Young, progressive, hip, clean, innovative—these are all adjectives I’d use to describe Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city and the jumping off point for all west coast road trips. It’s a little bit casual, a little bit cosmopolitan, and a whole lot hipster. In fact, one of its residents told us about the university town: “Gothenburg is not just a beer city—it’s a beard city.” In that respect, it felt a whole lot like home.
But it’s really a place you need to hit the ground running before you can fully appreciate its distinct vibe. Here’s what you can expect from what many refer to as “Little London.”
WHERE TO STAY IN GOTHENBURG
On the front end of our trip, we stayed at the Clarion Post Hotel as part of the Volvo Overseas Delivery Program. This former central post office is one of the city’s finest design hotels with a lobby lined with crystals and an inviting rooftop pool on the 13th floor that offers a full panorama of the city center.
On our return, we spent three nights at Hotel Pigalle, one of Gothenburg’s chicest boutique hotels. And while it’s designed to mimic Paris in the early 1900s, the hotel itself has actually only been around a couple years (yet it already landed on Conde Nast Traveler’s coveted Gold List). Keep your eyes peeled for fun little design accents like strands of pearls and amusing artwork (Karl Lagerfeld as an owl, anyone?).
HOW TO GET AROUND GOTHENBURG
We spent most of our time on foot to hit up all the central attractions. Despite just 500,000 residents, Gothenburg is a pretty large city size-wise so if you’re there more than a day or two, you’ll need to turn to additional methods to see the sights.
You could rent a car, but honestly you don’t need it. We talked to Gothenburg residents in their 30s and 40s who had never even bothered to get a driver’s license — the public transportation is that good. We found the tram and bus system very easy to navigate, not to mention reliable; each stop listed the time of the next arrival down to the minute, and we never waited more than five.
You can purchase tickets at any of the sales kiosks or the tourist center, as well as download the app and pay on your phone. Gothenburg’s visitor card (available in 24-, 48- and 72-hour increments) also includes all public transportation: buses, trams, ferries, trains. Like everything else in Sweden, the transportation truly runs like a dream.
If you’re in a pinch, there are also plenty of taxis—some of which are even Teslas (#OnlyInSweden)—and we wound up calling one to go to the airport when we were in danger of missing our flight.
WHERE TO GET KILLER INSTAGRAM SHOTS IN GOTHENBURG
Dorsia. This burlesque-inspired hotel may be the sexiest place in all of Gothenburg with its bold artwork and red velvet accents. We didn’t stay here, but we did settle into the living room one rainy afternoon for cocktails as we sipped our way through the extensive gin menu.
The Palm House. This green house is located right smack in the middle of the well-manicured lawns of the Garden Society of Gothenburg, an urban oasis that dates back to the 19th century and boasts thousands of roses. It was raining throughout most of our time in Gothenburg, but that didn’t stop us from seeking shelter indoors and enjoying the exotic plants (and the warm temps) of the indoors Palm House.
Gothenburg Museum of Art. I’m not typically a museum fan, but I couldn’t help but love the modern art filling Gothenburg’s stately museum. We saw paintings from famed Scandinavian artists such as Edvard Munch and marveled over the sculptures. There was even a Ping Pong installation where I got to use my skills to school SVV in the art of table tennis.
Upper House Spa. A protruding outdoor hot tub that hangs 19 stories above the ground and boasts killer views of Liseberg and the city beyond? I almost couldn’t believe it myself. But this three-level spa housed in Gothia Towers is one of the coolest places I’ve visited ever. (Pro tip: Stay in the on-site hotel, and your spa bill and fitness classes will be 20 percent off.)
Haga. The old town may be one of the more touristy sections in the city, but it’s also the oldest. The entire block is lined with cute, colorful wooden houses, many of them some hundreds of years old.
