Words & Images by Dan Mariner

Located 100km inside the arctic circle and surrounded by landscapes that would not look out of place in a Lord of the Rings film lay the coastal city of Bodo. At first glance the city looks like most post-industrial fishing cities in the north of Norway, however, looks can be deceiving. In 2019 the city was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture for 2024, which might come as a surprise to most people from the outside but for those that have spent years building towards this moment it's all coming together nicely. The city is well on its way from being a cold war target to becoming a thriving Nordic cultural hub that blurs the lines between urban and rural life.

With a population of just over 50,000 inhabitants Bodø offers the best of both worlds: a rural metropolis fully encompassed within the urban arctic. Whether you are interested in exploring nature by embarking on breathtaking mountain walks, roaming along pristine beaches, boat trips to the countless islands that surround the city or perhaps you are more interested in immersing yourself in local music, food and architecture, Bodø has all the bases covered.

Due to its position on the globe Bodø has a unique climate with very pronounced seasons. During the summer months the sun does not set below the horizon, providing twenty-four hours of daylight or the "Midnight Sun" which offers up some of the most incredible light conditions you will ever experience. On the other end of the spectrum sit the winter months during which the sun disappears below the horizon leaving the city shrouded in an almost perpetual darkness. The darkness however offers opportunities to explore the cities blossoming food scene or its well established music scene, not to mention the chance to gaze upon the northern lights dancing across the clear icy sky.

Bodø has a history that is littered with change and growth having been flattened by the Germans in WWII and hastily rebuilt shortly thereafter. With the arrival of the NATO airbase in early 1950’s Bodø was listed as a first strike city in the event of a Russian nuclear attack during the cold war.  This continuation of change is set to continue with one of Norway's largest redevelopment projects set to commence in 2020. The NATO airbase is to be closed down and the runway moved 1.4km to the edge of the sea for the new larger airport, this in turn will make way for a new sustainable eco-city being built on the remnants of the base.

The spark that ignited the cities cultural revolution is the Stormen Culture quarter. Built in 2014 on the harbours edge it breathed new life into the city with its award winning architecture which is the very essence of clean, minimal Scandinavian design composing wood, concrete and large glass windows. The quarter is split over two sites with one part housing the library and culture house whilst the other offers a state of the art concert hall on par with some of the worlds most famous concert venues in terms of acoustics and architecture. If you are looking to enjoy a concert check out the Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra or explore the cavernous library and the views it lends of the sea. The Stormen is truly one of the highlights of the city with its unique content and spacial design.

With Scandinavian cuisine becoming more and more popular it is easy to see why when visiting Bodø. The food scene is growing steadily with chefs and restaurants exploring exciting Nordic ingredients. Seafood naturally takes center stage here and you can sit by the harbour with a beer and a plate of freshly caught shrimps at Bryggerikaia or dine out for an evening meal, sampling traditional northern Norwegian dishes with a contemporary gastronomic twist. One of the standout establishments is the restaurant Lyst På who are becoming recognised for their outstanding wine menu and humble yet expertly crafted dishes of locally sourced seafood and ingredients.

Bodø has a rich history when it comes to music and Dama Di (translated as “Your Girl) is a cornerstone of the music and culture scene; a dive bar at heart but with much more finesse, the interior is awash with abstract art and quirky features. Dama Di is most renowned for its intimate and sometimes raucous live music events with the venue often bursting at the seams on weekends. Thursday nights are also a local favourite with a weekly live music event called "Halv ti på Torsdag" showcasing some of Scandinavia’s most talented indie musicians.

Before you head out to a concert, dinner or perhaps on your return from the mountains, one of the best places to go for a drink is the bar situated on the top floor of the SAS Raddison hotel that sits on the Bodø harbour-side, giving you a 360 degree view of the city and surroundings. There you can sample expertly made cocktails while watching leisure boats come in and out as the sun sets. A local favourite is the Spicy Pilgrim, a Norwegian take on a whisky sour made with traditional Aquavit liquor.

Perhaps you want to get away from the frantic urban life altogether and sample the astounding nature that is located nearby. A classic summertime activity is to climb to the top of the Kaiservarden mountain. An easily accessible natural highlight that looks out over Bodø where on a clear day you receive a breathtaking and uninterrupted view of the city, the surrounding landscapes and the Lofoten archipelago in the distance. A little further out you will find the Saltstraumen maelstrom - the worlds strongest tidal currents. Just thirty minutes drive from the city centre this surreal natural phenomenon comes to life twice a day as the tide rises and falls, creating a giant whirlpool as vast amounts of sea water is sucked back and forth between the narrow inlet. This can be viewed on top of the Saltstraumen bridge or by the waters edge. A truly spectacular sight to witness and easily accessible by bus or car.

Whatever you are looking for in a short getaway the city of Bodø has it all, so cast aside your preconceptions of what life in the arctic is like and pay a visit to this phenomenally unique and interesting land.

Dan Mariner