A city guide to Gothenburg

Sweden’s second-largest city is an underrated gem. With its neoclassical architecture, bars, cafes and canals, it offers the perfect city break.Sunday, 11 August 2019

It may not have Stockholm’s Hanseatic hauteur, but Gothenburg’s blithe, briny spirit shines through its wonderfully eclectic patchwork of architecture. This is a city that refuses to be buttoned up or pinned down, from its industrial docks reinvented as arts spaces to the elegant Parisian-style boulevards around Avenyn and the cobbled streets of Haga lined with brick and half-timbered houses. Here, industry effortlessly meets artistry, locally born denim and fashion labels thrive, cold-press coffee infiltrates the traditional fika break, and street art blooms city-wide.

A working port and the vestiges of the vast Volvo plant underpin Gothenburg’s industrial reality, but this is a green, serene place encircled by parks, where arterial rivers and canals breathe life into the urban hum. So even if you don’t use Gothenburg as a gateway to the west coast’s extensive archipelagos, there’s paddling, hiking and biking aplenty within its realms.

The bounty of the west coast’s waters land on Gothenburg’s tables daily, making everything from a classic smørrebrød (open-faced sandwich) to a lobster supper a regular treat. But this vibrant, student-led city doesn’t stand on culinary ceremony. Come here for inventive seasonal bites served alongside local microbrews and street food that offer up Scandi precision with international flavours. Gothenburg’s is a determinedly west coast breed of cool.

See & do

Hop aboard tram #9, from downtown to Klippan, where former dockside salting houses and foundries are now home to cutting edge galleries like Röda Sten, a contemporary arts hub in a 1940s furnace station.

Make a beeline for the vast Göteborgs Konstmuseum to see the work of Tor Bjurström, a protege of Matisse, and whose students became known as the Gothenburg Colourists.

Any exploration of Gothenburg should start from the water. Take a traditional Paddan boat at Kungsportsplatsen (King’s Gate) where the city was founded, for a 50-minute canal-river tour past old steamers, naval vessels and historic four-masted sailing ships.

Make pilgrimage to Feskekôrka (‘fish church’), Gothenburg’s gothic 19th-century fish market where iced stalls are topped with sit-down dining spots upstairs, including beloved fish restaurant, Gabriel.

Gothenburg’s industrialist, ship-building, car-manufacturing past can’t be better understood than via an insightful — and brilliantly fun — guided tour in a cavalcade of vintage Volvos.

Hasselblad Center: Gothenburg is the birthplace of the legendary medium-format camera that captured the 1969 moon landing. Its gallery in the Gothenburg Museum of Art shows exhibitions of pioneering international and Swedish photography.

Like a local

Styr & Ställ rental bikes are a handy way to get around town (if a bit hair-raising in frenetic tram traffic). Free for 30-minute rentals or less.

Shrimp, oysters, crayfish, mussels and lobsters: Sweden’s Seafood Big Five means there’s always something in season. If you can’t make it out to the west coast for a seafood safari, don’t fret — Gothenburg’s tables are graced with seasonal seafood fare.

Coastal Gothenburg doesn’t get snowbound like much of Sweden, but winters can be wet, icy and rainy. April-October is a great time to visit. July can be busy with holidaying Swedes, while June and August are full of long sunny days and white nights.

Buy

Pop in for ‘fika’ at the 19th-century Saluhallen food hall, and buy a souvenir wheel of knackebrot (savoury crackers) at family-run Steinbrenner & Nyberg.

Nudie Jeans is a landmark sustainable brand launched by former Levi’s designer Maria Erixon, complete with repair shop. Branches city-wide.

Head to Magasinsgatan & Vallgatan; the city’s design district is home to homegrown indie stars such as Velour, where a city-meets-sea aesthetic rules.

For freshly pressed coffee, vintage vinyl and a bowl of vegan broth, visit Café Santo Domingo — one of the city’s numerous indie record stores.

