With its charming streets, blue trams, eclectic architecture, endless parks and post-modern office buildings, Gothenburg is the perfect city for a sugar infused holiday or a semester abroad.
This overly instagramable town on the Swedish West Coast offers way more than its size suggests and boasts a good balance of cultural spots and outdoor spaces. One of the main attraction of Gothenburg, however, is its extensive food scene and numerous cozy coffee places – the best refuges on cold winter days or rainy weekends.
Here are 6 things to do to visit Gothenburg like a local.
Go out just because it’s the only time in the month you will see the sun
Although winters in Gothenburg are pretty sunny (do not, however, expect a warm and high Southern sun), spring has a bad tendency of looking more like a second serving of autumn. So, if the sun shines and the skies are clear, going out will like a need more than a choice – if only at least to get some of the Vitamin D you are desperately missing.
That is how you will often end up out and ready to enjoy the beautiful weather, only to see it turning grey – or worse, into rain – by the time you reach your bus stop. Yes, the weather here is also very flaky.
One other thing you will quickly notice: by November, the days get seriously short and if you are not a morning person it leaves you only a couple of hours of daylight.
The best way to deal with the meteorological circumstances in Gothenburg? Get ready fast, and be ready for anything. Even if it is sunny and 20°C out there, prepare also for rain (maybe even snow) and a sudden fall in degrees.
Go to Haga for coffee but end up downing a few pints in Andra Långgatan
Haga is the cutest and one of the most famous neighborhood in Gothenburg. Long paved streets, pretty shop windows and numerous Cafes spreading smells of cinnamon and coffee have turned it into everyone’s go-to spot in the city.
Overall a great neighborhood for a short wall, it offers a good shopping experience as well as a shot at visiting Hagakyrkan, one of the numerous Churches in the center. Close to some of Gothenburg University’s buildings (which are spread all over the city), it attracts a lot of students and easily becomes one’s favorite area.
Chances are, however, that in winter, with the sun setting so early, by the time you walked around Haga and visited a few of its adorable shops, you will feel it is time for a cool beer. Lucky enough, you will then naturally find yourself in Järntorget (which conveniently follows Haga). From there you’re only a few steps away from a warm pub and a comforting pint of Tail of a Whale (the local favorite for pale ale lovers).
Go for a healthy Sunday walk in Slottsskogen and spend most of the afternoon staring at the penguins
Slottsskogen, a lengthy park located right in town, is the top roaming and barbecuing area – all year round. It hosts large green areas, a mysterious “police station”, the Natural History Museum and its impressive whales’ skeletons, but also numerous animals ranging from seals to moose.
Everyone’s favorite is the penguins. I remember screaming in awe the first time I finally found them (mostly because they were way tinier than I expected). Really cute and extremely sociable, they will keep you in a state of marvel for a while, swimming around and posing for photos of videos. They also have a habit of flapping their mini wings and screaming to one another, and they will reply if you try to talk to them in their own language, how polite. I can tell you for a fact it WILL be hard to step away from them, but it would also be a shame to miss out on the stinky wild pigs or the meowing peacock – might as well make a round of hellos while you’re at it.
It is a bit sad to see the animals in small closed in areas, but you might have the happier surprise of running into a few deer in the wilder areas of the park.
Take selfies with the Cacti at the Greenhouse in the Botanical Gardens (Botaniska trädgården)
At the tip of Slottsskogen on the outer part of town, the Botanical Gardens offer another awesome Sunday/sunny day activity. It boasts tons of plants and flowers, including a bamboo zone and a real forest surrounding a small lake (or a big pound, depends on the point of view I guess). A bit grim in Winter, it looks bright in Spring and Summer (I am joking, there is no Summer here) and poetic in Autumn.
The most popular feature of Botaniska (at least on social media), is surely its greenhouse. It has a great selection of tropical plants, mosses, and cacti. Extremely photogenic, they make very great Instagram stars and selfie partners.
Plant lovers may also want to take a tour of the Garden Society of Gothenburg and its Palmhuset (Palm house), both a good place to see some green right in the center of the city.
From the delicious pastries to the strange savory combinations, the food scene in Gothenburg is a must. Here are a few of the local specialties you will die to try – or not.
Meatballs, mash potatoes, and lingonberry sauce
Anyone that has ever entered an IKEA knows this: meatballs are the epitome of Swedish food. Served with lingonberry sauce (usually an almost fluorescent jam) and mash potatoes, you just cannot avoid them! Your best guess is to try them in the covered market Stora Saluhallen, for maximum authenticity and minimum price.
Honestly, this is just a hot dog served with mash potato on top. I do not see the big deal.
Cinnamon roll / Hagabullen
The world famous cinnamon rolls take a whole new dimension – literally – here in Gothenburg. Go to Haga and its renown Café Husaren to try the very local “Hagabullen”: cinnamon roles the size of a very large hand. Add a couple coffee and you have the perfect Fika for two. Wait… Fika? If you have not been in Sweden yet, this might require an explanation: Fika is the Swedish art of taking a break and initiating small talk around a coffee usually accompanied by a sweet.
Candies, candies everywhere
Speaking of sweets, one may be shocked to see how fit Swedes are when you consider the amount of pastries, sweet and most of all candies that can be seen EVERYWHERE. Huge candy stores, with more candy types you even knew existed, can be found at every corner. Colorful and extremely attractive, they are a trap for your wallet and your teeth hygiene.
For those feeling adventurous, here is another local specialty which I really cannot wrap my head around: the Shrimp Sandwich. First, if – like me – you understand “sandwich” as bread-stuff-stuff-bread, then you will cringe at the very appellation. The Shrimp Sandwich is actually a large slice of bread covered with mini shrimps, “caviar” (pink fish eggs coming out of a tube that looks rather like toothpaste), eggs, mayonnaise, butter, and cucumber. Yes, that is one strange association of flavors.
Go home design shopping
To put it simply, design and home décor stores are literally impossible to avoid in Swedish cities. Gothenburg is no exception, and between local chains and second-hand stores, there are plenty opportunities to spend some money on giving your home a true Scandinavian makeover.
Sleek lines and whites are dominant, with an emphasis on natural materials and everything for plants, but candles are the star. They come in all shapes and smells and are a legitimate gift to give someone in Sweden.
If you intend to leave the country without a whole new house packed and ready (FYI – it will be difficult), these stores are still a great window-shopping opportunity, and they change their collection regularly enough for a bi-weekly visit to feel worth it.