The inside guide to Gothenburg, Sweden’s stylish second city
As the coastal city marks its 400th birthday in 2023, explore its new districts, lesser-known eateries and picturesque archipelago.
At the most basic level, Gothenburg is Sweden’s second city, but there’s so much more to say about this rapidly transforming port centre. Perched on the country’s west coast, at the gateway of its namesake archipelago, it’s equal parts down-to-earth and chic, with towering shipping cranes and whitewashed fishing boats alongside design shops, museums and lustworthy restaurants. The city’s also planet-conscious, topping the Global Destination Sustainability Index for the past six years, and dynamic, with cool new districts growing up alongside cobbled historic pockets.
Get to grips with Gothenburg’s history, from prehistoric times to present day, at the Museum of Gothenburg, primely placed in the 18th-century former Swedish East India Company headquarters, on the banks of Stora Hamnkanalen canal. For a glimpse at the city’s future, make instead for the underrated Museum of World Culture, near the popular Liseberg amusement grounds. Free to enter, it’s a trot through global maritime, social and political landscapes, and celebrates Sweden’s burgeoning multiculturalism.
Over in the east, Gamlestaden translates to ‘old town’ but happens to be the city’s hottest new district. A clutch of industrial buildings in this once-down-at-heel neighbourhood have been reclaimed by enterprising business such as Wine Mechanics, Sweden’s first urban winery. Sip through the range at the bar of the former slaughterhouse, where winemakers crush organic Furmint from Hungary and Syrah from the Rhône Valley to make experimental tipples.
If Gothenburg has one must-see district for visitors (much-loved by locals, too), it’s historic Haga, with its cobbled streets and cute boutiques. Rather than sticking to the main Haga Nygata shopping drag, after filling up on salted liquorice at Lakritsroten and browsing the antique shops, cross Linnégatan road to the more low-key Linné neighbourhood. Saluhallen Briggen is the food market where Haga’s workers get their lunches, whether Vietnamese broths or breaded plaice with remoulade and mash potatoes. Austrian restaurant Manfred’s Brasserie is the glorious opposite of trendy; cosy and homely, it has specials scrawled on a chalk board and a fabulous Wiener schnitzel. Meanwhile Tredje Långgatan street is lined with hip eateries, cafes and bars for after-dark adventures.
If it’s great drinks you’re after, you’re in for a treat elsewhere in this city, too. On a quiet street just off the main nightlife strip of Kungsportsavenyen, Familjen serves ace cocktails – think twists on a sidecar with sorrel- and spruce-infused green iced tea – in a moody space. Meanwhile, Bar Bulot pairs a knock-out selection of natural wines with modern Swedish food. Its semi-secret location in Gothenburg’s main produce market, Stora Saluhallen, means many visitors miss it, but snag one of the counter seats at lunch for the likes of baked haddock with blue mussels.
Speaking of eats, there’s nothing more Swedish than fika, the national coffee-and-cake ritual. Brogyllen Hamngatan and Café Husaren, famous for its oversized cinnamon buns, are big hits with visitors, but to feel like a local, sip artisanal coffee at da Matteo Magasinsgatan, in a street art-decorated square. Then, get a sourdough cinnamon bun to take away from Alvar & Ivar and nibble in nearby Slottsskogen park.
Gothenburg is blessed with plenty more green spaces. The southwestern Gothenburg Botanical Garden is a guidebook favourite, but you can also find a miniseries of greenhouses and landscaped rose gardens tucked away in downtown’s canal-side Kungsparken. For the real outdoor standout, make your way to the 20-or-so islands in the Gothenburg archipelago, easily reached from downtown via direct ferry or a combination of ferry and bus. Hönö has a boutique hotel and seafood restaurants, plus a spectacular coast with rainbow-hued rock formations. Here, guide Jennie Walker of Walkers Naturturer organises kayaking trips around the archipelago’s wood-house-crowned isles or on guided walks along the waterfront. Alternatively, Kastor Boat Trips will whisk you off on a seafood cruise where you can catch and cook your own crab.
Like a local: Erik Davis’s guide to hidden local favourites
Erik Davis is owner of traditional clog shop Haga Trätoffelfabrik, in the Haga district.
1. Göteborg Manufaktur
There’s no other place in town like this heritage denim shop, great for workwear and high-quality wardrobe staples. It has an on-site bespoke trouser maker, and every item comes with unlimited repairs. Fans of boutique stores are sure to appreciate what they do. goteborgmanufaktur.se
2. Mariaplans Korvkiosk
This retro kiosk in Mariaplans is great place to try a ‘support dog’ — a hot dog that Swedes buy on on their way somewhere as a pick-me-up for the commute. Order the ‘halv special’, with mashed potato on top and covered in shrimp salad. It’s as unusual as it is delicious. Mariagatan 6
3. Le Village
Stepping inside this antique shop in Linné, a gorgeous old space with rough-hewn wood floors, feels like stepping back in time. From traditional Swedish painted furniture to leather club chairs and 19th-century bookcases, it’s a treasure trove of vintage finds.
4. Kaffestugan Lyckan
Mainly frequented by locals, this cosy cafe is a great breakfast spot: order an open-face sandwich with bacon, egg and pickled beets from the handwritten menu and enjoy it next to red-faced dock workers. Pair a visit with a walk around the surrounding Delsjön nature reserve. Storatorpsvägen 55
This alternative cinema in the Haga neighbourhood puts on its own themed festivals, with English-language viewings, too. It’s also a popular meeting spot — a cool place to drink and order a bite from the vegetarian menu, especially in the summer, when there are tables outdoors. hagabion.se
Top tip: Seeking some only-in-Scandinavia shopping? Magasinsgatan and Haga have some cute places, but you’ll find a glut of locally made goodies next to the 17th-century Kronhuset building, in the central Nordstaden neighbourhood. It houses a soap factory, pottery shop and a chocolate maker, plus a country store bursting with a range of Swedish treats.
Published in the March 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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