Planning a trip is half the fun, right? I had decided to spend a couple of weeks this summer in Scandinavia and Sweden was always a top choice for me. As I read through travel articles and blog posts, and scrolled through Instagram, one city kept popping up with some regularity—Gothenburg. I must admit that I didn’t know much about Sweden’s second biggest city but as I read more and swiped through photographs it quickly became clear that it was my kind of place. A vibrant art & culture scene—check. Exciting culinary offerings—check. Hip design & architecture—check. Gothenburg had definitely caught my fancy. Then I found out that Qatar Airways has direct flights from Doha to Gothenburg and it seemed like a sign. So did Gothenburg live up to my expectations? In a word, yes! Read on to find out how I spent my days in Sweden’s coolest city.
Qatar Airways has lately become my airline of choice not just for its excellent connectivity but also for the superior level of comfort it offers. Yes, even in economy class! My flight from Doha to Gothenburg took just 6.5 hours and I was impressed with the quality of service, yummy food, and entertainment on-board (over 4,000 options!), but mostly with the ample legroom.
Fika is the local Swedish custom of coffee and baked goodies. Photo Courtesy: Tina Stafrén/imagebank.sweden.se
I arrived in Gothenburg on a bright summer afternoon and the first order of business was to get my caffeine fix. The Swedish fika culture is legendary—the Swedes often take a break in between their workday to sit down (either alone or with a friend) for a coffee accompanied by some baked goods. Taking my cue from them, I decided to fika in style at Brogyllen, the city’s grandest café located on Västra Hamngatan near Gothenburg Cathedral. The café’s majestic pillars and gilded chandeliers transported me back in time, and its stunning canal-side location allowed me to indulge in my favourite activity in any new city—people-watching. A warm cinnamon bun sprinkled with sugar and a cup of hot, strong coffee was the perfect introduction to the city. Over the next few days, I hit other popular fika spots—at Café Husaren in Haga I tried their Insta-famous giant cinnamon buns, bit into moreish cinnamon & cardamom buns at da Matteo on the trendy shopping street of Magasinsgatan, and sampled the vegan version of a semla (traditional sweet roll filled with almond paste) at Kafé St Agnes on Teatergatan. Of course, there’s more to fika than cinnamon buns and most cafes had all sorts of tempting pastries, cookies, and savouries to offer.
Gothenburg is known as the gourmet capital of Sweden so I was naturally excited to check out its dining scene. I tried everything from its Michelin-starred stalwarts to seafood restaurants to food trucks. It’s difficult to pick the best places because literally every meal was of such high quality. For a fine-dine experience, I would recommend the Michelin-starred Koka, which serves a five or seven course degustation menu of creative New Nordic fare. Then there was the gourmet dining experience at Upper House, which is located at the top of Gothia Towers and offers spectacular city views. Gothenburg’s coastal location means excellent seafood on your plate—I particularly loved Sjömagasinet, which is located in a refurbished warehouse at a prime waterfront location. I also had some classic Swedish fare like fish soup and fish au gratin at the charming Sjorbaren restaurant in Haga. There’s a growing vegan movement in Gothenburg (like in the rest of Europe), so vegetarians need not despair; Blackbird, More Is More, and Crippas are some of the popular vegan joints worth trying. For lunch I usually grabbed some food to go from one of the many food trucks in the city—my favourites were the organic, fairtrade burgers at Clásico, the pork buns at Jinx, spicy salmon poké at Poké & Sunt, and the vegan bowls at Planet Vega.
From big-ticket concerts to intimate bar gigs, Gothenburg brims with music. Photo Courtesy: Rodrigo Rivas Ruiz/imagebank.sweden.se
Music is, of course, big in Gothenburg—from international big-ticket pop & rock bands that regularly perform in the city to concerts and opera, there’s always something on. Restaurants and bars also regularly host live music nights, I found it to be a great way to discover fantastic local bands. If you happen to visit in August, coincide your trip with the six-day-long Gothenburg Culture Festival—this is essentially one big street party with live music, dance, street artists, theatre, and great food and drinks.
