Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2010-05-24
Located on the west coast, at an equal distance from Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo, Göteborg (the English call it Gothenburg) has been one of Scandinavia’s main centres of activity since it was founded in 1621…
It is also the region’s busiest port, able to handle over 30 million tonnes of merchandise. With its broad avenues, 17C canals and bicycle paths leading from town centre to the sandy beaches of Halland just south of the city, Göteborg seems to have been skilfully designed with the well-being of its residents in mind. There are 175 m2 of parks and gardens per inhabitant, including the Trädgårdsföreningen which features over 2,000 different kinds of roses.
Although Stockholm’s cultural effervescence is many miles away, Göteborg (population 470,000), Sweden’s second largest city, boasts 193 cafés, 671 restaurants, 25 theatres, 19 museums, 61,000 students and the Liseberg Amusement Park, one of Sweden’s most popular tourist attractions.
Whatever the season, Göteborg’s motto might be best expressed by ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body.’ In addition to the world-renowned sports centres which made it possible for the city to host the 19th European Athletics Championships in August 2006, one of the laureates of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine comes from Göteborg University, and Göteborg is also the birthplace of Hasselblad cameras, SKF bearings, Saab Ericsson space technology and last but not least, the legendary saloons manufactured by Volvo since 1927...
Göteborg in three days
Göteborg was designed and built by Dutch engineers in the 17C. Its canals, small bridges and geometric lines give the town a very picturesque allure yet today, even if the neo-Classical style is generally predominant. Although the shipyards closed in 1970, Göteborg is still essentially a maritime city firmly anchored in the North Sea. Everything, from the local cuisine to the Opera (which resembles a ship) evokes the city’s maritime vocation.
Day one: an island escapade
Take tram no.11 along the city’s main avenue, Kungsportsavenyn (which locals call Avenyn) to Saltholmen on the western edge of Göteborg. From there you can hop a boat to the islands of Vrångö, Styrsö and Brännö, famous for their cliffs, sandy beaches and B&Bs. In summer, ferries leaving from the Lilla Bommen marina (in the Nordstaden quarter, opposite the opera house) take passengers to nearby island of Elfborgs Fästning and to Vinga, the westernmost point of the archipelago. This island has a lighthouse which is well known by sailors and a nature reserve; it offers heavenly swimming and excellent fishing. The small Evert Taube museum features the art of Sweden’s most popular poets and composers.
Day two: discovering the city and its most emblematic sites
We recommend starting the day with a beautiful two-hour stroll to the Stigberget hill overlooking the Göta River on the west side of the city. After 20 or 30 minutes’ walk (tram no. 11 and bus no. 60 can also take you there), you will have reached the Masthuggskyrkan Lutheran church built on top of a hill. With its 360° panoramic view of the entire city, you will be able to spot the old shipyards of the Älvstranden quarter and the very impressive Alsborg suspension bridge dating from 1966 which hovers 45 metres above the river. The church itself, built between 1914 and 1919 by Sigfrid Ericson, is a monument of the ‘national romantic’ style. The first time the church bells rang, it was to announce the beginning of World War I. The wood interior, reminiscent of the Scandinavian churches of yesteryear, is very poignant with its rustic sculptures and miniature ships hanging from the ceiling. Sailors’ wives still come here to pray for the safe return of their sea-faring husbands.
Later in the morning, we suggest a visit to the Feskekörka - the ‘temple of fish’ - another highly picturesque and lively place. Seen from outside, this metallic edifice built in 1874 does indeed evoke a Protestant church. This ‘church’ located in the heart of the city near the Rosenlunds Canal is, in fact, Göteborg’s bustling and friendly seafood market. You might have lunch upstairs at the very popular restaurant Gabriel where you can choose amongst the many typically Swedish seafood dishes on offer.
After lunch, cross over the canal and head for Haga, Göteborg’s oldest neighbourhood (a 10-minute walk from Feskekörka).
European cities often have an exceptionally charming little quarter - London has Little Venice, Paris has the Marais, Bremen has the Schnoor... Göteborg’s Haga district, with its wood houses, cobbled streets, antique dealers, vintage clothing shops, bookshops and cafés serving cinnamon brioche is a bit of each. In the 17C, fishermen and their families lived in this district located outside of the fortifications; in the 19C it was inhabited by the working class. Today it is where the city’s bobos (bourgeois bohemian) have settled. Just above it, Linnégatan Street heads southward up the hill. Considered to be the city’s most animated avenue, it is lined with lively bars and cosmopolitan restaurants.
Another charming spot is Kronhusbodarna Square in the north of the city between the Stora Hamn canal and the port (where you will find the Opera House and the 23-storey Gothia Towers Hotel which has become the modern symbol of Göteborg). Known for its handicrafts, this cobbled pedestrian square has an 18C brick garrison house in the centre where classical music concerts are now held. On the west side of the square you will find a glass blower and a caramels and confectionery shop which has been selling homemade sweets since the 19C. On the east side are an old-fashioned tearoom and an antique clock repair shop which is well known throughout Sweden.
Day three: two must-see museums
When Göteborg is suddenly assailed by rain or fog, there’s no better way to escape the weather than by visiting one of its museums. In the centre of the city, Avenyn - lined with art galleries and bars - leads up to the enormous Göteborg Museum of Art: the Göteborgs Konstmuseum. Built in 1923 by Sigfrid Ericson, the museum is colossal; its size and proportions are reminiscent of Ceausescu’s palace in Bucharest. The impressive interior has marble staircases which you must patiently scale if you mean to visit the museum’s four floors. The collections are well worth the climb; the Konstmuseum houses several memorable masterpieces, such as Van Gogh’s Olive Grove, Picasso’s The Acrobat Family and some splendid portraits by Bacon. Above all, it is the perfect place to discover the great Scandinavian impressionists, such as the painter Carl Larsson who left for France and settled near Fontainebleau in the late 19C. Be sure to save time for the room dedicated to the work of Ivar Arosenius (1878-1909), the marvellous artist whose humorous scenes, famous throughout Sweden, have long delighted children and adults alike.
Motor car enthusiasts absolutely must visit the Volvo Museum. Situated in the west of Göteborg and reached via Route 159, this museum is a national institution. The entire history of Sweden’s premier automobile manufacturer is on display, from its beginnings in 1927 (when the first Volvo ÖV 4 was manufactured) to the recent YCC (Your Concept Car), a motor car entirely designed by women for women!
Amongst the thousands of cars exhibited, you can admire the legendary P1800 sports coupé which Roger Moore (alias Simon Templar) drove from 1963 to 1969 in The Saint. In Sweden Volvo is also the ‘people’s car,’ as characterized by the PV 444, which exemplified Scandinavian design and dependability for over a decade.
Where to go for a quick lunch in Göteborg?
Feskekörka is a traditional seafood marketwhere you can buy fish and shellfish caught the previous night or early the same morning. We recommend stopping in for lunch at least once at the Gabriel restaurant upstairs. Gunnar Malm, the moustachioed chef, prepares simple, typically Swedish specialties such as North Sea oysters and prawns, bleak roe on toast, herring with warm potatoes and västerbotter (a yellow Swedish cheese), as well as all sorts of smoked and marinated salmon, eel, trout roe, crayfish and saffron-flavoured fish soup… A genuine Göteborg institution, with plenty of local atmosphere! Entrees begin at 145 SEK (around € 15 or £ 13).