Everything you need to know about Bodø, European Capital of Culture 2024
Bold, unexpected, and modern, this Arctic city’s time to shine has come.
The story of Bodø’s bid to become European Capital of Culture tells you a lot about the city’s spirit.
Together with the surrounding region of Nordland, Bodø (pronounced bu-dah) won the title without national government support, financial or otherwise. In fact, the Norwegian Ministry of Culture asked Bodø NOT to bid, but Bodø went ahead anyway. And won.
It was a surprising move for a place that many Norwegians thought of as bland – if they thought of it at all.
Raymond Limstrand Jakobsen, sales manager of Bodø’s new Wood Hotel and a life-long Bodø inhabitant, known as a Bodøværing, tell us, “When I was growing up here in the ‘80s, most of what I read in the newspapers about Bodø was that it was the ugliest city in Norway. [The Luftwaffe’s bombs destroyed almost the entire downtown and port area during World War II.] That's not something that makes you feel proud!
“Then, in 2006, Parkenfestivalen, a big music festival, launched here and suddenly great artists from all over the world started to come and play in Bodø. That started to make us feel us prouder, to believe in ourselves.”
Since then, Parkenfestivalen has gone from strength to strength, Bodø has won the title of Norway’s most attractive city (2016), and has been Norway’s cultural city (2017).
Despite those cultural strides, until very recently Bodø’s identity and its biggest industry was built on its military connections. In 1960, at the height of the Cold War, a US military plane was shot down by the Soviet Union on its way from Pakistan to Bodø where it was stationed. The event put Bodø on the political world map. For many decades, it was home to one of Norway’s most important air bases and the Norwegian Air Force’s fleet of F16 jets.
But there’s far more to Northern Norway’s second-largest city than fighter planes. Bodø is entrepreneurial, vibrant, and unafraid to try new things.
Its unconventional spirit is seen in the people and companies that call Bodø home. One thriving local business, Studio EBN, crafts beautiful accessories from salmon leather. Another, Craig Alibone Pâtisserie & Champagneria, elevates its award-winning chocolates by adding typically Norwegian flavors, such as salt from nearby Saltstraumen and locally picked berries.
Craig Alibone, an Englishman who moved to Bodø 10 years ago, has even created two chocolate bars to celebrate Bodø’s year as European Capital of Culture: brunøst and blackcurrant, and rosemary and roasted almond. “They are Norwegian in their essence,” he says of the bars, “but the flavor combinations get people to try something a bit different.”
Bodø really is the perfect place for a year of cutting-edge culture.
Bodø’s story: Operation Reinvention
For a long time, the city was known for its military air base. There’s been an airfield of some form here since 1940. But in 2022, Bodø Air Station closed, leaving the Arctic city to forge a new identity – an opportunity it’s grabbing with both hands.
As Raymond puts it: “We are transitioning from a Cold War hotspot to a cool culture hub.”
The new Bodø is certainly innovative and cultured. Surrounded by fjord, sea, and granite peaks, the city is adorned with street art murals and fuelled by a thriving café culture, a boutique brewery, and the freshest seafood. This is a place that begs to be explored.
Being European Capital of Culture 2024 feels like the natural next step, and Bodø is ready. “The city is very proud,” says Craig. “Suddenly people are starting to talk positively about our city. And now the cherry on the cake of our transformation is being European Capital of Culture. For a small place like Bodø, it means a lot. It’s very cool to get this kind of recognition.”
Hurtigruten in Bodø
Bodø is an exciting place to be right now, so make the most of your time in port here. We call at Bodø from 1:05pm to 3:20pm on the northbound leg of The Coastal Express. That’s enough time for you to get a taste of Bodø’s cultural spirit in 2024.
You can walk from the port to the city center in 20 minutes, and check out Stormen Concert Hall, the main venue for the European Capital of Culture events happening throughout 2024.
What to expect from the European Capital of Culture in 2024
Bodø’s European Capital of Culture program for 2024 is inspired by the changing light of the Arctic seasons, the indigenous Sámi culture of the surrounding Sápmi region, and environmental consciousness.
The opening ceremony took place outdoors on February 3rd. That ‘outdoors whatever the weather’ type of plan is almost unheard of in this part of the Arctic and another bold move by the people behind Bodø 2024. The ceremony unfolded on a spectacular floating stage, shaped like an otolith (the cod fish’s ear stone), and was attended by Queen Sonja of Norway herself.
Images from left to right: The opening ceremony of Bodø2024 (Marie Nystad/Bodø2024); The giant lávvu at ÁRRAN 360° (Kasper Holgersen/Bodø2024); The exhibition opening of Håkon Bleken (David Engmo/Bodø2024).
As part of its successful bid, Bodø promised to increase representation of Sámi culture and heritage. That’s reflected in the scheduled performances, concerts, and exhibitions. Highlights include the new Sápmi Triennial Sámi contemporary art exhibition, the light installations of Nordland by Light, and ÁRRAN 360°, where original 360-degree films from leading Sámi filmmakers are projected in a giant lávvu.
Among the 1,000+ lectures, concerts, exhibitions, live music, poetry, championships, and family friendly performances that pack the program, you’ll find a couple of world-firsts, including an opera about fish, and a concert in a submerged cave.
There are also installations and newly composed music that explore our relationship with the sea. A children’s LEGO championship. A symposium exploring the lives and challenges of seabirds. And the Norwegian Sprint Orienteering Championships.
It promises to be a diverse and thoughtful program that will stay with you throughout 2024 and beyond.
2024 is Bodø’s time to shine, and its future looks bright.