Kiruna, Sweden: getting there by train

I knew I wanted to travel during the sabbatical, but I also didn’t want to go too far. So I rather randomly chose to visit Kiruna, Sweden. Why? Because I hadn’t been there before. It’s also within the Arctic Circle, making it the most northern point that I’ve visited. And they have reindeer.’

This is going to get too long for a single blog post, so I’ll break it up. This first post will be about getting to Kiruna by train. Check out all of my posts on Kiruna.

So, what is there to do in Kiruna? In November? Even though it’s a shoulder season, there is still plenty going on. This post covers wandering around Kiruna and getting to see the northern lights.

Vy runs a night train from Stockholm up to the Norwegian border, via Kiruna. Given that social distancing is currently important and I’ve never taken a night train, it became part of the adventure.

While researching if this was actually a good idea, I asked around for others’ experiences. The consensus seems to be that if you’re in a hurry or on a time-sensitive mission, fly – but if you have time and are willing to be flexible, the train can be pretty neat.

In terms of cost, it comes down to about the same thing – if you fly, you either have a shorter trip or need to pay for an extra hotel night. If you take the train, the bed is included. Given that I wasn’t in a hurry and was up for an adventure, I went for it.

I caught the commuter train from Upplands Väsby to Stockholm Central where I was going to pick up the night train. However, on the way, I received a worrying text (my translation):

Your travel with Nattåget Norrland has been affected by a derailment of a goods train between Gällivare and Kiruna. You need to switch trains at 5:43 in Boden, then switch to a bus between Gällivare and Kiruna. You can expect 60 minutes or more. You can keep your trip with these changes or cancel it. If you want to cancel, remember that it must be done before the train’s departure. Kind regards, Vy tåg

Well, I was up for an adventure, so might as well go ahead. I wasn’t even sure if my hotel would let me cancel, let alone the other activities that I had booked.

I made it to Stockholm, found the train, and even eventually found my cabin. I was in the wrong car at first as they had mislabelled the cars – thankfully there was time to walk to the other end of the train before it left.

Here’s what the train passageway looks like – tight, but fine as long as there aren’t too many people.

The train car passageway is narrow

I booked a three person berth for myself – that’s basically three bunk beds with a shared bathroom at each end of the car. The bottom bunk is folded down to function as a couch, the middle bunk is tucked into the wall and you can just see the bottom of the top bunk. Cozy!

The 3 berth cabin

I found the cabin fascinating in how such good use is made of small spaces. There was even a seat belt netting for buckling yourself in at night – which I was grateful for when the train jolted.

Instructions for using the cabin

Dinner on the train was surprisingly good! It was pre-packaged meals – I was mushroom risotto – which was “proudly made from scratch in Luleå. In typical and practical Swedish fashion, you purchased your meal and then it was microwaved for you.

Microwaves being used by staff in dining car

I took the opportunity to hang out in the dining car. I think there may have been wifi on the train but I didn’t need it at this point – I had data coverage up until well past Uppsala. I did take the opportunity to download maps on Google Maps – it felt old school, but just in case.

kirunaThis is also when I started learning a lot more about the geography of northern Sweden. Here’s a full list of the stops the train makes, with Gällivare as the last one before Kiruna and Boden a few before that.

List of train stops on the journey

I also learned just how far apart things are up in the north. Here’s a map showing the train journey from Stockholm to Kiruna. Gällivare is the last star before Kiruna.

Train journey on a map

I got things set up in my cabin and managed to snag the pillows that were tucked up on the top bunk. I needed to make sure I had everything I wanted when I went to bed as getting up and down the ladder made me nervous with the jiggling train. I thought about sleeping on the top bunk but compromised with the middle.

Looking down from the top bunk

The train conductors had warned us that there would be no wake-up calls, so I set my alarm for 5:15 and tucked myself in for the night. When I woke up, I checked to see where we were – nearly at Boden, which is where we’d change trains.

Google Maps showing current location

The train duly arrived in Boden and we disembarked. There was snow and I was finally grateful for that heavy winter jacket that I’d been carrying since Stockholm.

Train station Boden

I found a quiet section of the train all the way in the back and managed to snag myself some breakfast. At this point, data was only available when we went through a station, so I amused myself with watching it get light and knitting.

Looking back

We arrived uneventfully in Gällivare and were loaded onto buses. So much for social distancing, but I wasn’t sure what else to do.

Bus at Gällivare

Just outside of Gällivare, we turned onto the local highway system and I spotted this – 11 km back to Gällivare and 109 to Kiruna. I sometimes forget how big the Nordics actually are after growing up in the Netherlands.

Signs outside of Gällivare

I snoozed on the bus and then we arrived at the train station in Kiruna. I’d understood there was supposed to be some sort of transfer for the 2-3 km into Kiruna proper but didn’t feel like waiting after all of that time sitting still. (Note: there is a free transfer bus that is linked to the train arrival and departure. Check the Kiruna city site for more info.)

I walked off into the snowy morning to see what Kiruna actually looks like!

The road between Kiruna train station and Kiruna city

It was a bit of a journey but the train staff was professional and did their best. I got their in the end, albeit with less social distancing and less sleep than I’d hoped for.

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