Bodø. A city with only 50,000 inhabitants in Northern Norway - situated 100 km from the Lofoten Islands and over 500 km from Tromsø further north. Not many travelers know about Bodø and many of those who do, only use it as a pit stop to get to Lofoten. Others don't even stop here at all and head to Tromsø instead, which arguably offers more sights and attractions but is thus, also more crowded and expensive.
In this guide I'll, therefore, show you how to get to Bodø, where to eat, drink and stay, and, of course, what to do and see in the city should you decide to give Bodø a chance - which, to be honest, you should!
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Bodø is often called the "little brother of Tromsø" and why that partly might just be about the city's size, it's also about the rivalry between the two cities' soccer clubs. Quite frankly, I have no idea which of the two teams is better as I don't care much about soccer but I can tell you that Bodø has more to offer than you might think in terms of culture, cuisine, views, and sights!
The city is still somewhat of a hidden gem (though, certainly not for much longer) and regardless of what you wish to see and do on a trip to Northern Norway, I'm pretty sure Bodø has got it covered!
How to get to (and around in) Bodø
Plane vs. Train
Bodø can best be reached by plane and although there are no international direct connections available, you can easily combine a trip to Bodø with a stay in Oslo, Bergen or Trondheim and hop on a direct flight with SAS, Norwegian or Widerøe from there.
The city is also the last one in Northern Norway that can be reached by train. The Norwegian railway network ends in nearby Fauske, so if you've always dreamed about a train journey in the Arctic, the journey from Trondheim to Bodø is often called one of the most spectacular ones in Europe!
On this 10-hour journey (18 hours if you come all the way from Oslo), you'll cross the Arctic Circle and get a chance to admire the majestic mountain range of Saltfjellet. You have your pick between taking the day or night journey.
Rent a car to get around
To get around in Bodø, renting a car is your best bet. While the city center itself is walkable and there are buses going there from the airport, many of the most stunning sights around Bodø are situated within a 30-45km radius, and the regional bus service is rather poor. In order to visit places such as Saltstraumen, Mjelle and Kjerringøy, you should rent a car.
If that's not something you'd like to do because you're for example visiting in winter and have no driving experience on snow and ice, you can check whether Visit Bodø offers any tours you might be interested in here or whether there's a bus to where you want to go here.
Headed to Lofoten or Tromsø from Bodø?
In case you want to make a pit stop in Bodø on your way to the Lofoten Islands, you have your pick between taking the ferry (nothing for those of you suffering from sea-sickness, though, trust me) or the plane. The ferries from Bodø go to either Svolvær, Moskenes or Røst while the planes go to Svolvær, Røst and Leknes.
If you'd like to travel from Bodø to Tromsø, taking the plane is your best bet as the journey takes less than an hour. You could also take the train to Fauske and then the bus to Narvik, where you'd change to the bus to Tromsø, however, this trip will take anything from 9 to 12 hours.
What to see and do in Bodø
Bodø has no shortage of things to see and experience - from incredible views to fascinating street art! Have a look at the video for a sneak peek before reading the entire list of things to see and do in Bodø below.
1. Discover all the street art
One of the newer attractions of Bodø (and one that Tromsø doesn't offer to this extent) is all the street art around the city center that has been created in 2015 for the UpNorth Festival. Ask for a map at the visitor center to make sure you get to see all the pieces that are still left.
2. Take in the views from above at Keiservarden
Opened by Queen Sonja, the new hiking trail and sherpa staircase leading up to Keiservarden hill overlooking Bodø, has quickly become many a local's favorite place in the city. The trail is only 2 km long and takes under an hour to complete so it's really popular among families with kids, and the views are definitely gorgeous!
>> To find out where the trail starts and how to get there by car, have a look at the map at the end of this post!
3. Go for a stroll along the harbor
If I may say so (and at the risk of receiving hate mail from Tromsø locals), Bodø has a much prettier harbor than Tromsø. The pier called Moloen that's been erected in 1904 and extended in 1980, makes for a lovely stroll along the ocean and offers some stunning views.
Do make sure to bring a windproof jacket, though, as they call Bodø the "windy city" for a reason!
4. Learn more about aviation at the Norwegian Aviation Museum
You can find the Norwegian Aviation Museum close to the airport of Bodø and it's an attraction for all ages. Here you can learn more about civil and military aviation history of Norway and even go for a spin in the flight simulator! You can easily spend half a day here to explore everything - from the development of SAS to the beginning of the popular Norwegian "Sydenferie" (summer holidays in Southern Europe).
