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Kiruna, which emerged at the turn of the 20th century, owes its location to the nearby deposits of iron ore.

In summer, InfoMine Tours descends 540m (1,772 ft.) into the earth, where you can see the area where 20 million tons of iron ore are dug up every year. Tours leave every hour from 9am to 4pm, with groups forming outside the tourist office. The cost is 250SEK ($50/£25) or 150SEK ($30/£15) for students and children. These tickets are available at the tourist office.

Southeast of the railroad station, the tower of the Stadshus (tel. 0980/704-96) dominates Kiruna. The cast-iron lookout, inaugurated in 1963, was designed by Arthur von Schmalensee and Bror Markland and features unusual door handles of reindeer horn and birch. A carillon of 23 bells rings out at noon and 6pm daily. The interior draws upon materials from around the world: a mosaic floor from Italy, walls of handmade brick from the Netherlands, and pine from the American Northwest. Note also the hand-knotted hanging titled Magic Drum from Rautas, a stunning work by artist Sven Xet Erixon. The upper part of the hanging depicts the midnight sun. Inside you'll find an art collection and some Sami handicraft exhibits. It's open June to August Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, and Saturday and Sunday 10am to 6pm; September to May Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm.

A short walk up the road will take you to the Kiruna Kyrka, Kyrkogatan 8 (tel. 0980/678-12), open Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am to 4:45pm. Gustaf Wickman designed the unusual 1912 church, which has a free-standing bell tower supported by 12 props, like a stylized Sami tent. Indeed, the dark timber interior evokes a Lapp hut, with an origami design of rafters and wood beams. Sweden's architects on several occasions have voted it as their country's most beautiful building. Christian Eriksson designed the gilt bronze statues standing sentinel around the roofline; they represent such states of mind as shyness, arrogance, trust, melancholy, and love. Above the main door of the church is a relief depicting groups of Lapps beneath the clouds of heaven, also Eriksson's creation. The altarpiece by Prince Eugen evokes Paradise as a Tuscan landscape, which strikes us as an incongruous image for this part of the world. Eriksson also created the cross that depicts Lapps praying and, at its base, a metal sculpture entitled St. George and the Dragon.

You also can visit Hjalmar Lundbohmsgården (tel. 0980/701-10; www.hjalmarsgard.se), the official museum of the city of Kiruna. It's situated in a manor house built in 1899 by the city's founder and owner of most of the region's iron mines, Hjalmar Lundbohm. Many of the museum's exhibits deal with the city's origins in the late 19th century, the economic conditions in Europe that made its growth possible, and the personality of the entrepreneur who persuaded thousands of Swedes to move north to work in the mines -- no small accomplishment we'd say. It's open June through August Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm; off season, you must phone ahead for opening hours, which could be any day of the week between the hours of 8am and 4pm. Admission is 35SEK ($7/£3.50) for adults, 20SEK ($4/£2) for children 7 to 15, free for children under 7.

Sweden's Doorway to the Universe

Unknown to much of the world, a few dozen kilometers from Kiruna in the middle of an Arctic forest lies Esrange (tel. 46/980-72-000; www.ssc.se/esrange). This is Europe's only civilian rocket base and a major center of space and climate research on global warming. Rocket launches, the testing of unmanned aircraft, and balloon ascents are all conducted from this base.

Among other endeavors, Esrange is a center of research on the aurora borealis, or northern lights, and on the earth's shrinking atmospheric ozone layer. Visitors can see the local rocket launch area and the balloon launchpad where high-altitude balloons are sent into the atmosphere.

Esrange lies 40km (25 miles) east of Kiruna in the direction of Jukkasjärvi. Four-hour tours are conducted June to August at 9am, costing 390SEK ($78/£39) per person. Arrangements can be made at the tourist office. Who would have thought that so much was going on in a cold, dark Arctic forest?

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.