Eat

Lindholmen Street Food Market: Saturdays see street food trucks and stalls selling platters of fish, burgers and creations from top city chefs at this market set in an old warehouse in the happening Science Park neighbourhood just north of the river.

Café Husaren: Wander the cobbled streets of Haga, lined with 17th-century red brick and clapboard houses. Gothenburg’s oldest suburb is home to cool cafes, art studios and Café Husaren: the place to buy oversized kanelbullar (cinnamon buns).

Wine Mechanics: An urban winery importing German and French grapes to make red, white and rose. The restaurant, set in a converted pigsty, offers sophisticated seasonal seafood dishes that almost always includes that Swedish staple: herring.

Fiskekrogen: No trip to Gothenburg is complete without tucking into some first-class seafood. Fiskekrogen is a must-visit, serving a huge variety of seafood in elegant, refined surroundings. Don’t miss out on the shellfish plateau, a multitier tower of lobster, shrimp, crab, mussels and langoustines.

Nightlife

Beer: Gothenburg is fast becoming the Nordic beer capital. In spring, Beer Week sees an impressive number of the city’s 200+ breweries present their crafty creations, including brews by festival-founders, Dugges. Otherwise, Gamlestaden, the old meatpacking district north east of the city centre, is home to numerous microbreweries including Spike Brewery, whose newly opened tap room serves wood-fired pizzas.

Live music: Gothenburg has a surprisingly broad offering on its nightlife spectrum. Pustervik, which occupies an old theatre, showcases local, upcoming and international live acts, while Nefertiti is a legendary jazz club with regular hip-hop, blues and soul nights. The latter’s stage has hosted some big names — both Swedish and international.  

Amusement park: Late nights at Liseberg: Scandinavia’s largest amusement park is not just for kids. The newly developed area for gigs and festival-style concerts comes alive in summer with open-air bars and, if you’re game, next-gen rollercoasters like the Valkyria with its take-no-prisoners 164ft vertical drop.  

Outdoor activities

Get peddling
Mountain bike along the trails around Änggårdsbergen, a nature reserve that abuts the city’s Botanical Garden and arboretum. Expect deeply wooded valleys, Bronze Age burial sites and views out to sea.

Get walking
The Gotaleden hiking path stretches between Gothenburg to Alingsås, with nine different segments adding up to 71km. There are plenty of train stops — as well as places to sleep, eat and enjoy some fika — along the way.

Get wet
Or try not to, on a standup paddleboard or kayak trip along the river Säveån, the city’s watery artery that winds east of the urban area into a realm of sea birds, beavers and densely wooded banks.

Essentials

Need to know
The West Sweden region stretches from Gothenburg in the south to the Norwegian border in the north, from the strait of Skagerrak in the west, to the shores of one of Europe’s three largest lakes and Sweden’s biggest, Lake Vänern, in the east. West Sweden includes the city of Gothenburg and three provinces: coastal Bohuslän, Dalsland with its forests, lakes and rivers, and Västergötland.

Getting there & around
British Airways flies direct to Gothenburg from Heathrow, Norwegian from Gatwick, and Ryanair from Stansted and Manchester.    
Average flight time: 2h30m.
Gothenburg Landvetter Airport is 15 miles east of the city, and is linked to the city’s main bus terminal, Nils Ericson Terminal, as well as the main train station.
There’s a fairly extensive public transport network servicing the entire region, but to get to the more off-the-beaten-track destinations you might need a car. For information on buses and trains in Gothenburg and West Sweden visit vasttrafik.se/en where you can also buy travel passes. The 24-hour and 72-hour passes are ideal for anyone who needs to do a lot of travelling in a short period of time, and are valid on trains, buses, trams and ferries.
Stockholm and Malmö are both approximately three hours away from Gothenburg by train. For information on trains going to other parts of Sweden, visit sj.se

More info
gothenburg.com
westsweden.com
visitsweden.com

Published in the West Sweden guide, distributed with the September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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