The entrance fee is rather steep at 160NOK but there is a lot to explore here and the exhibitions have been updated in 2016.
5. Go for a trek in one of many National Parks
Sjunkhatten National Park is one of the wildest and most stunning areas I've ever visited in Norway but it's not the only park in the area. Saltfjellet–Svartisen National Park south of Bodø is incredibly impressive as well and its biggest highlight has got to be Svartisen glacier that you might be able to catch a glimpse of from the plane arriving in Bodø - however, I'm pretty sure that it's even more stunning up close!
Aside from these two, Rago National Park at the border to Sweden is another option for any hiking enthusiasts among you.
6. Visit the world's biggest maelstrom at Saltstraumen
Saltstraumen is the strongest tidal current in the world where you can experience whirlpools (or maelstroms) bigger than 10 meters. The so-called Saltstraumen is a small strait situated between the island of Straumøya and mainland Norway, about 10 kilometers from Bodø.
At Saltstraumen, ca. 400 million cubic meters of water from the ocean is pressed through and out of the 150-meter wide strait every six hours at low or high tide. The water hereby gets as fast as 40 km/h which leads to whirlpools in the strait. These can reach a diameter of up to 10 meters.
7. Enjoy some time at the beach in Mjelle
Mjelle Beach is many a local's favorite place on a sunny day but I argue that the beach is also fascinating to visit on a rainy day. Basically, it's a photographer's paradise and offers countless of photo opportunities and a stunning landscape that combines sand, rocks, and grassland, right next to a mountain range.
8. Do some time travel at Kjerringøy Trading Post
Kjerringøy Trading Post is an open-air museum with preserved buildings from the peninsula Kjerringøy, where you can learn more about the fish trade of the 19th century. The old buildings are lovely to look at and offer countless gems inside. Admission is available at a reduced fee in the low season, and they even have Christmas markets here in December, so it pays off not to visit in summer!
9. Watch the Northern Lights in winter or the Midnight Sun in summer
While Bodø isn't quite as far north as Tromsø, the city is still situated above the Arctic Circle which means that you can see both, the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun, if you come for a visit in either winter or summer.
The official Midnight Sun season lasts in Bodø from May 31st to July 12th, but summer nights are quite bright before and after this period as well, so make sure to bring a sleeping mask if you visit.
The Northern Lights need to be a bit stronger to be seen in Bodø than they need to be in Tromsø due to the latter's more northern latitude, but it's not impossible to see the Northern Lights in Bodø by any means. Just make sure to head somewhere dark, away from the city lights, and hope for clear weather!
Mjelle Beach or Keiservarden are both nice spots with a 360-degree view to spot the lights but there are lots of others in the area as well!
10. Hit the spa and unwind
Another thing that Tromsø doesn't have yet, is a proper swimming hall and spa. Bodø Spektrum offers 9 (!) different pools under one roof, from an outdoor pool to a wave pool, to an outdoor slide.
And the best thing? They even have a spa with sauna, hot tub, hammam, aroma showers and an ice cave. So, if you're exhausted after a long day of sightseeing, road tripping or hiking, Bodø Spektrum might just be the perfect place for you to relax and unwind!
11. Go shopping at Glasshuset
There are lots of stores in downtown Bodø but naturally, you wouldn't want to go out when the weather is stormy and rainy as it so often is the case in Bodø. Luckily, the city has a mall in the pedestrian street!
Glasshuset, the glass house, as the mall is called, isn't just a building but rather a glass roof on top of the pedestrian street, which hosts 75 different stores, cafes, and restaurants - so, plenty of options to fill a rainy day!
12. Take a tour with Visit Bodø to go fishing, kayaking or snorkeling
Bodø is a city that, in my view, can best be explored by renting a car and driving around. However, there are some activities that call for a tour! With Visit Bodø, you can go on a fishing adventure off the many islands that are scattered around Bodø, or even go kayaking in the fjords.
If none of that sounds adventurous enough for you, how about a snorkeling adventure at Saltstraumen then? Or a RIB tour over Saltstraumen?
Where to stay in Bodø
Bodø has a great choice of affordable, mid-range, as well as luxury hotels. Here is thus a small selection of hotels I would recommend.
City Hotel Bodø
City Hotel Bodø is situated close to the train station and only a short walk from the city center. Rooms are basic but cozy and you can find deals for only 595 NOK for a single room and 645 NOK for a twin room. You can choose between rooms with an en-suite bathroom or rooms with a shared bathroom. Wifi is included, but breakfast comes at an extra 75 NOK per day and person.
