The most challenging thing about visiting Göteborg, the canal-crossed city that is Sweden’s second largest, was figuring out how to pronounce its name. The easiest thing was just about everything else.
Swedes pronounce it “Yo-Te-Borrie”, anglophones say “Goth-en-burg”. Either way, from its walkable neighbourhoods to its effortlessly bilingual residents to its robust coffee and its seamless public transport that can take you from the city centre to the islands in its archipelago, Göteborg surprised us with its immediately accessible low-key Scandinavian charm. Formerly an industrial centre, Göteborg has remade itself in recent years as a destination for students, tech workers, artists, musicians, craft brewers and visitors from across Europe and beyond.
Our stay in early June was filled with unexpected delights. They started when we emerged from the Flygbuss, the shuttle that brings travellers from the region’s recently expanded Landvetter Airport into the city centre. Bags in hand, we walked directly into a marching band on the Kungsportsplatsen playing Hooked on a Feeling. Part of a music festival, the band marched one way and we headed another toward our hotel, the Hotel Vanilla on Kyrkogatan, just a few steps off the square.
At the hotel’s Café Vanilla, conveniently located on its ground floor, steaming lattes and sweet kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls) cozied up next to microbrews and vegetarian panini from early morning till late in the day. In the surrounding streets, sushi bars and Indian restaurants intermingled with candy boutiques, tea houses, bookstores, shops featuring sleek Swedish housewares, and hipster barbers.
A few blocks away from Hotel Vanilla, we strolled around the harbour, home to the Port of Göteborg, the largest port in Scandinavia. At its heart stands the strikingly modern, red-topped Lilla Bommen, a 22-storey office building from which you can see the city. Below, the Maritiman, an interactive maritime museum featuring ships, boats, and barges, floats along the sea wall.
From the harbour, we made our way beside the city’s canals, originally designed and built by the Dutch who had settled there in the 1600s, passing by the massive Museum of Göteborg, formerly the Swedish East India Company offices, and Postgatan, the historic street down which thousands of Swedish citizens – including my great grandmother, in 1896 – walked to board the emigrant ships that would bring them to the United States. The imposing buildings and bustling commercial streets quickly gave way to the brick-and-wood three-storey houses and cobblestone lanes of the Haga neighbourhood, a historic and recently rehabilitated area filled with cafés, boutiques, and bakeries, one of which sold the largest cinnamon rolls we’d ever seen, larger than a dinner plate.
Passing through Haga, it was a quick although steep walk up several dozen steps to the Skansen Kronan, where gorgeous panoramic views of the city are shored up by the 300-year-old crown-topped fortress, originally built to protect Göteborg from invaders who never came.
City residents and visitors from around Sweden invade the Liseberg amusement park every day that it’s open (from April to December). Centrally located, wildly popular and beloved, the exquisitely landscaped 100-year-old park was tons of fun to stroll through for free, thanks to the Göteborg city pass. Then, our spirit of adventure got the best of us and we chose to ride the Balder, a Viking-themed wooden roller coaster that lasted all of 45 scream-filled seconds but had me laughing long after we’d staggered from the car.
Göteborg’s endless green spaces, dynamic neighbourhoods, historic squares and inviting restaurants and bars charmed us at almost every turn – but we still wanted to get a little further afield. We decided to hop on the tram, which runs smoothly and efficiently through the city on electrified rails. We boarded the streetcar at the historic Gustavi Domkyrka church and took it to the last stop on the line in Saltholmen. From there, we then boarded a ferry to Styrsö, one of the small residential islands off the city’s coast.
Filled with red-roofed houses, blooming gardens, docks and rocky outcroppings, and just a few restaurants, Styrsö felt like a different world. We strolled its lanes, admired its houses, its church, and walked to the water, waiting for the sun to set. Late into the evening the light lingered in the sky, so that even as we headed back to the ferry close to midnight, we could make our way in the ambient light, one last effortless moment, courtesy of Göteborg.