Gothenburg, the “second city” of Sweden, is shaping up to be a first-class destination for travelers this summer and beyond. With its 400th anniversary festival, the opening of new properties and attractions, and a vibrant and historic downtown, Gothenburg should be added to the must-see list of any trip to northern Europe in 2023. Particularly with newly-launched direct flights this April between Newark (EWR) and Gothenburg on SAS.
Located on the West coast of Sweden in the middle of a triangle between the Scandinavian capitals of Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen, Gothenburg is not as famous as its neighbor cities, but is still well worth a visit as an under-the-radar destination free from much of the big city crowds.
Travelers should consider not only the city of Gothenburg itself, with its great hotels, food and drinks scene, and historic sites, but for surrounding excursions “from shoreline to timberline” with boat trips to scenic islands along its nearby archipelago and strolls through beautiful nearby countryside.
The City of Gothenburg
This summer marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of Gothenburg (a couple years delayed due to the pandemic). The city will celebrate with events all year long, with the official Jubilee taking place June 2-5 with concerts, parades, and an appearance by the King and Queen. Expect lodging to be tight during the June celebration, but visitors will still be able to enjoy the festive feel for the length of the summer.
The first thing to do in Gothenburg is to take a stroll around this very pedestrian-friendly city and enjoy its many parks and classic architecture. The central park of Trädgårdsföreningen is a mouthful to try to say, but a pleasure to walk through. Those with energy can climb hundreds of steps to the Skansen Kronan fortress to take in a spectacular city view and have a picnic lunch. And Gothenburg’s expansive Botanical Gardens are worth a walk on its gentle trails to see vibrant blooms.
Gothenburg is a true family-friendly destination. Kids and parents will both enjoy the Liseberg amusement park, one of the most popular attractions in Sweden. This 100-year-old theme park maintains its classic history (similar to Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens) while still offering the latest roller coaster rides and live entertainment—and beer gardens! The newly opened Grand Curiosa Hotel adjacent to the park is a fun place to stay during a visit. Stay tuned for the opening of the Oceana water park next to Liseberg in 2024 to add to the destination’s draw. Also in 2024, the new World of Volvo museum will open in the same area. Nearby, the Universeum complex houses an aquarium, museum, and a huge array of kid-friendly exhibits, including a newly-opening planetarium dome.
Culture-seeking visitors to Gothenburg will appreciate the city’s world-class Konstmuseum art museum, and the City Museum in the old East India Tea Company building by the harbor, and the landmark Stora Theater, the classic old opera house, and the new riverside Opera House for classical music performances.
Transport to downtown from the airport is simple, either by Uber or taxi, or a widely used airport shuttle bus that brings riders to the central train station. From the train station, visitors can walk to more than a half-dozen boutiques and chain hotels centered there.
I stayed at the Clarion Hotel Post, built out of the old central post office building, with many of the original design elements remaining in the façade and interior. The hotel has great views over central Gothenburg, a rooftop pool, a lively happy hour frequented by locals and visitors alike, and a fabulous breakfast buffet (included with room bookings).
For dining in Gothenburg, the Clarion’s art deco Restaurant Norda, built into the old post office main room, is a nice spot to sample Swedish fine dining with set menus featuring fresh seafood and locally sourced ingredients. Across the main square, in the historic 1859 Hotel Eggers, the Parisian Belle-Epoque style restaurant serves up typical Swedish prawn sandwiches at its lunch bistro, and hearty meat and pasta meals for dinner. Visitors should be sure to tour and snack at Gothenburg’s famed Salluhallen food hall, with dozens of stalls selling artisanal meats, cheeses, fish, breads and desserts, a city tradition since 1888. After dinner, check out Gothenburg’s notable craft beer scene at Wardhuset Tullen and Brewers Beer Bar among many others.
Gothenburg is also known as the “hip little sister” to Stockholm, and a great way to experience this vibe is to stroll the pedestrian-friendly shopping streets of the Haga district and the blocks around Magasinsgatan Street. Storefronts alternate between stylish boutiques and cool vintage shops with hip cafes and bistros where you can stop to enjoy a typical Swedish “fika” coffee break. One prime summer fika locale I enjoyed is the Magasingatan plaza with the Da Matteo café and food trucks.
A great way to experience the city like a local is to attend a game of Gothenburg’s popular sports teams: IFK Gotenburg soccer (summer and fall) or the Frolunda ice hockey team (fall and winter). Chanting, singing crowds make these fun events, even if you can’t understand what they’re saying, and the games speak for themselves. Tickets are easy enough to purchase online, or a hotel concierge can help guests book some seats.
Excursions from Gothenburg by Land
Gothenburg’s surrounding countryside features many hiking paths, quaint villages, and scenic hill country that begs an excursion from the city. Commuting by train to the countryside is a simple process, with automated ticketing and signs in English and Swedish.
Visitors should check out the new Gotladen hiking trail system, a 44 mile long walking course beginning in downtown Gothenburg and stretching through nature preserves and small villages north of the city. The gentle path is paved in most areas, offering shaded picnic spots and plenty of opportunities to stop for bites to eat, drinks, and overnight lodging stays. It’s easy to hop on a train to cover part of the route, and grab another for the return journey. Among the recommended stops along the Gotladen trail are the Poppels Bryggeri for a nice cool beer in Jonsared, and a hearty lunch at the woodfired grills of the Jernbruket (Iron Mill) restaurant in Floda. For a luxurious overnight stay on a rural estate, soak in the ambiance at Aspen Manor (Aspenas Herrgard).
Excursions from Gothenburg by Sea
Gothenburg’s location on the west coast of Sweden means easy access to two set of islands forming archipelagos to the north and south of the city. A favorite day and weekend getaway for locals, visitors too can take advantage of the proximity of these scenic islands to sail, fish, hike, bike, or just relax at a beach or seaside café. The small islands, with populations ranging from a few hundred to a couple thousand people, are home for charmingly preserved fishing towns, still with some commercial operations, but these days with more of a tourism focus.
A regular and frequent ferry system connects the islands to each other and the mainland, making travel here smooth sailing, just about an hour from the city.
One fun excursion is to go on a “Shellfish Safari” off the coast of the island of Hono in the Northern Archipelago with Kastor Boat Trips. On the tour, guests aboard a traditional fishing vessel can help the captain raise and lower crab and lobster traps, taking the bounty back to shore to be boiled up for a lunchtime feast—or on nice days the lunch is done picnic style on an island, after a seal-watching sail in the bay.
In the Southern Archipelago, Vrångö island is noted for hiking trails and sandy beaches and is a favorite for daytrippers from Gothenburg. After a day at the beach, chomp on fresh fish n chips washed down with Gothenberg lagers at the Hamnkrogen Lotsen casual eatery. For overnight visits, stay at Kajkanten Vrångö next to harbor, in boathouse-style units nicely designed with kitchens and lofts, great for family or couples’ weekend trips or even to stay an entire week. It also has a floating spa and hot tub boat, kayak rentals, and easy access to nearby hiking trails. It’s run by a convivial ex-Olympic Swedish champion wrestler who says his family has been living in the same house on the island since 1802, just one example of the unique local character of these islands.
A short ferry hop from Vrångö, visit the island of Strys, for hiking, kayaking, fishing, or maybe strolling to see the old churches and home gardens. Enjoy lunch at Café Obergska, then travel by ferry, or cross the bridge to the island of Dons for a fish dinner at Isbolaget restaurant and hotel located right on the docks.