Photo Courtesy of Henryk Sadura
Gothenburg is Sweden’s second-largest city, a west coast port that is a center of industry and home to the iconic Volvo automobile. Despite this, it has a modern and friendly small-town vibe with plenty of music, art, and fine food to explore. For sports fans, Gothenburg is soccer crazy, and nature …lovers will appreciate easy access to the North Sea on one side and forests and lakes on the other. The city was founded in 1621 and built by the Dutch—hence all the canals—and trade has always been important: The Swedish East India Company was created here in the 18th century.
What to know before you go to Gothenburg
Gothenburg takes every opportunity to wrap itself in a festive atmosphere, especially during the summer. Since the city center is small and most of the big arenas are just a few blocks from the main dining streets, the whole town tends to get caught up in festivities. Events to look out for include: Gothenburg Film Festival (Scandinavia’s largest film festival, February), West Pride (a week-long pride festival, June), Gothia Cup (the world’s largest youth soccer tournament, July), Way Out West (a three-day music festival in one of the city’s parks, August), and Kulturkalaset (a free arts and culture festival, August).
The city center is small and easy to get around on foot or by bicycle. Rent a bike from the Styr & Ställ stations all over the city. It’s 25 Swedish kronor (less than $3) for a three-day pass that gets you unlimited 30-minute rides (a ride lasting longer than 30 minutes incurs small fees that depend on duration). Just be sure to use the cycle lanes: There is a well-developed network that takes you almost anywhere. Trams, buses, and boats are all part of the public transport system and you can use the same type of ticket and pass to ride them all. This even applies to buses leaving Gothenburg, if you want to go on an excursion out of town. One-day tickets are 90 kronor and a single ride is 29 kr. Download the Västtrafik app to buy tickets and find information on routes.
Gothenburg is the perfect city for a stroll in the park—and there are a lot of them. When shopping in the city center, take a refreshing break in the rose garden of Trädgårdsföreningen or have an ice cream on the green slopes of Kungsparken. And don’t miss the beautiful, bare granite cliffs of the archipelago. You can take a tram all the way to the little islands just a few minutes from the inlet to Gothenburg harbor. Bring a picnic and your swimsuit! There is nothing like spending a day out in the open, sunbathing and diving from the cliffs. For something a little different, check out Liseberg. The amusement park, built in 1923, is where people of all ages come together to enjoy the beautiful flowers, dance, listen to music, eat, and, of course, go on the roller coasters.
You can find most cuisines and food trends in Gothenburg, though not necessarily in their most refined forms. Traditional Swedish foods like pickled herring, meatballs, and cured salmon can be somewhat heavy, with large portions and cream sauces, but are always good in a grandma’s comfort food kind of way. Much of the fish sold in Sweden passes through the fish market in Gothenburg’s harbor, so this is the perfect place to indulge in all the ocean’s delicacies. A Nordic take on sushi is popular, where the fish is fresh from the Atlantic and local flavors blend with traditional Japanese. In fact, there’s an eclectic mix of Asian cuisine in general, as well as more and more vegan and vegetarian options. Swedes travel a lot, and it shows in the restaurant scene. The city also has a few Michelin-starred restaurants, if you’re looking to splurge on the finest of dining.
For lovers of the classic arts, the Götaplatsen public square is the place to be. It’s home to the Gothenburg Museum of Art and the Gothenburg Concert Hall, among other things. If you are looking for more contemporary art expressions, go to Röde Sten, under the huge Älvsborgsbron bridge. If the weather is nice, combine it with a stroll along the harbor shore. History lovers will find the City Museum especially interesting, with its newly opened exhibition on Gothenburg in the 17th century.
Gothenburg is one of the best destinations in the Nordic countries for families. Next door to the centrally located amusement park Liseberg is the Universeum science and nature museum, with sharks, rain forest, and other attractions for children to explore. Both Liseberg and Universeum are on the costly side, so plan to spend enough time to get your money’s worth. Public museums like the City Museum of Gothenburg and the Maritime Museum and Aquarium also have excellent sections for kids. The city center is quite small and easy to get around by foot or by tram, which can be an adventure in itself for the young ones. The beach is just a tram ride away, and access to forest and lakes is similarly easy. Sweden is very child friendly in general. The country has generous rules for parental leave (you get to stay at home with your newborn for up to 480 days, shared between the mother and the father) and restaurants and cafés are used to children and prams—and of course they all have high chairs for babies.
Take your time! Gothenburg is not the place for stress. You should talk a little with the people you meet, even if you don’t know them. This is not typically Swedish, but it is typical for Gothenburg! (Gothenburg was named most sociable city in the world in a 2017 Hostelworld study.) People here have a dry sense of humor, and love to play with words. And since most inhabitants of Gothenburg speak good English (Swedes start learning in school at an early age), you’ll be able to join in on the joke. Finally, if you’re worried about tipping: Don’t be. It’s optional. Add a little extra in the restaurant if you feel you’ve been treated well, but don’t feel obliged to.
Official guide to Gothenburg with info on hotels, restaurants, and sights, plus a thorough events calendar: http://www.goteborg.com
Official tourist guide to western Sweden, also includes events and special offers: http://www.vastsverige.com/
Guide to public transport (trams, buses, and boats) in and around Gothenburg: http://www.vasttrafik.se
Information on how to use the ubiquitous Styr & Ställ rental bikes: http://www.goteborgbikes.se/
read before you go
Marie Oskarsson is a freelance journalist, wine writer, and children’s books author living in Gothenburg. She loves seafood, the archipelago, and especially the little island of Käringön.