No longer the less-known little brother to Stockholm, Gothenburg is coming into its own as travel magazines — as well as LGBT travelers– discover what Sweden’s second-largest city has to offer
Welcome to Gothenburg! My chosen hometown, once little-known outside of Sweden, is fast becoming a must-visit destination for travelers who want to see Europe beyond the capital cities.
Wine and dine
Condé Nast Traveller recently dubbed Gothenburg “the next port of cool.” The Guardian and the The New York Times have also noted this city as an up and coming food and drink hotspot. You can find excellent food here at every price point from inexpensive food trucks to elegant restaurants.
If you’re a seafood lover, you’ll find plenty of options on the menus of our restaurants: fresh fish: cod, salmon, sea bass, flounder, catfish etc. I promise you, fish tastes differently when caught in cold waters! We typically eat our fish with cooked potatoes and steamed vegetables. And even if you’re not into fish, most up-scale restaurants will serve organic meats, be if veal, beef, lamb, or chicken.
Vegetarians and vegans will eat well here. While I believe you should try Swedish cuisine, if you’d rather eat something else, we can offer you loads of choices, ranging from Chinese and Italian to Indian or Thai. With 130 nationalities living here, we offer plenty of choices. A couple of personal favorites: Sjömagasinet (Swedish), Pensionat Skäret (Swedish) or why not Tapasbaren (Spanish with a Swedish twist)
LGBT history and community
Like too many cities around the globe, Gothenburg has a dark LGBT history. For Gothenburg, this past includes the local tradition of “knacka bög” (“crack open faggots”). If I were to guide you, I could take you on a tour to highlight some of our darkest moments, some that I myself am lucky to have survived.
However, in recent years, the city has changed a lot. Together with Stockholm, we hosted last year’s EuroPride, with the final parade held right here in town. The past thirty years have witnessed a lot of progress here on LGBT issues.
I’m proud to see the rainbow flag everywhere across town, including on our streetcars and buses during the two pride weeks. We don’t have a huge number of gay clubs, they tend to come and go, and to best get a sense of what’s currently on offer, head to qx.se for an updated map and listing. However, Bee bar, just outside the city’s old food market (a must see in itself) is a great place to eat and enjoy people walking by. It’s restaurant by day morphing into a trendy hangout later in the evening/night.
Sweden legalized gay marriage in 1994. LGBT couples don’t raise eyebrows anymore. I tell LGBT visitors here not to worry about hotels or restaurants. It’s all cool. (Although, as with any place you travel, always exercise reasonable precautions and remain aware of your surroundings.)
Wide range of activities
Gothenburg is a very walkable city. (If you arrive when it’s raining, you can easily use the trams to get around instead) Explore the old city with buildings dating back to the 17th century. Röhsska, our famous design museum, is a must for any design aficionado. The art museum at the top of our main inner city avenue sports Monet, Chagall, Gauguin, van Gogh, Dali, Picasso and some of the most famous paintings from the Skagen-era, capturing the essence of the Scandinavian summer light.
I also highly recommend Universeum, our science museum, with its amazing “path of the water” where you can follow the water and the surrounding ecosystems from a tiny mountain stream to the Atlantic ocean, complete with aquariums, apes and birds. Next to it is our world heritage museum, showcasing the world and world cultures for free. I sometimes drop in when I have an extra hour and their exhibits never disappoint.
If you stay overnight here, Gothenburg offers an abundance of bars and night clubs, jazz hangouts, etc. Our local opera features one of the best contemporary dance companies in Europe and this year’s musical, Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, is bound to be a huge success. If you prefer classic music, the operas are usually very well done and our symphony orchestra is the best in the country!
Longer visits: frolic like a nature boy or girl
If you opt for a longer pre- or post-cruise visit, you’ll have a chance to see why this is a city popular with nature-lovers. Gothenburg is a sprawling city, but unlike places like Los Angeles, it’s mostly sprawling in green. The city was recently named the world’s fourth greenest city, i.e. with most parks, forests, fields etc. per capita. Over 313 square meters per inhabitant! By comparison, LA clocks in at roughly 48 square meters.
We have forests, large agricultural areas, parks and, I think most famously, our archipelago. About a third of the total area of the city of Gothenburg is water, ocean primarily, and strewn along the coast are smaller and bigger islands, some permanently inhabited, like the one where I live, others with small summer cottages, but most are completely uninhabited and just beckon for a nude swim in the summer! Yeah, that’s totally okay around here.
Sweden remains largely forest land. If you’re a nature lover visiting here in the summer or fall, find a friendly Swede to show you where to pick berries or mushrooms in the woods. Did you know that about a fifth (!) of Sweden is covered with blueberry bushes? We love lingon- and blueberries, and many Swedes have secret spots to gather the coveted chanterelle mushrooms.
Personally, I have a weakness for porcini mushrooms. Most Swedes aren’t much into them, so the Italians come here with huge semi trucks and cooling trailers to pick them and transport them down south where they’re dried and sold for a small fortune. That delicious risotto with porcini you enjoy in Italy? The mushrooms came from Swedish forests. To pick mushrooms and berries for free in our forests is an ancient right ensconced in our common law.
Climate and weather
If palm trees and heat are your thing, Sweden may not be your destination. But if you yearn for cool sea breezes and the luscious greens, you’ll find our climate very welcoming. Bring a rain jacket for the summer and a parka with a beanie and gloves for the winter and you’ll be ready to head out and enjoy what we have to offer.
Practical tips for visiting Gothenburg
Sweden belongs to the EU Schengen area, making visits here are simple if you have a visa for any Schengen country. As a cruise guest, you needn’t even think about that. Our currency, the Swedish Krona, is currently very weak, and it makes visiting Sweden cheap(er) for most foreigners. Yet we’re still considered expensive, due to our VAT-rate of 25%. (The universal health care my American friends envy is paid for by our high taxes.) Gasoline, alcohol and tobacco all carry high tax rates.
Restaurant food is often expensive, and even though many simple restaurants rely on self-service, our VAT still shines through. Tipping is included, so at least you needn’t worry about that, but you’re welcome to round up if you’re particularly pleased with someone’s service.
Don’t fret about cash. Sweden is very rapidly moving toward a cash-free society. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted everywhere. Public transport and taxis can also always be paid by card. Some stores and cafés no longer accept cash.
In terms of hotels (if you’re not coming by cruise ship), we have some pretty amazing choices, from Upper House, Sweden’s best hotel, to simple B&Bs and we even have a hotel ship, right next door to our opera, right on the river front.
Gothenburg has a great airport, easily accessible by bus or taxi from downtown. We are connected by several no-frills airlines and if you come in through a hub, we’re very well connected by most major European airlines. Our train station connects us to all Scandinavian capitals and—via Copenhagen—with the rest of Europe. We also have daily ferry connections to Denmark and Germany.
Come join me! I’m starting a new venture offering Gothenburg tours. See contact info below.
About the author
Hans M Hirschi is a fairly recent “cruise convert” with six cruises under his belt, all with his husband Alex and their son Sascha on Norwegian Cruise Line ships. Hirschi is the author of contemporary LGBT fiction and a Stonewall Awards nominee. His novel, Last Winter’s Snow, is a feel-good story about a Sami native and recent Swedish LGBT history. His travel and cruise experiences tend to find their way into his writing.
Hirschi lives with his family on a small island off the coast in Gothenburg, where he also offers customized tours.