The inside guide to Bodø, Norway's adventure capital

The Norwegian town is a popular jumping-off point for adventurers, but there are plenty of reasons to linger.

The Norwegian town is a popular jumping-off point for adventurers, but there are plenty of reasons to linger.

Photograph by Karoline O.A Pettersen
By Emma Thomson
Published 25 Aug 2022, 06:07 BST

The street art, museums and thriving cafe culture aside, it’s the natural beauty that beckons most in this pint-sized town above the Arctic Circle. Set around a working fishing harbour, Bodø is bathed in salty sea air and backed by snow-dusted mountains, and in the past decade has transformed into a mini metropolis where hipsters mingle with hikers in Champagne bars. 

Perhaps the best way to get to know the city is through its art: back in 2015, the town hosted the inaugural UpNorth Festival for urban art, where international graffiti artists were let loose on the city’s walls. Street art murals range from ogres to butterflies and the Northern Lights, but standouts include the one by Phlegm, on Sjøgata 18 — a long-nosed half-human creature straight from a Grimms’ fairytale — and the nearby Insomnia by Millo, which captures the busyness of thought when trying to sleep.

A 10-minute walk west is Svenskebyen (the Swedish Quarter), home to picture-pretty houses daubed in shades of red, blue, green and white, spread between the streets of Prinsensgate, Hernesveien, Fredensborgveien and Harald Langhelles gate. The area takes its name from the Swedish Red Cross, which, when Bodø’s military air base was bombed during the Second World War, built houses for those who were rendered homeless — learn more about the country’s aerial past at the National Norwegian Aviation Museum.

Kjerringøy, with its distinctive red and yellow houses.

Kjerringøy, with its distinctive red and yellow houses.

Photograph by Karoline O.A Pettersen

When it comes to morning coffee, locals swear by Melkebaren for the beans that come from a Bodø roastery. Alternatively, spice things up at Craig Alibone Pâtisserie & Champagneria, which offers glasses of fizz alongside homemade croissants, macaroons and pralines. 

For something savoury, reindeer and elk all make appearances on Bodø’s menus, but between January and April, migrating Arctic cod (skrei) is the superstar. The most inventive dishes are served at Lyst På brasserie, or the candlelit, Italian-inspired Bjørk, where grilled skrei comes with creamed peas, poached egg, bacon-butter and aioli potatoes.

Craig Alibone Pâtisserie & Champagneria

Craig Alibone Pâtisserie & Champagneria.

Photograph by Karoline O.A Pettersen

For drinks, seek out gastropub Hundholmen, which pours its own-label beers, or book a tasting at local brewery Bådin. Alternatively, take in the blue sweep of the fjord at either Roast on the 17th floor of the Scandic Havet Hotel, or Top 13 Bar & Lounge at the Radisson Blu. Both offer panoramic views of the city and harbour as well as top-notch cocktails.      

If you’re visiting in summer, hike up Keiservarden under the midnight sun for a bird’s-eye view of the city and, on a clear day, the Lofoten Islands. The moderate, one-and-a-half-mile trail is a good bet for glimpsing the green glimmer of the Northern Lights in winter, too. It’s also the setting for the annual Nordland Musikkfestuke classical musical festival, which takes place between 5-14 August this yearagainst a backdrop of epic fjord views.

For souvenirs, pick up a designer handbag from Studio EBN, where the creations are made from salmon skin, which ostensibly functions like leather. And if you’re feeling the bite of the northern wind, stock up on woollen sweaters inspired by those worn by sailors, designed by the sisters who run Fogg Gildeskål.

After a day’s exploring, sink into the comfy beds at the new, Scandi-design Quality Hotel Ramsalt, with its harbour views and excellent brasserie. But to escape civilisation entirely, catch a ferry to Fleinvaer (population 30) and stay at the uber-modern Arctic Hideaway for total immersion in nature.  

Local fish served at Lyst På

Local fish served at Lyst På.

Photograph by Karoline O.A Pettersen

Rigmor Myhre's favourite hangouts

Rigmor is a former radio operator at the navy base in Bodø and has lived in the town since 1984.

To stretch my legs, I love to visit Bodø’s highest waterfall. It’s a short walk through the forest and it always clears my mind. My mother is from Valnes and we have a cabin nearby.

Tranøy Lighthouse
Watch the gentle Atlantic waves and look across to the Lofoten Islands at this peaceful lighthouse, which dates to 1864 and is only a few hours’ drive north of Bodo. 

Take the bus or drive an hour north to this an idyllic fishing post. Visit the Karl Erik Harr Museum then go to a cafe to try møsbrømlefser, a flatbread filled with brown cheese, sugar, sour cream and butter. 

Published in the September 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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