What to do in Gothenburg when you only only there for 1 night and on a budget. I needed to ship a Hasselblad Camera, borrowed from them to cover the Olympic Games, back to their offices in Gothenburg. By courier and with insurance, it would have been circa £300. My mind astonished at this price, I wondered how much it might cost me to fly from London and personally deliver it. The result was a surprise. I am not sure if I stumbled upon a special offer but a 3 digit sum from Ryanair was simply too irresistible not to take advantage of. £9.95 and a couple of weeks later I was at 35,000ft on my way to Sweden with my friend Stuart who I persuaded to also take up the offer.
Located on the west coast of Sweden with a population of 550,000, Gothenburg is the second largest city behind Stockholm (900,000) with a healthy student population, a corresponding amount of bars serving craft beers and a vibrant art and music scene. It is home to an abundance of parks and walks with an eclectic mix of architecture to take in. What immediately strikes you is how clean and friendly it is. We had 24 hours in this city – read what I did below.
Having arrived at the spotless airport and stopped to admire a shiny classic Volvo on display, it is a short transfer by bus to the city centre’s bus terminal (adjacent to the train station). You can purchase a 24-hour tram ticket whilst here which offers great value and allows you to hop on and off at leisure. Before using this most wonderful form of transport, take the time to explore the city centre and grab some lunch. I was under the impression that meatballs were a Swedish delicacy and keen to try them but it transpires they are not. I enquired at the ticket office where to find the best ones in the city and the quick reply was Ikea!
Meatballs forgotten, we wandered around surveying numerous eateries based on looks, amount of people dining and value. As is so often the case, after 30 minutes searching we returned to the very first place we saw – Green Food. The exterior (a large green sign running the length of the restaurant) does not do it justice or entice you in. Our first impression was that it was a vegetarian restaurant, even though I was positive I had seen a guest eating chicken. On closer inspection, it turns out that they do indeed serve meat and guided by the descriptive photographs on display ordered Grilled Chicken with rice, glass noodles, avocado and peppers as the main ingredients. When it arrived, not only was the portion suitable for 2 hungry men, but also beautifully presented. The dressing of soy, chilli and ginger was sublime and brought the dish together. I am sure I detected a hint of fish sauce in there as well. Our first experience of food in Sweden was very positive and we knew that elsewhere would have a hard time matching its fresh, superb and incredibly good value.
We really wanted to see the city by foot with a few drags made easier by using the tram. Due to its relatively compact size this proved very easy. We spent the afternoon taking in the ambiance and sights feeling we had seen a fair proportion of the city. We walked the streets with the occasional shop name bringing childish laughs to us. Boys will be boys after all and with names such as Nudie Jeans Repair Shop, Pant Bank, Grand Passage, 21 Willys, Flash and Grill Grotesque. who could blame us. Stupid I know…
One highlight was strolling along one of the many canals in the city, one of which meanders through the beautiful Kungsparken Park. Canals are a definite feature of the city and with pleasant walkways and majestic trees it is a pleasant way to spend time and burn off lunch.
From the city centre, the harbour is just a short walk away so seemed an obvious place to head for a break and enjoy a well-earned IPA. We found Café Bommen which looked just about perfect with stunning views and bright colours set against a blue sky.
After a couple of beers, it was time to find our hotel located a short tram ride – 1.5 miles away. A quick freshen up and we headed back into the city for a drink and to find somewhere for dinner.
What surprised us was not the beer prices but the time a number of restaurants closed. It was only 20:00 or so but many were already not taking further orders which was a shame. Research led us to Beijing 8 – a dumpling joint that was very busy, contemporary and with a good beer list. We ordered 12 each (dumplings, not beers) which would be sufficient for most people but if I was feeling greedy could have done it all over again.
Day Two – What to do in Gothenburg
We had seen a ferry crossing the harbour on a frequent basis, so we decided to make this our first stop the following day. Rather fortuitously, its docking station on the other side was just a few minutes walk from Hasselblad so it fitted in with our itinerary perfectly. How to obtain a ticket was not clear, in fact rather problematic as we could not see a ticket office. Watching other passengers, it soon became transparent that tickets were purchased on board given that they just walked on. We followed suit only to be told that the crossing was free of charge. What a wonderful thing the city is doing here – policy makers around the world take note.
It took us just a few short minutes to get to the other side where we had a short look around at various historic warehouses and a theatre before dropping the camera back. In contrast to these older buildings is the Lindholmen Science Park located just a few metres which contains the brightly coloured building shown below. Before making our return journey we indulged in a fine coffee and pastry from a street vendor beside the mooring. You would usually expect this to be rather mediocre but it was the opposite.
In the late morning, we headed up to the Hasselblad museum by tram. We purchased a ticket that was valid for 1 year and could be used to enter 6 museums in the city which was great value, although we had no time to utilise it as the Haga district was beckoning.
Established in the 19th century as an area for the working classes, it was located outside the city walls with mostly wooden buildings. Today it is a must visit area for tourists who are drawn to its beauty, bohemian vibe and a long pedestrianized and cobbled main shopping street containing a plethora of unique shops, cafes and bars. The original houses from the 1600’s were renovated or replaced with replicas in the 1980’s although a few still remain. Along with the rest of the city, it is spotlessly clean and feels relaxed. That seems to be a theme in Gothenburg – it is just a tranquil place to be.
Having surveyed the various restaurants carefully by observing how busy they were and the look of the dishes (tables by the street) we elected En Deli Haga. This was a surprise to us both being meat eaters as it is vegetarian. The food just looked so amazing it enticed us in and was very much the right decision. It was not hard to choose – we went for the Luxury Deli which comprised a little bit of everything from the deli counter, sourdough bread and soup. What’s more, you are even allowed to go up for a 2nd helping should you have enough room.
It was really rather special to be sitting in Gothenburg under blue skies, the sun beating down and having incredible food in mid-September. Our plate contained a varied range of freshly prepared items such as hummus, salads, olives, beans, peppers, courgette, vine leaves and rice. I did go for a 2nd helping but not due to hunger but to continue experiencing the wonderful flavours. We sat for an hour or more taking in the scenery and people watching before the inevitable gift buying.
Haga is an ideal location to while away time searching through plenty of independent and artisanal shops for that something a little less predictable as a gift. My friend opted for a pair of clogs (tratofflor in Swedish) for his wife from Hagaträtoffelfabrik a cobbler that has been here since 1933. The shoes are now made elsewhere due to the volume they sell but used to all be made on the premises. I almost extracted my card to purchase a hat from the wonderful Stiernglans Shop but I was not convinced that hats suit me.
I could not make a decision so instead vowed to bring my wife here one day so she can choose her own. An easy choice given the beauty of this city. On that trip, I would definitely like to visit the archipelago to the south of the city which is supposed to be beautiful. The island of Branno was mentioned a couple of times for its walks, brightly coloured houses and stunning views. In addition, I would take one of the flat-bottomed boats (Paddan) that operate here to see the city from the waterways where you pass under around 20 bridges, one so low you evidently have to bend over in your seat. If boats are your thing you can also pick up a cruise here to take you along the Gota Canal with its 58 locks spread over the 120 mile length. That might just be the perfect way to travel to Stolkholm from Gothenburg.