Five Days in Bodø

December 30, 2022 – January 2, 2023

We spent Christmas in London with Andy’s mother, which was the perfect way to relax and recharge before making our way up to Bodø for our final trip of 2022. Bodø is a small city just past the Arctic Circle in northwestern Norway, making it an ideal place to see the aurora borealis during the winter when the sun barely rises above the horizon. While we were in town, sunrise wasn’t until ~11:15 AM and sunset was before 1 PM, which worked out to ~5 hours between ‘first light’ and ‘final light’ each day. The lack of sunlight combined with insane wind, absolutely frigid temperatures, and heavy snowfall nearly every day made for an incredibly unique experience — it was truly one of the most starkly beautiful places we’ve ever visited.

With a population of ~50,000 and a decent airport within two miles of downtown, Bodø (pronounced like ‘boo-DAH’) is an up-and-coming destination that has worked hard to establish itself as an ideal home base for tourists in the winter as well as the summer, when visitors flock to the area to experience Norway’s beautiful fjords and outdoor activities during the ‘midnight sun’. The city was essentially rebuilt after the majority of its buildings were destroyed during a Luftwaffe attack in World War II and Bodø has since carved out a reputation as a modern, cultured city with an excellent dining scene despite its remote location, which is what originally caught my attention and prompted me to book this trip. There were plenty of options for nice bars and restaurants and I intentionally ensured we had reservations for New Year’s Eve, etc. well in advance. Despite this forethought, nearly all of my reservations ended up getting canceled the week prior to our trip, which was extremely frustrating because the city was basically shut down for the holidays and we genuinely had a hard time finding anywhere to eat for several meals…definitely a key learning for future trips, I suppose.

Our primary disappointment, however, was that we weren’t able to see the aurora borealis while we were in town despite our dedicated efforts each night. There are two critical conditions for being able to see the aurora borealis (also known as the northern lights): it needs to be completely dark and the sky needs to be clear. The tour operator we used for a few activities on this trip provided excellent suggestions for nearby places with minimal light pollution and we diligently spent several hours each night at a remote beach looking up at the sky; unfortunately, we didn’t get as lucky with the cloud cover. Honestly, though, we still had an absolutely amazing trip despite not being able to see the northern lights, and we made so many incredible memories that it still felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you’re planning a trip to Bodø, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations in Norway and Finland.

Food & Drink

  • LystPå Restaurant & Vinbar: The phenomenal dinner we had at LystPå on our first night nearly made up for all the disappointing meals we had the rest of the trip. Our server was truly one of the best waiters we’ve ever encountered and he made the experience even better for us by giving us genuinely helpful recommendations for food and wine, which was much needed given the extensive and eclectic wine list. The food menu focused on local ingredients and traditional dishes, so we got out of our comfort zone a bit by ordering a reindeer steak (which was kind of like a mix between venison and veal) and whale tataki. I didn’t actually think about how unusual (and slightly objectionable) it was to have whale on the menu, but I later learned that Norway and Japan are the only two countries where eating whale is legal. I would certainly not make a habit of it, but I’m still glad that we tried something new and don’t necessarily regret it.
  • Top 13 Bar & Lounge: The lounge located on the top floor of our hotel had one of the best views in Bodø — it’s (allegedly) possible to see the aurora borealis from its windows on clear nights, although we personally didn’t see much of anything beyond the clouds. Norway is extremely restrictive on alcohol sales, but Top 13 had a decent enough selection of medium-range liquors and standard cocktails. The bartenders were also very friendly and had plenty of recommendations for what to see and do in the city.
  • Gatsby Burger og Bar: We ended up coming to this high-end burger bar twice: once for drinks after a long day of snowshoeing and then again for dinner the following night. The burgers were good but pretty standard; however, the cocktails were surprisingly creative and delicious. For example, one of the cocktails I ordered was served with a giant bubble that turned into smoke when you popped it.
  • Melkebaren: This tiny local coffee shop and roastery was perfect for helping us warm up (and wake up) during the cold, dark Arctic mornings. In addition to coffee and pastries, they also served gelato that looked extremely tempting.
  • Påpir: Our hotel was across the street from the Bodø Public Library, which was incredibly modern, beautiful, and peaceful with its floor-to-ceiling windows that provided lovely views over the harbor. Its café, equally sleek and well-designed, offered an excellent menu of options for coffee, breakfast, lunch, and cocktails.
  • Craig Alibone Pâtisserie & Champagneria: I was particularly looking forward to visiting the much-lauded pastry shop and Champagne bar in the center of Bodø, but it ended up being closed for the holidays the entire time we were in town. Fortunately, we were still able to enjoy a few of its traditional French pastries during our dinner at LystPå.
  • Vinmonopolet: Norway had perhaps the strictest restrictions and regulations on alcohol sales that I’ve ever experienced, which is really saying something given how much time I’ve spent in Bible Belt states. Aside from licensed bars and restaurants, you can’t purchase alcohol containing more than 4.75% ABV anywhere except Vinmonopolet (Wine Monopoly), a state-owned outlet that operates within extremely limited business hours and is typically found outside of the town center. Thankfully, we did enough research to plan ahead and made our way over to the local shopping mall as soon as we picked up our rental car to buy up a bottle of Champagne for New Year’s Eve — the one positive thing I can say about Vinmonopolet is that it did have an extremely extensive selection of wine and other alcohol available for much more reasonable prices than anything else we experienced while we were in Bodø.

