My kind of place: Gothenburg is out of Stockholm’s shadow

Sweden’s ‘second city’, Gothenburg has deftly transformed itself from a port and warehouse block to a dynamic and stylishly rustic stop, with much to see, sample and shop for.
Gothenburg, Sweden. Image by © Björn Andrén / Matton Collection / Corbis
Gothenburg, Sweden. Image by © Björn Andrén / Matton Collection / Corbis
Why Gothenburg?

Formerly known as an industrial powerhouse, this city of 500,000 is now a gastronomic heavyweight with new businesses, music festivals and its own fashion industry. Almost three centuries have passed since the Swedish East India Company began launching ships from Gothenburg, and though it remains a gritty place with a proud seafaring heritage, this only adds to its dynamism.

In recent years, the city has reinvented itself and is now attracting luxury travellers who want a more authentic taste of Sweden. Beyond the sprawling Volvo warehouses and the container-clogged port, the city centre is surprisingly scenic and the tram-rattled streets offer enough galleries, museums and world-class seafood restaurants to make a week-long visit worthwhile. In summer, the city’s parks and gardens burst into colour, and it can be a base for cruises to the nearby islands, while in winter, cafes, warmed by wafts of gingerbread and chai, provide shelter from the falling snow.

Founded on the west coast of Sweden in 1621, the city grew up with help from the Dutch, who used blueprints from Jakarta to build its canals. These days the influence of the British is more obvious, with cosy pub-restaurants and the locals’ disarmingly good English skills all helping the city live up to its “Little London” nickname.

Just west of the centre is Gothenburg’s trump card: a car-free cluster of rocky, forest-covered islands dotted with red cottages. The best time to visit is from mid-May to September, when the days are seemingly endless and golden sunshine warms the shallow bays, making swimming an enticing prospect. Spend an afternoon aboard a private yacht, stopping to eat wild strawberries and aioli-smothered prawns under cloudless skies, and then make it back to the city in time for a night at the opera.

A comfortable bed

For the best views, check out the Upper House at Hotel Gothia Towers. Rooms here are between floors 21 and 24, high above the city in a soaring glass tower, with access to a spa offering treatments inspired by Sweden’s west coast – think water, salt and smooth grey rocks. The two-storey Grand Executive Suite, favoured by touring musicians, is the most extravagantly luxurious accommodation in all of west Sweden – if not the entire country. Double rooms cost from 2,890 Swedish kronor (SEK; Dh1,670) including taxes (; 0046 317 088 200).

Thanks to its handy location next to Gothenburg’s main train station, Clarion Hotel Post has become a popular rendezvous spot for locals. Above the busy grill-bar, which fuses Swedish and American flavours, the vast former post office building has 500 rooms, where the slumber-inducing beds are draped with Norwegian down duvets. Double rooms from SEK1,180 (Dh680), including taxes (; 0046 3161 9000).

Floating off an island north of the city, the rooms at Salt & Sill are as close to the water as you can get. The interiors here are unmistakably Swedish, with clean lines and stretches of whitewashed timber, and guests can make use of a floating sauna boat that’s skippered by hotel staff. Unsurprisingly, local seafood is the restaurant’s main focus (the Swedish word sill means herring, which is prepared here in six different ways and served with boiled potatoes). Double rooms cost SEK1,990 (Dh1,150), including taxes (; 0046 304 673 480).

Find your feet

Tree-lined streets and grassy parks put some distance between Gothenburg’s main sights, but taxis, trams and clearly marked cycle paths make it easy to stay on track. Start at Göteborgs Konstmuseet, an imposing, brick-built gallery on the city’s central avenue, which houses Nordic paintings from the 15th century onwards, as well as works by Picasso and Rembrandt. From here it’s an easy walk to Liseberg, Scandinavia’s biggest theme park, with bone-jangling rollercoasters in the summer and a twinkling winter market in the run-up to Christmas. Two kilometres to the west you’ll find the old working-class district of Haga, one of the few historic areas to survive the overzealous bulldozing campaigns of the 1960s, and still the most attractive place for coffee (most locals drink it strong and black) and a cinnamon bun.

Meet the locals

Fresh ingredients lure locals to indoor markets around the city. Recently renovated and invariably packed, Stora Saluhallen is the best option for reindeer, elk, coffee and spices. For a real taste of the coast, head west to Feskekôrka, a church-like market specialising in seafood. Fishmongers here sell mountainous crayfish salads, drizzled with lemon and topped with sprigs of dill. If avoiding other tourists is your top priority, try Kville Saluhall, north of the centre on the island of Hisingen, which has delicatessens, a flower shop and a simple Peruvian restaurant.

Book a table

In the past few years, Gothenburg has transformed itself from a relatively niche destination into a full-blown foodie hotspot. Part of this success is down to aggressive PR, but there’s no denying that the region’s natural bounty – awash with fresh seafood and seasonal vegetables – is scrumptiously diverse.

Currently making waves is the bistro-style Bhoga (; 0046 3113 8018), the latest of the city’s restaurants to be awarded a Michelin star. The super-inventive set menus change weekly and draw on local flavours such as dill, liquorice and smoked fish, with hints of Far Eastern freshness thrown in for good measure. A four-course meal for two costs from SEK1,050 (Dh610).

Down by the opera house, Swedish Taste (; 0046 3113 2780) is businesslike with white tablecloths and colourful menus that change to take advantage of the best local produce. At this time of year the highlights include coal-grilled celeriac, pickled root vegetables and roasted sourdough bread. Three-course dinners for two start at SEK990 (Dh570).

Cheaper and a good deal cosier than Swedish Taste is Haga’s nautical-themed Sjöbaren (; 0046 317 119 780), where hearty fish soups and plates of garlicky prawns are served with rustic bread and butter. A three-course dinner for two costs around SEK600 (Dh350).

For something completely different, try Linnéa Art Restaurant (; 0046 3116 1183), which offers one of the city’s best – and most underrated – dining experiences. The restaurant acts as a kind of diners-only gallery with finely crafted glasswork on the walls, and meat and fish dishes presented as individual works of art. A five-course meal for two costs SEK1,530 (Dh880).

Shopper’s paradise

Swedes might look like they’re born stylish, but a lot of shopping goes on behind the scenes. For a good mix of the latest designs from Swedish fashion brands such as Acne, Dagmar and Hope, pay a visit to NK on Östra Hamngatan (; 0046 8762 8000), Gothenburg’s most exclusive department store. If your home could do with an injection of Nordic chic, stop by Järntorget, where Svenssons i Lammhult (; 0046 4724 8700) stocks an expertly curated selection of Scandinavian-designed lamps, rugs and armchairs.

What to avoid

Kungsportsavenyn, the city’s main avenue, is an inevitable stop for first-time visitors. Enjoy its sculptures and shops but watch out for the restaurants, which seem to specialise in overpriced food. Most locals avoid them and you should, too.

Don’t miss

During the Cold War, when “neutral” Sweden began quietly readying itself for combat, a vast aircraft hangar was carved below ground on the city’s edge and filled with fighter planes. Now open as Aeroseum (; entry SEK80; Dh45), an aviation museum, the bunker lets visitors learn about the facility’s secret history, and see an impressive collection of jets.


If you go

Return flights from Abu Dhabi to Gothenburg-Landvetter with KLM ( via Amsterdam cost from Dh3,999, including taxes.

Published: May 29, 2014 04:00 AM


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