A little over half a million people live in Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg (Göteborg in Swedish), along the broad Göta River which was ideal for ship building. Today, the wharves are mostly closed down, and the city silhouette not quite as full of cranes and dry docks as before. Instead, the city is trying to find a new identity, but car manufacturing and technical innovations still have a strong place in this city of parks, canals and cafés.
I grew up here in the 80s, and still have a homely feel whenever I return to visit old friends. With one foot firmly on the Swedish East coast as I was born in Stockholm, the relationship has not been entirely smooth since Gothenburg has a bit of a second city complex towards the capital. Even so, the other foot loves all the things I think Gothenburg should be proud of; the café culture, the wonderful archipelago, and the many events in sport and culture it is so good at organising. This is a very social city, and even though it has lost the ferry to England it still has several to Denmark and Germany and has always been outward-facing and welcoming, not to mention anglophile – its nickname is Little London.
Dutch and Scots
Gothenburg as we know it today was founded in 1624, and you may be surprised when you come here and see all the continental looking canals. The area along the river is very muddy and needed draining, which the Dutch where asked to help out with, and today you can go on a great sightseeing tour on the canals and the river if you want to get a good feeling of the city. It later became the hub for the Swedish East India Company, and then had countless maritime connections across the North Sea as well as a big fishing harbour. Today you can still buy fish in the Fish Church which is no church but a fish market, and it goes beyond saying that the fish restaurants here are good. Scottish merchants and engineers settled in the 19th century, and invested their money and expertise in technology, brewing and football. This means Gothenburg has a lot of quite British looking architecture too in certain parts of it, and it is definitely a football (soccer) centre like few others in Scandinavia. All this is something the city now try to cherish whilst finding a new identity.
I lived not far from the Haga quarters where some of those Scottish houses can be found. This used to be a run down area where people lived in wooden townhouses without a lot of conveniences. It was the obvious setting for the Swedish version of the TV-series Steptoe and Son, especially paired with the dry Gothenburg sense of humour. Today, the houses that have survived fire and 1970s and 80s destruction are sought after gems, and Haga Nygata is a street you should definitely visit. Here you will find independent retailers, antique shops, and cafés which compete in baking the biggest cinnamon buns.
Art and archipelagos
Ask a Swede what they associate with Gothenburg, and many will mention “Avenyn”. This broad street full of restaurants, running from the main canal and up to the city arts hub of Götaplatsen with its huge Poseidon statue by Carl Milles is where most tourists end up. Locals much prefer the area around Linnégatan for their evenings out and Magasinsgatan is also a good bet for interesting shopping and dining. This is not to say that Götaplatsen should be missed as that is where the major art museum is with some fantastic Swedish and international art, in a building which is an architectural masterpiece itself. Next to it is the City Theatre and library on one side, and the Concert Hall on the other so the culture buff is in heaven, and you only need to walk a bit further to end up by the World Culture Museum.
I may be biased having worked there, but Scandinavia’s biggest amusement park Liseberg really has something for everyone, and what I love about it is that it is partly along a hill, making it very lush, and giving an extra dimension to the rollercoasters. Those who want a more peaceful visit should come in December. The rides may be closed then, but the Christmas market with its illuminations is in full swing. Next to the park is the Universeum science museum with a rainforest and plenty to keep the children busy on a rainy day. They might also enjoy Maritiman back on the river – a collection of ships including a submarine to climb down. You will find the ships near the new Opera House which is worth a visit even if it is just for a drink in its restaurant with its views.
If you have a day to spare in town, visiting the archipelago is a must. The northern one is reached by bus and road ferry, and takes a while to get to but is well worth the effort. The southern one is equally scenic, and has a seal colony on the island of Vrångö in the far south. This can be reached by commuter boats from Saltholmen which is easy to reach by tram. You can hop on any boat and just go for a short trip around, or hop off on an island such as Styrsö and go for a walk or have a picnic. If you want to see something nice along the way there, get off at Stigbergstorget and visit the old maritime quarters and old houses of Gatenhielmska. Here you will also find the dramatic looking Masthuggskyrkan Church and the old Maritime museum with great harbour views.