Activities & Attractions

  • Nordland Adventures: Hardly any of my go-to travel guides or publications had anything about Bodø, so I was definitely outside of my comfort zone planning this trip. However, I somehow came across a smaller and relatively new tour operator called Nordland Adventures and ended up booking three separate excursions through them because the experience was so easy and straightforward…and I am so glad I did. The owner, Ivar, and his team went above and beyond to make not just our excursions but our entire trip to Bodø completely unique and magical. We ended up not being able to go on one of the excursions (the Northern Lights Safari) because our tour guide came down with the flu and, in addition to being fully transparent and giving us a full refund, Ivar sent through detailed suggestions, tips, and locations for seeking out the aurora borealis on our own. Even though the weather conditions didn’t work in our favor for glimpsing the northern lights, the two excursions that we were able to go on with Nordland Adventures made our trip to Bodø more than worth our while.
    • Snowshoeing: I’m not a huge fan of winter sports and so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I genuinely enjoyed snowshoeing for the first time. We lucked out by being the only people signed up for our time slot, so we had a completely private and customized experience, which ended up being incredibly fortunate since we had to delay our start time until our luggage finally joined us in Bodø. Our tour guide, Jostein, was so flexible and accommodating about the delay and then continued to exceed our expectations by guiding us on an absolutely wonderful hike up a picturesque mountain plateau with stunning views across the surrounding area.
    • Dogsledding: We weren’t really sure what to expect with the dogsledding day trip I booked for our final day and started to get a little bit skeptical during our 1.5-hour drive south from Bodø as we navigated an extremely curvy and snow-covered county road through the mountainous terrain (in an area with a highly concentrated population of moose) to a random farm outside the tiny village of Misvær. However, our skepticism immediately vanished as soon as we got out of the car and were greeted by Lars, our guide, and his 20+ attention-loving dogs who were absolutely ecstatic to see us. We quickly got to work putting our dog team in their harnesses before spending an absolutely surreal hour or so racing through the surrounding fields and forests. I happily let Andy assume the role of sled driver as I cuddled up in the fur-lined sled and simply enjoyed the ride. The dogs were truly so happy during our run — the most challenging part of the experience was getting them to take a break to rest about halfway through the trail — and they were clearly very well cared for by Lars, whose one-man operation was not even remotely commercialized/advertised and seemed to just genuinely enjoy spending time with his dogs.
  • Kjerringøy: This picturesque fishing village is located just 20 miles or so north of Bodø, but getting there required a 30-minute drive to a car ferry running from Festvåg to Kjerringøy along the Karlsøyfjorden. Once we figured out the schedule and how to buy tickets, the 10-minute trip via car ferry was actually kind of a cool experience in itself and the boarding/disembarking processes were extremely efficient. The village’s main attraction is the Kjerringøy trading post, an open-air museum comprised of 15+ traditional, well-preserved buildings that document its history as an important trading post and herring fishery during the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum wasn’t open, but we were still able to walk around the trading post and see pretty much anything we would have been interested in, anyway, especially since the real beauty of the village was its idyllic location among the dramatic Arctic landscapes.
  • Keiservarden: The 1,200-foot mountain plateau on top of Veten Hill is one of the most popular hikes in the area, especially because it’s one of the closest spots to the city center where it’s possible to see the aurora borealis without much light pollution. We hiked up Keiservarden during our snowshoeing excursion and enjoyed every moment of the experience as we took in the breathtaking views from all angles.
  • Mjelle Beach: Ivar from Nordland Adventures recommended Mjelle Beach as an ideal location for trying to glimpse the northern lights and even though we weren’t successful, the nights we spent bundled up on the shores of this beautiful and remote beach were some of the most memorable. The beach is supposed to be equally ideal for enjoying the Midnight Sun in the summer months.
  • Saltstraumen: This small strait just a few miles south of Bodø is famous for containing one of the strongest tidal currents in the world, but I can honestly say it was one of the more puzzling tourist attractions I’ve ever come across. It was, without a doubt, the top attraction in the area — absolutely every article I read and everyone we talked to while in town made it seem like a must-do activity and so we went out of our way to stop on our way to the dogsledding farm and see it at a time when the current was at its strongest, despite the inclement weather. The trek down to the water was basically a deathtrap of solid ice, but we powered through it alongside a not-insubstantial number of other tourists so that we could see the most underwhelming attraction I’ve ever encountered. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but the reality wasn’t even remotely interesting and definitely wasn’t worth risking falling on a sheet of ice just to see it. Even though we were there at the point in the day when the tidal current is strong enough to create maelstroms (whirlpools) up to 10 meters in diameter, this ‘must-see’ phenomenon was, in my opinion, significantly less interesting/awe-inspiring than the average waterfall or whitewater rapid.

One thought on “Five Days in Bodø

  1. Thanks for a super complete guide to the Bodø area! We stopped by on the way north on the Hurtigruten Coastal Express, but with Stephanie being Norwegian we still have so much of the country left to explore. Have a great evening!

    All the best from Strasbourg, France
    Stephanie and Jerome


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