If you've been following my blog for a while, you might know that I'm a big fan of the Scandic chain. From Stockholm to Hamburg to Stavanger, I've never not enjoyed my stay at a Scandic hotel and just love their stylish rooms, incredible breakfast buffet, and affordable rates. Scandic Havet offers all of this, but also a little but quite significant extra: stunning views of the harbor!
I've been wanting to stay here for ages but unfortunately haven't gotten around to it yet. I was, therefore, all the more excited when I recommended the place to Erin of Oregon Girl around the World and she got back telling me she absolutely loved the place - and its views!
The hotel is situated right next to the bus and express boat terminal in the center of town which makes it perfect for adventures in and around the city!
Skagen Hotel offers super stylish rooms only a short walk from the city center. You can find deals starting at 755 NOK for a single and 1000 NOK for a double room. Breakfast is included in the price and consists of a very bountiful buffet with bacon, omelets, and even waffles! And if that weren't enough, Skagen Hotel also offers a complimentary dinner (!) between Sundays and Tuesdays.
Clarion Collection Hotel Grand Bodø
Clarion Collection Hotel Grand Bodø is one of the most luxurious hotels in Bodø. The rooms are incredibly stylish and spacious, and the hotel is situated right on the pedestrian street in the city center, with the restaurant Peppes Pizza being in the same building. If you stay here, you can look forward to complimentary breakfast and dinner, as well as afternoon snacks.
And the best? If you book early, you can find deals starting at only 1000NOK for a standard double room!
Accommodation outside of Bodø
If you'd like to explore more of what Nordland county has to offer in terms of nature and views, you might want to consider staying outside of the city. Here are two suggestions that won't disappoint:
Saltstraumen Hotel is situated, as the name suggests, only a couple hundred meters from the famous Saltstraumen maelstrom. The rooms are clean and cozy, and you even have access to a spa with sauna and hot tub. The hotel is perfect if you'd like to go fishing at the maelstrom or go for a hike.
Vestvatn Arctic Cabins
Vestvatn Arctic Cabins offers cabins in the Arctic wilderness near Brekke, a 1-hour drive from Bodø. The cabins are cozy and warm, and the perfect starting point for an adventure watching the Northern Lights or going skiing. All cabins come with their own kitchen and toilet, showers, however, are situated in the main building and shared by guests.
Where to eat and drink in Bodø
Bodø certainly doesn't offer as many restaurants and cafes as Tromsø, but you can still enjoy a nice meal and cozy drink in a pub in many places. Here are some of my favorites:
Egon is a chain and granted, not what most of you would be looking for when visiting Norway. However, they serve excellent comfort food at decent prices. From pizza to pasta, to sandwiches, Egon has something for everyone and the interior of the restaurant that's situated inside of Thon Hotel Nordlys couldn't be cozier and is typically Northern Norwegian, so what more do you want?
Sydøst mainly offers tapas, comfort food, and Norwegian cuisine. You can, for example, find reindeer meat and cod on the menu. Prices vary between 160 and 200 NOK for lunch, and 180 to 300 NOK for dinner. The menu, in general, is quite meat-heavy, particularly the tapas, but then again, that's Norwegian cuisine for you.
Bjørk is a bit of an all-rounder, offering quite a variety of pizza (try the veggie one with Northern Norwegian cheese), and typical Norwegian dishes such as lamb, deer, and stockfish. They also have a lovely selection of desserts, lunch, and small dishes, so Bjørk should definitely be on your list of places to eat at while staying in Bodø!
Bodø Bakeri is a must if you're looking for a place to grab a sandwich or a slice of cake. They have amazing marzipan cakes and cheesecakes and even prepare sandwiches according to your taste for you, which is great for the veggies/allergic folks among you!
Kaptein Larsen is a lovely old fishermen's pub on the pedestrian street where you can even sit outside and enjoy a cold beer or cider while bathing in the evening sun. The pub itself is an English style one with a bit of Northern Norwegian maritime style thrown in there. The are lots of old paintings on the walls and the staff even wears marine uniforms!
Bodø in a nutshell
As you can see, Bodø has lots of things to offer and I personally think that it's an awesome destination and alternative to Tromsø year-round. If you're looking for a more off-the-beaten-path and budget destination in Northern Norway, without having to sacrifice your food and culture cravings, Bodø really is a great option!
If you're interested to actually head there, have a look at the complete map to Bodø containing all the places mentioned in this guide!
What would YOU most like to do when visiting Bodø?
Leave a comment below!
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