Gothenburg – Travel Review
by David Leck
Gothenburg is home to Volvo cars, Bjorn from ABBA and, according to many Swedes, it’s the party town counterpart to the country’s more stately capital…
There is something rather reassuring, faintly old-fashioned about Scandinavian cities. They work. Service is generally excellent. People are friendly and courteous. And public transport is seemingly faultless. Even in early December when daytime temperatures can plummet to minus 12 and nightly snowfall does little to interrupt daily life.
Gothenburg (pronounced Yurtebor) might not have the grandeur and swagger of Stockholm, but with its café culture, excellent shopping (we’re talking quality, not bargains), outdoor spaces, arts scene and a smattering of good museums, it definitely merits serious consideration as a weekend break.
Founded in 1621, Gothenburg lies at the mouth of the Göta älv river – an arm of the North Sea – and is, today, the largest seaport in the Nordic countries. It also boasts a thriving student population, giving Sweden’s second largest city a fun, youthful exuberance.
This isn’t a city that is going to have you running around trying to squeeze everything into a weekend. Instead, Gothenburg is about soaking up the atmosphere. You will wander cobbled streets and grand 19th century boulevards, seeking out examples of chic Scandinavian design and savouring a renowned coffee house ambience.
“A completely different experience depending on the time of year you visit”
Getting around couldn’t be easier. Most Swedes speak a standard of English that makes you want to hang your head in shame at your own linguistic failings. While an 80km tram network ensures the short hop between most key attractions is an easy, pleasant experience.
This is a city where old and modern blend with Scandinavian ease. You can see it to great effect in Gothenburg’s architecture. The Kronhuset is the city’s oldest building and created by the Dutch between 1642 and 1654 as an artillery store. It’s magical around Christmas when handicraft stalls populate the interior and surrounding grounds.
The city’s opera house was completed in 1994 and inspired by its maritime setting, architect Jan Izkowitz fashioned it to resemble an “imposing ship… soaring across the landscape like wings of a seagull”. Poetic licence run amok maybe, but there’s no denying it is a world-class building of which this city is justifiably proud.
With a northern oceanic climate, the seasons here can be extreme. On long summer days daylight can extend for as much as 17 hours. On winter days the sun appears fleetingly. Gothenburg boasts the portfolio of seasonal identities that make such cities so fascinating. It’s a completely different experience depending on the time of year you choose to visit.
In the summer months, the Liseberg amusement park proves a captivating draw. It is the largest in Scandinavia and Sweden’s most popular visitor attraction. It is also close to the Universeum science discovery centre, while the Botanical Gardens are considered among the most important in Europe.
“Be prepared to gasp as you reach for the wallet”
If you choose to visit in winter, you will get a richly contrasting experience. This will probably be typified by exploring the city’s museums, spending time in the vast Nordstan shopping complex (Scandinavia’s largest) or dipping in and out of inviting, cozy bars and coffee houses.
The district of Haga is also worthy of your consideration. Noted for its picturesque wooden houses and cafés (are you sensing a theme here?), it is also home to the wonderful Hagabadet Spa. An oasis of calm and pampering created within a late 19th century bath house built for the poor. There is good reason this appears in many guidebooks as one of Gothenburg’s ‘musts’.
Like the rest of Scandinavia, this is not a cheap destination. Accommodation is of a high standard but certainly not for the budget conscious. Expect London prices-plus when dining out. And, if you like your booze, then be prepared to gasp as you reach for the wallet.
With direct flights from Manchester (and a new direct BA service from Heathrow), Gothenburg is an easy short break option. It is a place that is more about Scandinavian order and pleasant meandering at a relaxed pace than a full-on “exciting” experience but as cities go it’s got bags of charm, lots of (the right) attitude and a chilled style that perfectly mirrors that of its often stylish citizens.
Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) flies from Manchester from around £70 return and City Airline (www.cityairline.com) from Birmingham from around £160 return. BA (www.ba.com) has a new direct service from Heathrow (fares from around £100 return) and Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) operates from Stansted from around £60 return but has the benefit of arriving into the more centrally-located Goteborg City Airport. The centrally located Radisson Blu (www.radissonblu.com) has rooms from around £110 a night.