Gothenburg Botanical Garden. A 20-minute tram ride from the center of town, Gothenburg’s botanical garden (Botaniska Trädgården) is one of the largest in northern Europe (not to mention, most beautiful). Spanning more than 400 acres, this gorgeous slice of greenery took us more than an hour to walk through thanks to its more than 16,000 species of plants to fawn over.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN GOTHENBURG
Jerntorgets Brygghus. There are a handful of craft breweries within Gothenburg—it’s a scene very much on the rise—but only a couple you can actually visit (and even those are either reservation-only or have odd days and hours, like open every other Friday). Luckily, we found this friendly taproom on the fringe of the tourist district, Haga, that stocked everything we could want and more.
SK Mat & Människor. This contemporary restaurant helmed by restaurateur Stefan Karlsson has an open kitchen so you can watch the chefs in action as they whip up your meal (translated in English, the restaurant’s name means “food and people”). Awarded a star in the Michelin guide, it’s a great excuse for a date night, as well as the prime spot to sample all the regional delights. We had the tasting menu—three of the four courses of which was a different kind of fish from West Sweden—complete with wine pairings.
Feskekôrka. Built in 1874, the “fish church” is exactly as it sounds: a Gothic-style, church-like structure that houses a fish market. Insider, there’s also a second-floor restaurant, Gabriel, that overlooks the market and serves one of the best meals we had in all of Sweden (make reservations as the dining area is small). It’s known for its Swedish oysters, which taste like the ocean itself, but I was a huge fan of the “fish burger,” which was baked cod in casserole form and drowned in butter.
Saluhallen. Little has changed in the city’s resident market hall in Kungstorget since 1889 when it was completed. It’s still a popular spot for locals to grab lunch on the go from any of the many stalls or pick up meat, artisan cheese, spices, wine, chocolate, or other delicacies for dinner or to take as gifts.
Da Matteo. I embraced the concept of “fika” when I lived in Scandinavia more than a decade ago and was thrilled to learn that it’s still very much alive today in Sweden. On our first morning in Gothenburg, we stopped by the iconic Da Matteo roastery in Magasinsgatan for a latte and cardamom bun (and then returned on days two and three, as well!).
Forssén Öberg. This champagne bar offers a wide selection of bubbles by the glass or bottle, plus a bevy of seasonal Swedish dishes (read: lots of fish). We had the three-course tasting menu complete with champagne/wine pairings. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: We did not eat poorly on this trip!
Mr. P. We visited the modern brasserie in the art museum twice: once for cocktails (so good!) and again for lunch (also, delicious). Just don’t pass the chance to visit the adjoining modern art museum while you’re there.
Kafé Magasinet. You know those days when you’re playing tourist so hard and nothing sounds better than sitting down for a spell with a large beer for company? That’s how we felt after walking what felt like 100 miles around Gothenburg one day. We saw the entrance to Kafé Magasinet’s courtyard as we were tooling around Haga and mentally bookmarked it for when we needed a rest. The interior was every bit as lovely as we could hope when we returned an hour later, and the spacious café has both indoor and outdoor seating and serves fika, food and a full bar.
Food trucks in Magasinsgatan. Like so many other big cities, Gothenburg has a burgeoning food truck scene. There are always a couple ones in rotation parked right out front of the da Mateo in Magasinsgatan.
Atelier. On our final night at Hotel Pigalle, we headed up to the fourth floor for a feast in the on-site restaurant. I’m not sure what I loved more: the décor (a hodgepodge of patterns and textures occupying a cozy space with a slanted ceiling) or the meal (a three-course tasting menu of regional specialties and our first meal of the trip that wasn’t all seafood).
SWEDISH FOODS YOU MUST TRY
- Swedish meatballs, with lingonberry sauce
- Västerbottensost, a decadent savory cheese pie
- Cod bake with brown butter, preferably from the Fish Church
- Langoustine, saltwater crayfish
- Kardemommebulle, cardamom buns
- Any fresh-caught fish with dill sauce, the Swedish herb of choice
With its seven Michelin star restaurants, Gothenburg definitely lived up to its reputation of being a culinary destination, though as evidenced above, we found more to do there than just eat and drink.
Any favorite Gothenburg spots that I should put on my list for next trip?