Art is a big reason why I travel and being an unabashed museum geek, I had to head to the Gothenburg Museum of Art located at Götaplatsen. The museum’s yellow ‘Gothenburg brick’ facade in a blend of Neo-Classical & Nordic styles seems like an artwork itself. Inside, I was enamoured by an impressive collection of the masters from Monet & Rembrandt to Chagall & Picasso. The museum also has the world’s finest collection of Nordic art. Another museum I especially loved was Röhsska Museet or the Museum of Design and Craft on Vasagatan. This is an absolute must-visit for design aficionados to get a perspective on historic and contemporary design. I was fascinated by their permanent exhibition, which displays traditional Japanese and Chinese arts and crafts alongside contemporary Nordic designers who are inspired by East Asian patterns and techniques.
Of course, not all art is restricted to museums. I had seen photographs of stunning large-scale murals, so I went hunting for them armed with a helpful app by Street Art Cities (gothenburg.streetartcities.com). Apparently, there are more than a hundred of these masterpieces all over the city. As I ambled about, I spotted quite a few of the artworks, many of which have been created by international urban artists through the Artscape initiative.
Gothenburg is home to eclectic architecture like the industrial-looking public sauna at Frihamnen port. Photo Courtesy: Anton Olin/imagebank.sweden.se
I was also quite taken in by Gothenburg’s eclectic mix of architecture, ranging from historic to contemporary design. While ambling near the city centre, I spotted Länsresidenset on Södra Hamngatan, the oldest residential building in the city that dates to 1651. A short walk away, I came upon the Kronhuset, which was built in 1654 as a military storehouse and is now used as a concert hall. Two 19th-century buildings that you shouldn’t miss are the Saluhallen or Market Hall with its beautiful domed roof and the Feskekôrka or Fish Church, a seafood market hall that got its curious name because the building resembles a neo-Gothic church. There’s plenty of Jugendstil architecture around but I was more interested in seeing the modern landmarks like the circular, multi-coloured Kuggen building, part of the Chalmers University of Technology. Another cool bit of architecture was the public sauna in Frihamnen port, an industrial-looking building with a rusty steel exterior constructed from recycled material. I dropped by for a Swedish sauna (it’s free!) in its warm, timber-lined space where the shower and changing room walls are created using recycled bottles.
While I don’t usually shop much when I travel, I was really tempted to bring back some of the minimalist Scandi chic on display at several indie design shops. I picked up a pair of stylish, 100% organic cotton jeans from Nudie Jeans on Vallgatan and a top to go with it at Twist & Tango in Haga; the shop also had some classy, everyday dresses and elegant shoes. I also bought a couple of casual yet sophisticated shirts for my husband at Velour on Magasinsgatan.
The Gothenburg archipelago has over 20 islands which house charming villages and sandy beaches. Copyright: Peter Kvarnström/Göteborg & Co
Being a city girl, I was quite happy just exploring Gothenburg, but I had read quite a bit about the scenic beauty of its great outdoors. Friendly locals told me to head to Slottsskogen, the city’s biggest park and most popular spot to unwind and barbecue. There are many walking and cycling trails, along with a pond, a zoo and even a selection of 60 azaleas! I loved walking amidst the oak and maple trees in the park. There are also several other cycling, hiking, mountain biking, and canoeing opportunities around the city (if you’re into that sort of a thing), but I had also heard praises of the islands. So I decided to hop on a ferry from the Stenpiren Travel Centre and head out to the Gothenburg archipelago, which comprises more than 20 islands dotted with charming villages, sandy beaches, and nature reserves. I picked two islands in the southern part of the archipelago, both of which were easily accessible by ferry. Styrsö was full of cute cafes, restaurants, and shops and I stopped for a fika in Café Öbergska’s cosy garden. Then, I walked up to Stora Rös, the island’s highest point for stunning views over the archipelago and Gothenburg. Next, I ferried over to Vrångö, an idyllic car-free island where I visited the floating sauna at Kajkanten followed by a superb seafood meal at Fiskeboa restaurant nearby.
Even after spending a few days in Gothenburg, I felt like I had barely scratched the surface. There’s so much more to see and do in and around the city that it deserves a second look. Perhaps a winter break to check out the Christmas markets and sip on some glögg? Luckily, Gothenburg is just a quick Qatar Airways flight away!
Need more reasons to plan your trip? Check out what awaits you in Gothenburg.
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