If your knowledge of Swedish gastronomy extends little further than Ikea’s meatballs, then prepare to be pleasantly surprised by Gothenburg (known locally as Goteborg)! Sweden’s second largest city has a healthy stock of high-quality restaurants, bars and food markets served up with a good slice of sightseeing opportunities and the chance to go ‘back to nature’ on the Gothenburg archipelago. Located on Sweden’s south-east coast Gothenburg is well served by European low-cost airlines which makes a bargain weekend possible in what is otherwise an expensive country. It might not be the first place on your must-visit list of Scandinavian destinations, but there’s more than enough to keep you well entertained for a long weekend, particularly in the summer months when the city truly comes alive and heads back outside after the cold winter!
Gothenburg Top Tips
It’s highly likely that you’ll land into Lanvetter airport which is about 25km outside of Gothenburg. The Flygbussarna bus service operates a cheap and frequent service from the airport to various downtown stops and tickets can be bought online in advance to save you time on arrival (especially useful if you are flying one of the low cost airlines and landing at an unsociable hour; or if you’re just generally an organised traveler). Alternatively, you could enjoy, as we did, the challenge of rushing to throw Krona at a ticket machine outside the arrival hall in the dead of night as you watch the bus drive away. Both equally valid methods.
I won’t lie; Gothenburg is expensive (as most of Scandinavia is). But if you’re on a budget, or generally a cost-conscious traveler, then it’s still possible to visit on a fiarly restricted budget – the public transport is good value, high quality hotel-style hostels are available (if not somewhat cramped), and many of the sights can be seen at no cost. It’s also on the low-cost air carrier itinerary all of which means you can achieve a reasonably priced couple of days. Your major expenses are going to be food and drink if you’re planning to dine out every night!
Make the best of your time and money by using the highly efficient local transport system. Gothenburg operates a great network of trams, buses and ferries (the latter gets you out to the Gothenburg archipelago) which seem to be a reliable way of getting around the city. I say ‘seem to be’ because we just so happened to be on the one tram that stopped (for unknown technical reasons) in the middle of nowhere on the way to Saltholmen and had to walk the last mile to the ferry terminal. Fortunately, we found a helpful local who was able to point us in the right direction.
If you do decide to use local transport, then the one-day Vasttrafik Travel Card is great value. Vasttrafik tickets can be purchased in various ticket booths around the city and in some convenience stores. They can also be purchased though the Västtrafik To Go mobile app. Detailed route maps can be found in convenience stores or printed out before you leave from the Vasttrafik website – have fun trying to pronounce the stop names. If you want to try and work out your routes and timings before you arrive then visit the Vasttrafik website where you’ll find timetables, transport maps, and the locations of ticket offices. The best part is that the one-day ticket includes all buses, trams and ferries which means that you can take a tour out to the archipelago included in the price of the ticket!
If navigating public transport sounds too much like hard work, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Gothenburg operates a hop-on-hop-off bus service (run by City Sightseeing). With 2 routes consisting of 13 stops, ill admit that it isnt the most comprehensive of Europe’s city sightseeing tours. However, it does cover pretty much all the places you’ll need to head to for the sights listed in the “activities” section of this guide. To check out the ticket options, and to advance purchase your passes visit the website, here. It’s also worth noting that you can combine the ticket with a hop-on-hop-off boat tour from June to August.
If you’re already considering the tourist bus and are looking to combine some of the activities below that have entrance fees, then you might want to consider buying the Gothenburg Pass. Purchasable in advance from the Gothenburg Pass website (and downloadable to your phone), the card is available in denominations lasting up to 5 days and covers a whole host of different attractions, museums and tours. It also includes a free guidebook containing maps, addresses of attractions, and opening times (to be fair, I think you can get the guidebook even if you don’t buy tickets from this link). It’ll end up saving you some money if you’re planning of visiting several museums, doing a Padden Boat Tour and using the hop-on-hop-off. Visit the Gothenburg Pass website for full details of the attractions, museums and tours included. In addition to downloading the pass to your phone, you can also collect the pass when you arrive. Bear in mind that redemption kiosks don’t open until 10am; so, don’t go expecting an early start on that first day.
Gothenburg archipelago: Visiting Gothenburg’s car-free archipelago of islands to the south of the city center is a highlight of a visit to Gothenburg. In the past, you’d have had to travel all the way from the city center by tram to the ferry terminal in Saltholmen at certain points of the year. Although that’s still possible, ferries to the Southern Archipelago now also depart from Stenpiren Travel Centre in the city center year-round (albeit only twice a day). The benefit of departing from the city is that you’ll get the chance to see Gothenburg from the water on your way out to the islands. From Stenpiren Travel Centre the ferry takes a circular route to Stenpiren–Styrsö–Donsö–Vrångö lasting about 1hr 35mins. If, like us, you’re only in Gothenburg for a long weekend, then I would advise taking the ferry out to Styrso Bratten. From the ferry terminal on Styrso Bratten there’s a great little café in which we were the only patrons. From there it’s a pleasant walk around the island and across the bridge to Donso island (the walk can be as short as 45 minutes if you go directly) where you can catch the ferry back. If the two daily departures from Stenpiren Travel Centre don’t suit your schedule then boats typically depart once every hour to the main series of islands (Asperö, Brännö, Köpstadsö, Styrsö, Donsö and Vrångö) from Saltholmen. The ferry routes from Saltholmen provide you with greater flexibility and a greater number of islands to chose from. So, if you have longer in Gothenburg, this may be a better choice for you.
