When to Go
There’s probably no better time to visit Bodø than the height of summer, to be honest: it lies just inside the Arctic Circle, and during winter the sun remains invisible for over a month.
But the season of the midnight sun reveals the city at its best. When its main streets are bathed in sunshine and its café terraces full of families enjoying fresh prawn sandwiches, it’s easier to overlook the surrounding shopping mall facades.
Where to Eat
Establishments like Kafé Kafka — a popular place to gather during the day, which also features a loungey basement area — and Pavilionen, bang in the town centre, serve (by Norwegian standards) reasonably priced food, and in the summer the latter has plenty of outdoor seating.
Bryggerikaia, down by the harbour, is also a good spot to hang out, especially on the sheltered veranda once the temperatures have dropped at night.
Where to Drink
Though Bodø is admittedly a little tame by day, the locals come out to play after 10:30PM or so — normally during the second half of the week — and things can get pretty lively. Given its size, the city’s nightlife is surprisingly busy, with a number of crowded bars providing the focus for long nights out.
Public is perhaps the best, a small, split-level venue with a pool table at the back and an Elvis mannequin permanently sat at the bar, while the newly opened Dama Di looks very promising, again with a backroom pool table and also a small smoking tent.
For something a little more upmarket — and where Norway’s rowdy drinking habits are less full on — the Top 13 Bar in the Radisson Blu Hotel offers a 360-degree panorama.
Where to Stay
There are a number of hotel chains in the city centre, including Radisson Blu, Thon, and Clarion.
The Skagen Hotel — split over two buildings, so don’t be confused if they tell you your room is “on the other side” — is more budget friendly, though rooms are a little cramped. The Bodø Hotel is also more economical, and right in the centre of the city.
A new hostel opens in October by the train station, and camping is a popular option, permitted almost anywhere on public ground, though your tent must be a minimum of 150 metres from a house, cabin, or similar private area. (There’s also a two-day limit for anywhere outside of “wilderness.”)
Huts at more formal sites like Bodøsjøen Camping can also be rented.
What to See
There are, of course, a few other things to do in Bodø apart from eat and drink. Bodø Spektrum is apparently one of the country’s most extensive spas — quite a feat in a country like Norway — with six saunas and jacuzzis as well as a water park, Nordlandsbadet, for the kids next door.
Much to my disbelief, however, the highlight is probably the Aviation Museum.
Having grown up in a military family, I’ve been exposed to plenty such institutions, but this (inevitably) two-wing building provides an engaging summary of Norwegian civil and military aviation.
There are dozens of aircraft on view, including a U2 spyplane that hangs from the ceiling, and enough is in English to satisfy non-Norwegian speakers. In addition, the lighting is entertainingly, bizarrely psychedelic.
Experience taught me one thing last summer — the city is best used as a launching pad for further exploration.
You don’t have to go far: a short trip to the TV tower on the north side of the city is simple enough, as is a half-hour hike on pebbled paths through the woods and up the mountains overlooking the city.
Sea eagles hunt overhead or near the lakes splashed across the hillsides, and Bodø sprawls out west to the coast while, to the east, a wall of snow-capped peaks reaches up to the clouds.
Better still, though, is to rent a car and tour the surrounding area.
Passing secluded beaches at Mjelle, with its deserted pale vanilla shoreline, and Geitvågen — its sand a rusty red — I headed north for an hour to take the ferry to Kjerringøy, a small island that provided inspiration to Knut Hamsum, the 1920 Nobel Prize winner for Literature.
Famous also for its preserved century-old trading post and church, its rugged landscape is great for long walks, mountain treks, kayaking, and fishing. There are also white sand beaches, some favoured as much by grazing sheep and cattle as by humans, so going barefoot is ill advised if you want to avoid stepping in locally produced “souvenirs.”
Be mindful of the ferry timetable: it’s often so busy there’s a long wait, and towards the end of the day services are sparse. I cut my visit short rather than risk being stranded on the island overnight if access to the day’s final crossing proved impossible.
As I waited to board, however, I spotted whales in the harbour. I could hardly feel cheated.
Wielding a driver on their range, with the fjords to my left and scraggy, ice-topped hills to my right, I felt like I was at Scotland’s Gleneagles. I concede that the course I played is a little less groomed, but it’s still in better condition than my swing.
Plus, I was offered practice balls for free. (This helped: I need a lot of practice.)
But the main reason to visit Saltstraumen is to see the world’s most powerful tidal currents in action.
And apart from the fishing — legendarily rich, although I somehow managed nothing but seaweed — there are possibilities to snorkel and deep dive. A boat trip out into the fjord, battered by the opposing tides while darting between whirlpools, was daring enough for me, however.
No wonder I never made it to Saltfjellet-Svartisen, where you can walk out over one of Norway’s biggest glaciers. That will have to wait, as will the islands and skerries I’ve yet to explore. Next summer.
The clearest image I brought back from these trips isn’t the moose I spotted on the road back from Saltstraumen, or the maelstrom nearby. Nor is it the spacious beaches or colourful housing, the wildlife, the sunsets, or even my encounter with the country’s prime minister.
It’s a small patch of flowers I saw by a mountain stream during an afternoon trek in the woods. Next to them stood a green plastic watering can with a luggage tag attached. “Kjaere Turgåer,” it read. “Vær snill å gi oss vann viss vi er tørste.” “Dear Hiker,” this translates. “Please give us water if we are thirsty.”
Easy to miss though they were, the flowers were thriving in the shade.
Getting to Bodø: SAS, Norwegian, and Widerøe all fly to Bodø. The airport is such a short drive from the city centre that it’s possible to walk.
NSB runs two trains daily from Oslo and Trondheim. Check out their timetables.
Restaurant/café/bar info: www.utibodo.no
General info: www.visitbodo.com
Matador community member Anne-Sophie Redisch is our destination expert on Norway. Visit her profile to send her your questions, or check out some of her advice in What NOT to Do in Norway.