The Lure of the Arctic: What’s Hot in Cold Northern Norway
This wasn’t the first, second or even third time I packed my bags and headed up north even though anyone with sense would’ve gone exactly the opposite direction. To somewhere warm, sunny and let’s face it, more reasonably priced. Still, as I waited for the overnight train to arrive at a small request train stop, the kind I’ve only come across in Norway, I knew I was going the right way. I was headed to the land of northern lights and arctic adventures. While on previous visits I had swiftly fallen in love with the Lofoten Archipelago and its neighbouring Vesterålen, the busy university town of Tromsø and the region all the way up to the north close to the northernmost point, Nordkapp, this time it was time to explore the area around Bodø.
Never heard of Bodø? You are probably not alone even though Bodø is the capital of this northern region and the second largest town after Tromsø in the area. It is situated just north of the Arctic Circle right by the sea, and it is often referred to as the gateway to the Lofoten due to the regular ferry service to the archipelago. Unfortunately many treat it just as that, a place to pass by on the way to the final destination although the region has many original and interesting sights to discover.
I teamed up with Ivar Sandland from the Nordland Turselskap activity company to show me the hidden secrets of Bodø, the activities and places visitors should not miss but which are often overlooked.
What to Do in Bodø
Skjerringøy and Saltstraumen. That’s the answer you would most likely get if you asked someone what are the main sights in the area, the first one being a picturesque historical trading village and the latter world’s strongest tidal current. But as Ivar was quick to point out, there is so much more to the area than just those.
Island life on Givær
Imagine a small peaceful island with only a handful of other visitors, that is, if you arrived with company. If you came alone it could be just you and the nineteen inhabitants of the island, plus whole lot of sheep. Tranquility, beautiful mountains as a backdrop and the small waves that peacefully lap the shore could be the essence of your stay on the island if you are looking for something off the beaten path, a place to relax, read a book or maybe do bit of fishing. It is good to note that the closest store is on the neighbouring island of Helligvær, hence it is best to do your shopping already on the mainland. The passenger ferries from Bodø come to the island twice a day, you can check the schedule here. The accommodation on the island is very reasonably priced, even in international standards starting from NOK 400,- a night for a 6-bed cabin (the only one on the island).
See more about the accommodation on Rorbu Idyll (only in Norwegian, you can find the contact details under “Kontakt Oss, Olaug speaks English)
Even if you don’t think you are that into fishing, I’d recommend a trip out to the sea if not for the fish, but for the views and for a journey on the beautiful traditional boat you can see in the picture at the top of this post. Odd, the skipper of the Røsthavet boat takes travelers out to the sea when he is not fishing himself, which is usually from January up to April. Although if you are really keen to see what the fishing is about in this area, you can join him for the Lofoten cod fishing season. More information from Norland Turselskap.
The thought of exploring a mountain, from the inside, is something I didn’t feel totally comfortable with. I imagined cramped corridors, crawling through passages and maybe getting stuck somewhere uncomfortably, without being able to move. Some of the elements I feared were there when we set to explore the Aspfjordgrotta, but instead of nerves, I found strange calmness inside the mountain. The darkness, the total stillness of the place broken only by the sounds of river running through the lower caves were a great setting for an adventure on a rainy day. The temperature in the cave stays around 5C a year round so this is something perfect to do when ever weather isn’t favourable for other outdoor activities, and there are several caves in the area to choose from for different levels of fitness and experience. More information from Nordland Turselskap.Other activities and places to visit
There is only so much you can do on a 3-day whirlwind tour up north, and here are some of the things I need to go back for:
Stetind – Voted as the National Mountain of Norway in 2002 and if you wonder why, have a look at this image gallery! A guided climbing trip up the mountain is possible without prior climbing experience and a must if you are not afraid of the heights.
Svartisen Glacier – You can just about squeeze in a day trip from Bodø to the glacier, which is the second largest in Norway.
Tranøy Lighthouse – Beautiful lighthouse bit of a drive away from Bodø (we are talking about 3 hours up north), but if you are exploring the area with a car, worth a visit. See more information here.
Where to Stay in Bodø
The hottest place to stay right now probably with the best view in town also is the new waterfront hotel Scandic Havet. The views from the 16th floor are pictured above, and there is not really a better sight I would like to wake up to in the morning! The hotel is fresh and modern, and still cozy enough to want to linger on, a bit longer…
Good alternative is the historical hotel Clarion Collection Hotel Grand right in the city centre, where service is very personable, guests can make their own waffles in the afternoons and light evening meal is served every night, included in the price of the stay!
Where to Eat in Bodø
Due to time limitations and the aforementioned light dinner savoured at the Hotel Grand, I really only have one recommendation for wining and dining in Bodø, but this one is a pretty darn good one. The Restaurant Roast at the top i.e. 17th floor of the Scandic Havet Hotel has naturally an amazing view, but also great food, with prices that by Norwegian standards are totally reasonable. The restaurant is fairly small hence it is good to make a table reservation, you can also do it online here.
If instead of dinner you would just like a hot cup of tea or coffee with something delicious to go with it, the place to go is a little hidden just outside the town centre, Hjerterommet. With no advertising and only a Facebook page as their means of communicating online, this cafeteria has become the meeting place of the town. It is cozy, the baked goodies are delicious and the atmosphere is so inviting that it is kind of hard to leave!
Images: Most of the images are both from my own Instagram gallery and that of Finland’s popular travel magazine Mondo, where I recently hosted the account for a week from Northern Norway and Bodø.