Paddan on the river: As you can probably guess by now, Gothenburg is a city for water lovers. From Late April until early October the Paddan boats provide a relaxing way to see some of the sights on the city’s moats and canals and in to the harbour. The tour takes you past some of the city’s main highlights, including the opera house, the famous fish market “Feskekörka”, green parks, and the old shipyard and docks along the harbor. Paddan tours are popular with tourists during the months and, in my opinion, get a little overcrowded. so if, like me, you like to avoid the throngs then I would probably choose to stick with picking up a map and finding your own way around the city on foot. Alternatively, if you really want to see the city from the water indepently then consider renting a kayak from Point 65 located at Lilla Bommens.
Haga: Haga is part old town with picturesque wooden houses, part hipster hangout with eclectic coffee houses and bars. Established in the mid-17th Century as a working-class suburb with a largely seedy reputation, Haga is now a great area of town to browse independent stores and indulge in a little ‘fika’. Fika is the Swedish art of a coffee break normally paired with a baked good like a cinnamon bun (known locally as a kanelbullar). It’s this bohemian style that has led many to describe Gothenburg as the more avant-garde city when compared to Stockholm, the nation’s sleeker capital city. You can reach Haga on the tram with the closest stop being either Hagakyrkan or Järntorget. Plan to spend an afternoon here just wandering around (including taking the hike up the hill to Skansen Kronan – you can read more about this below). I’d also highly recommend making a pit stop at Saluhall Briggen. Set in an old fire station this small food market is a great place for a spot of lunch if you’re in and around the trendy Haga. Decent value, seats available, and meringues as big as your face. No more needs to be said.
Saluhallen (The Market Hall): Located in the middle of the main shopping and restaurant district on Kungstoret this is the biggest market hall in Gothenburg with over 40 vendors selling a variety of local produce. A great stop for foodies and photographers alike, the entire Kungstorget area has been the city’s largest marketplace since the mid-19th century.
Feskekôrka: Yes, this place is actually called the fish church! It does indeed look a little like a church but the parishioners have been replaced by all things seafood. The perfect place to get your fill of loaded shrimp sarnies and gravadlax, but certainly not the place to go to get over a heavy night before.
Skansen Kronan: This hilltop fort in Haga isn’t the real star of this attraction. That honour is reserved for the views from the top of the hill the fort sits on. Take the short, but steep, walk up the hill (a great way to burn off the fika from earlier) just before sunset and you’ll be rewarded with great 360 degree views across the city….and maybe a homemade ice cream from the small café that’s open in the summer. In case you were wondering, the fortress was built in 1700 and was originally designed as a defensive battlement; complete with 23 canons. Given that its defensive capabilities were never actually tested, it was converted to a prison in the 19th Century and later into the military museum. If you’re interested in learning more then you can join one of Skansen Crown’s guided tours of the fort. More information on those tours can be found here.
Museums: Gothenburg is home to a number of museums worthy of visiting. The best of the bunch is the Gothenburg Museum of Art, which opened in 1923 and is home to works by the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Monet. If you’re looking for something more entertaining for the kids then I’d recommend Universeum, which is 7 floors of interactive science and nature. The highlights are a monstrously sized ocean aquarium containing sharks and an indoor tropical rainforest sporting sloths and monkeys. Other potential learning opportunities can be found at Aeroseum (a cold war era military facility and aviation museum), the Volvo Museum (no description needed for that one I think), the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Gothenburg. Finally, and not exactly a museum (but something to do if you have kids or are young at heart), is Liseberg, an amusement park that first opened back in 1923. If you happen to be in Gothenburg over the winter, then make sure to stop by for the Christmas Market!
New Älvsborg Fortress and Bohus Fortress: Gothenburg sports several fortresses and battlements; but a couple are worthy of particular mention. The first is New Älvsborg Fortress, which is accessible by boat for guided tours between early July and mid-August from Lilla Bommen. The fortress was established on a small island in the mouth of the river in the 17th century and became the city’s first line of defense. It was only once called into action when, in 1719, the Danes and Norwegians attacked the city. The second option, Bohus Fort, is more of a day trip – even though it’s only twenty minutes outside the city and easily accessible by bus. Sitting on a small hill, Bohus is probably the better looking of the two forts and has certainly seen more action; with various armies invading 14 times without success.
Gothenburg Transport Website: http://www.vasttrafik.se
Gothenburg Tourism Website: http://www.goteborg.com/
Flygbussarna Ticket Website: http://www.flygbussarna.se/en/landvetter
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