Gothenburg's Greatest Hits
Perfectly situated between Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen, the second-largest city in Sweden was once a largely Dutch trading port. Originally founded in 1604, the original settlement burned down, attacked by marauding Danes (you can’t keep a good Viking down). However, when established by Royal Charter in 1621, gifted by Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus following the Thirty Years War, the city finally flourished.
Gothenburg’s history is revealed in its two names – it is also known as Göteborg, and both names were enshrined in its original charter. However, to save me repeatedly finding the umlaut on my keyboard, let’s continue using its English variant.
The city was settled by a mixture of Dutch, Scots, and German migrants, and became a heavily fortified and strategic port, allowing access to the Atlantic, North Sea and Kattegat (the strait between Denmark and Sweden). Although Dutch was the primary language, Scots and English were often spoken and the cosmopolitan beginnings of this historic city are very much in evidence today.
So, what to do if you find yourself in Gothenburg? Well, if you’re in a dustbowl State northwest of Kansas City, you’re in the wrong Gothenburg – that’s the town in Nebraska, named after its Swedish counterpart. If instead, you’re surrounded by beautiful old buildings and a canal network to rival Amsterdam, you’ve come to the right place.
The Swedish Blue Ribbon
The Dutch settlers were of course expert land reclaimers, having worked marvels in settling sub-sea-level cities including Amsterdam and Indonesia’s Jakarta. During the 19th century boom in canal building, these clever engineers later built a 347-mile-long watercourseLink opens in a new tab linking Gothenburg on the west coast to Stockholm on the east.
The route takes in the Gota Canal, Vannern and Vattern lakes, the Trollhatta Canal and Gota Alv River. A popular way to see Sweden, a typical cruise along the Blue Ribbon takes 4-5 days. If you have more time and energy, there are plenty of kayaking, cycling and running routes along the Gota Canal too.
Although very few buildings from the 17th century remain, since they were constructed largely from wood, the imposing Skansen KronenLink opens in a new tab fortification is one grand exception. The area surrounding the tower has a large concentration of neo-classical architecture, much of it built on the proceeds of the Swedish East India Company.
The pedestrianized Haga NygataLink opens in a new tab high street is Gothenburg’s Las Ramblas, with its cobbled lanes, cafes and boutique shops. The uniquely local architecture style known as landshövdingehus is much in evidence, with the lower floor in brick and the upper stories built in wood. Once an 18th century slum with a seedy reputation, it’s now a great neighborhood to begin your explorations from.
For Art Lovers
The GötaplatsenLink opens in a new tab is Gothenburg’s grand cultural hub, a massive plaza flanked by the Gothenburg Concert HallLink opens in a new tab, home of the city’s symphony orchestra, the City Theatre and the Museum of Art. Each is well-worth a visit, with the Museum boasting a fine collection of Nordic art, as well as notable works by Monet, Picasso, and Rembrandt.
For those who prefer their cultural experiences more diverse, the Gothenburg Culture FestivalLink opens in a new tab in late August regularly plays host to over 700,000 visitors (impressive in a city with a little over 600,000 residents). Featuring everything from circus skills to open-air film screenings and concerts, there’s something to suit every taste. Don’t believe us? 2021’s event included classes in DJ-ing, Roma folk costume making and a gig by legendary experimental rock band The Swans.
If modern architecture is your passion, check out the extraordinarily colorful and dramatic Kuggen building, created by architect Gert Wingård in 2011. Resembling a jagged lampshade, the sunset-hued creation is a center for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Despite its northern latitude, Gothenburg has one of the most picturesque botanical gardensLink opens in a new tab you’re likely to experience. Covering forty acres and containing over 12,000 species of plants, it’s the largest garden of its kind in northern Europe. With greenhouses, a rock garden and waterfall, kitchen garden and Japanese glade there’s enough here to satisfy even the most obsessive horticulturalist.
There’s even a huge display of orchids and, most surprising of all, carnivorous plants (but don’t worry, sci-fi fans, there are no triffids here). For more wanderings in nature, the adjacent SlottsskogenLink opens in a new tab nature reserve is a peaceful oasis at the heart of the city.
Finish your day with a visit to the Natural History MuseumLink opens in a new tab at the northern extent of the park. As well as literally thousands of taxidermized mammals and birds, you can see the world’s only stuffed whale – now that’s a whole lot of stuffing!
The rest of the exhibit takes you on a four-billion-year journey from the beginnings of microorganisms through intermediate displays to the wide-ranging ecosphere we see today.
If seeing the sights from the comfort of a cruiser is more your style, the southern and northern Gothenburg ArchipelagosLink opens in a new tab are clusters of twenty islands ranging from uninhabited islets to popular destinations like Hönö, lively Brännö and Strysö (with its sandy beach and bridge to the neighboring Donsö).
For the southern archipelago hop on a ship at the Salthomen boat terminal and allow a few days if you want to see several islands, since most do not have access by car. To reach the more accessible northern archipelago, a group of mostly interconnected islands to the northwest of the city, hire a car and take the ferry from Lilla Varholmens.
Speaking of automobiles, if you’re a fan of the legendary Swedish brand, the Volvo MuseumLink opens in a new tab in the west of the city is well worth a visit. A colorful and somehow cozy display of Volvos dating back to 1927, the museum includes trucks, buses, and marine engines as well as some iconic cars and the latest concept cars and prototypes.
Terrify your Friends and Family!
If all the above seems just a little too… gentle… why not visit the Liseberg Amusement ParkLink opens in a new tab, with its infamous Helix ride. Its 1.3km ride at speeds of up to 100kph, including g-force of up to 4.3 times normality, will satisfy even the most determined thrill-seeker. For those afraid of heights, there’s even a replica VR version too.
The park, established in 1923, also features Valkyria, Europe’s longest plunge of any rollercoaster (a 50 meter vertical drop) and five performance venuesLink opens in a new tab including the pretty Liseberg Theatre, which looks like it was designed by Wes Anderson.
Food and Drink
Assuming your friends and family are still talking to you after the aforementioned adventure and their stomachs have settled, Gothenburg features some of the best Swedish cuisine available. Sample delicious pastries at Ahlstrom ConfectionersLink opens in a new tab, established in 1901, on Korsgatan near the picturesque Stora Hamnkanalen (canal). Or tuck into reindeer steaks at Bord 27Link opens in a new tab. With over 1600 dineries in the city, there are plenty of great places for a celebratory meal or tasty takeaway.
Gothenburg features no less than five Michelin-starred restaurants, ranging from BhogaLink opens in a new tab with its modern and delicious 5, 7 or even 9 course tasting meals to KokaLink opens in a new tab with its extensive wine list and vegetarian menu.
Of course, with such a seafaring nation, it would be remiss not to try some of the local seafood delicacies, including shrimp, langoustine, and oysters. If you really want to get to grips with your dinner, why not take part in a “seafood safariLink opens in a new tab”, and learn how to land and prepare your own catch.
For drinks (which can be a little pricy – be warned!) head over to the Brewers Beer Bar, whose keg beer range changes daily, or the Upper House LoungeLink opens in a new tab, for a spectacular skyline view from the 25th floor of the Gothia Towers building.
If something a little more industrial is your scene, the Steampunk BarLink opens in a new tab offers a Victorian sci-fi aesthetic as the perfect backdrop to sample its range of more than 60 gins.
Just don’t fall in the canal on your way home!