Bodø by light — and the northern lights
Whether you choose to stand on a beach beside the city and watch the flames of the northern lights dancing above the silhouette of Landegode island, or head into the wilderness to watch the northern lights above the white plateaus and mighty peaks of Saltfjellet, Bodø is the perfect base. Located in the northern lights belt just north of the Arctic Circle, it offers excellent chances of seeing the northern lights. Its surprisingly mild coastal climate makes the waiting more comfortable than in other parts of the belt. Daily trips run to Ausvika just outside the city, and on Fridays you can travel all the way up into the Saltfjellet mountains on a northern lights hunt. The quality of light during the day is also beautiful, when the offshore waters of the Vestfjord and the inshore waters of the Saltfjord reflect the stunningly clear winter sky.
Culture in the far north: Stormen concert hall and library
Stormen concert hall is Bodø's new cultural landmark. The main auditorium was designed for maximum acoustic effect, and a concert from the ambitious concert programme will give your ears the kind of treat that can only be enjoyed in the best auditoriums. Or relax for a quiet hour and enjoy endless sea views by climbing the grand staircase to the first floor, where the new library has been built in the same complex. Clean, modern lines are warmed and softened by blonde wood and panoramic windows offering magnificent views of the Nordland coast.
Bodin is an old village that is now part of the city of Bodø. A good half-hour's walk out of the city centre will take you to the old stone church dating back to the 13th century, with a rich baroque interior from the 17th and 18th centuries. The vicarage now houses the Nordland Cultural Centre, which also includes various cultural institutions in the old houses nestled between the huge broadleaved trees. There are always new exhibitions at the Bodøgård Art and Culture Gallery, as well as changing displays from its large permanent art collection. Next door is the Nordland Museum, made up of 14 old buildings beside the fjord, and an idyllic hiking area which is perfect for a walk along the shore. And you can enjoy a coffee in the Hjerterommet cafe in the Nordland Cultural Centre.
Food and drink
Elegant, ambitious restaurants in Bodø combine French cuisine and the latest culinary trends with the ingredients of Northern Norway. If all you want is a cup of coffee, then try the city's many coffee bars, where they will prepare your coffee just the way you like it. At Løvold, sample the meatballs and creamed peas that Bodø locals have been eating for generations. Don't miss trying Møsbrøm flatbread, the king of flatbreads, which is served almost everywhere. At the opposite end of the coolness scale are the two elegant sky bars at the top of two of Bodø's hotels.
Mildest in the north
Despite the fact that Bodø is north of the Arctic Circle, winter here is far from Arctic. Snow rarely lies in the city streets, particularly at the start of winter. This means that you don't need thermals or winter boots most of the time. However, what you do need is a windproof jacket. Bodø is far out in the Vestfjord, which means that it is the first place to greet the storms of the Gulf Stream when they hit the coast. Sometimes you can stand on the breakwater and breathe in the storm, but at other times, it's much better to sit high up in a sky bar and watch in comfort. But when the wind howls down from the inland mountains and nips at your ears, the puddles freeze and the stars glitter. Then the northern lights appear!
The old trading post at Kjerringøy, famous from Knut Hamsun's novels, is the queen of the trading posts in Northern Norway. The legendary merchant Zahl controlled the financial activities of the region from here, and the buildings are exceptionally well-preserved examples of the 19th century wooden architecture, with well-preserved interiors. During the winter season, the Saltstraumen is open every Saturday except in January, and is a wonderful day trip from Bodø.
The world's strongest tidal water current puts on four shows a day, when up to 400 million cubic metres (14 billion cubic feet) of water force themselves through a 150 metre (500 feet) wide strait between the open sea and the massive body of the Saltfjord, all at up to 40 kilometres (25 miles) per hour. The sea turns into a churning river, full of whirlpools. You can also experience Magic Saltstraumen's film about the northern lights and the Saltstraumen here.
The commuter train to Fauske and Rognan follows the Saltfjord as it heads away from the mild coastal climate and inland towards a more wintry landscape. You can get off at Fauske or Rognan, have a cup of coffee and then catch the train back. Or in the opposite direction, the local ferry can take you out to the island communities just outside Bodø.
Bodø is one of the country's major airport hubs, with frequent departures to Oslo and southern Norway, and even more frequent regional flights to destinations all over Northern Norway. The distance from the city centre to the airport is less than the distance from one end of Gardermoen airport in Oslo to the other, which makes the city of Bodø a ridiculously easy base for winter excursions in the land of the northern lights. Bodø is also the final station on the Norwegian rail network.
Visit Bodø, the local tourist organisation, has information about every facet of Bodø on its website.