In 2024, Bodø will become a European Capital of Culture. Here's what you need to know about this small city in Northern Norway.
When Bodø was announced as one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2024, it surprised many people, not least in Norway itself.
Bodø is known as a waypoint to Lofoten by adventurous tourists rather than for its culture, yet its Arctic traditions will soon be put firmly in the spotlight.
I've visited Bodø several times at different times of the year, so have got to know the city reasonably well. I've also learned a lot of interesting facts about the city and its surroundings.
So, whether you've never heard of this northern city or you're planning a trip in 2024, check out these top Bodø facts.
1. Bodø will be a European Capital of Culture in 2024
Of course, we have to start with this one. This will be the first time a city located north of the Arctic Circle has held the European Capital of Culture title.
Also, Bodø will be just the third Norwegian city to hold the title following Bergen in 2000 and Stavanger in 2008. Bodø will share its year in the cultural spotlight with Austria's Bad Ischl and Estonia's Tartu.
With one year to go, the organisers have begun to release the ambitious program of cultural events that will cover not just the city, but the entire Nordland county.
The program leans in hard to Arctic culture including a focus on Sámi lifestyle and the important relationship between the land and the ocean in this part of the world. If you want to learn more, check out this podcast interview with one of the management team.
2. Bodø already has some striking cultural buildings
Stormen culture centre is a waterfront landmark in downtown Bodø. Designed by UK firm DRDH Architects and opened in 2014, the library and concert hall were built as two separate buildings in order to better fit in with the existing townscape.
A writer from the website Library Planet visited Stormen in 2019 and had great things to say about the interior:
“A dramatic staircase of beautiful wood leads up through a central void to the upper floors and the full height windows give views towards the harbour from almost all parts of the library, while also allowing natural light to reach the interior spaces.”
3. Bodø is Northern Norway's second biggest city. Or is it?
There has long been rivalry between Tromsø and Bodø for the status as “capital” of northern Norway. The two are by far the biggest cities in the north and both act as regional centres.
For decades Tromsø has been seen as the big brother in the north. Numbers show that Tromsø municipality has 77,000 inhabitants compared with 53,000 in Bodø municipality.
However, recent SSB statistics show a different story when looking at the urban areas only. In 2022, the number of inhabitants in what SSB considers the urban area of Tromsø was just 41,434 people, compared with 42,662 in the urban area of Bodø.
This has created a war of words between the two city rivals in the north. Helge Nitteberg, editor of Tromsø newspaper Nordlys, called the analysis hopeless: “It's not just questionable. It is, as we all know, completely wrong.”
4. Bodø has Norway's 6th busiest airport
Bodø is an important hub airport for northern Norway. Widerøe operates many flights to smaller airports in the north, especially on the Lofoten Islands and Vesterålen.
The number of terminal passengers in 2022 topped 1.5 million, putting Bodø airport behind only Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger and Tromsø.
5. Bodø wants to move its airport–by less than 1 km
A brand new runway and terminal is to be built less than one kilometre from the existing airport. Why? To use the land made vacant by the relocation of an air base, and make room for a major expansion of the city.
The total cost? NOK 5.7 billion ($672 million). In the recent National Transport Plan, more than NOK 3 billion of government was earmarked for the new airport, rescue helicopter base and access road.
6. Saltstraumen is a famous tourist attraction
A short drive or boat trip from Bodø, the world's strongest tidal current is an impressive sight. Water flows through the narrow strait at immense speed, creating a remarkable maelstrom.
I've been twice now at different times of the year. Both times I've been lucky enough to be guided by a local so didn't have to worry about when to go or where the best places were to see the action.
Unlike many natural attractions (looking at you, northern lights!), Saltstraumen operates to a tidal timetable. For those of you who will be making an independent trip, you can get everything you need to know to plan your trip here.
7. Bodø has a successful football club
Local football club Bodø/Glimt have turned many heads in European football since they won their first Norwegian league title in 2020.
The ramshackle stadium has hosted big names in European football in recent years including Roma and Arsenal. In 2021, Jose Mourinho famously suffered his biggest ever defeat as a manger when Glimt beat his Roma side 6-1 in the Europa Conference League.
8. You can travel to Bodø by train
Bodø is home to the northernmost station on the Norwegian railway network. The Nordland line runs from Trondheim to Bodø and it's a ten-hour journey I've taken and enjoyed a couple of times now.
This means you can travel all the way from Oslo to Bodø if you like. Of course, this would be the ultimate in slow travel, but it is possible! However, it will take you between 17 and 19 hours and involve a night train on at least one of the segments (Oslo-Trondheim or Trondheim-Bodø).
While Bodø is the northernmost station on the Norwegian network, it's not the northernmost station in Norway.
Confused? Passenger services are available on the iron ore line from Narvik to northern Sweden, but the station isn't connected to the Norwegian network. To get from Bodø to Narvik by public transport, you would have to take a bus.
9. Bodø has some of Norway's best chocolate
Whenever I am in Bodø, I make a point of popping into Craig Alibone's chocolate shop and pâtisserie.
Despite the city's small size, Craig has managed to build a thriving independent business based on his premium chocolate products and more recently, his incredible pastries and desserts.
On a recent trip with my parents, we bought an intriguing savoury chocolate bar flavoured with fennel seeds, cashew nuts and toasted white chocolate. Just one taste was all it took to see why this bar took an International AoC Bronze Award in 2019.
I interviewed Craig way back in 2016 when he told me the origin story of the business and what he likes most about living in Bodø:
“The nature for a start. It’s a beautiful place and the first time I came up here I was gobsmacked by the surroundings. The growth of the city has been remarkable too. For the first few years, things weren’t happening and it wasn’t the most appealing place to live. But over the last years the city has grown and almost every month it seems there’s something new opening up.”
10. Bodø was almost entirely rebuilt after World War II
One of the reasons why Bodø is not one of Noway's prettiest towns is that the city was heavily bombed during the Second World War.
Much of the destruction happened on one day. On 27 May, 1940, German bombers destroyed or severely damaged approximately 400 of the 600 buildings in Bodø.
I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to Bodø. Have you visited the city? If so, what did you get up to? Let us know in the comments.