockets aren't deep!
If you're looking for more info on visiting Kiruna and Swedish Lapland on a budget, check out Routes North who have a few more guides to offer you!