The last Northern-most town of Sweden, the stronghold of the North and the place where life is governed by the pulse of the World’s largest iron ore mine.
- The town “belongs” to LKAB – Swedish state-owned mining conglomerate. (State owned!!!)
- Opened in 1898 and will exist for another 70 years or so until the mine’s iron deposits are fully depleted.
- The mine is the world’s largest of its kind with highest concentration of iron in its ore.
- Originally discovered by Sami people… and then kindly repossessed by the Swedes in the 19th century
Welcome to the frozen streets of Kiruna. The town that owes everything it is to the Kiirunavaara iron ore deposits. LKAB – the state-owned mining company that does everything from mining to research and development in the industry. They developed a type of a hydraulic drill and even sell it to other companies which need deep drilling. But let’s talk first about the town.
The Old Town
Kiruna’s old town is an amazing collection of old wooden buildings, I would say this is by far a better looking town compared to anything you’d see at the Bothnian coast. It really is worth spending at least a week here! And it certainly is worth the trip so far North. If you are ever as far as Jokkmokk, make sure you book extra week to see Kiruna… in fact, don’t even stop at Jokkmokk – go straight to Kiruna!
But make sure you’ve got enough board games and books with you and God forbid you’re travelling alone because you’d be bored here, especially if it rains – everything closes at 4pm and good places are hard to find, the locals don’t socialise at all probably drinking at home with friends so your best chance would be staying at a hotel lobby waiting for the rain to stop and if it started to rain you can be sure it will rain for at least a day.
The only club in town is open on Friday and Saturday nights and I doubt you’d meet anyone interesting there – the locals will be at home sipping illegal moonshine.
But once the skies cleared out, take a walk through the orange-lit streets of Kiruna. The beautiful and very different houses lit by the midnight sun! Some form alleys build during the foundation times, some streets seem to have houses wealthier citizens where all houses are different.
But there are of course new builds and they are horrendous. The town got a European prise for a model settlement and I suspect this coincides with building the uglier part of the town. Well, EU is what the EU is.
So really, look around and you will find an old Gentlemen’s club, just like those you’d often see in England, it’s an old building worth seeing and maybe visiting if you are lucky.
I discovered a local… THE local swimming pool and it has quickly become the place I was looking forward to go to, do my kilometre and then enjoy the sauna. It is the cleanest swimming pool in the world, has four or five sections for all ages so you will rarely have to share a lane.
Did I mention the town lacked good cafes? Well, it more than makes up for that with this place. I’m not food critic but I would suggest you put this place first on the list of places to eat in Kiruna.
Empes is a small diner which has been in existence since 1945. It is like a traditional small diner in a big city which managed to survive waves of property buyouts, demolitions, repossessions and fires. Walk into the small balcony and look out for pictures of it in the 4os, queues of people (those ash-blond Swedes of the past)
Seven Euros will buy you a burger, a kebap or Swedish special – a wrap with a sausage, mash potato and shrimp mayonnaise which is a hell of a mix, I spent the rest of the day causing global warming through greenhouse gasses… it was really bad but taste-wise it was interesting:)
My favourite was the kebap which you can get with mash potato, that’s THE combination to have, I don’t know why the rest of Europe won’t follow:)
And – you get served by Swedish ladies who will tell you everything you need to know about their culture. Such a great place this is – definitely go there!
But Kiruna is of course not a town known for its sunset-lit wooden architecture. In the heart of the town is a giant mine industry which dwarfs almost every other Swedish export including Defence and the Telecom.
Kiruna mine is the largest of its kind in the world and while Brasil mines more in absolute quantities, concentration of iron in Kuruna’s ore at 68% make is the biggest source of this ferrous metal in the world. The Swedes also heavily use the process of creating pellets which help smelters save on energy costs as the pellets contain a mineral that creates extra heat when pellets are molten…. bla bla bla… this is hi-tech shit as far as iron ore mining goes:)
I bought a tour to the mine which now for me rates at the top three ways to waste money in Sweden! For just a few coins south of 400SEK. For this incredible amount of money you’re taken on a couch and driven to the mine. I was twiddling my thumbs hoping for a tour through piles or rock watching heavy machinery clear the path… no way. What you will be shown is a designated area with a lot of wall posters and a 15-minutes commercial about how great LKAB are… this is a client video rather than anything to do with the mine itself! And I’m not a client, I just paid 400 SEK to see the mine!
The tour gets worse and worse as you realise it could all be done in the warmth of a conference hall up in Kiruna’s tourist office. Everything you’ll see is basically not real, the lightning, the machinery is not live… they could just keep it on the surface, why they had to do it underground is a mystery! Ah, the cookies at the canteen were good.
But while you’re in Kiruna you need to do one thing: set your alarm for 1am and wait. Somewhere between 1am and 2am they set off underground explosion, be awake for that. You will feel the ground oscillate, it is not shaking it really is oscillation, you can feel it wobble underneath your feet! This is a great experience well worth of you being awake at 1am.
And the best place to feel the ground shake will be the old Kiruna hotel, it is stood next to an old road and an old train station which have been shut because land there sunk and destroyed the road and the train line. The hotel is still there and looks magnificent in the evening sun. From the rooms facing the mine you will see evening sun and hear the sounds of train cars loaded with iron ore pellets destined to become nearly everything we make of steel in Europe.
(Serge Fog, July 12-24 2016)