Things to Do in Gothenburg
Once run-down and on the verge of demolition, Gothenburg’s oldest district underwent a much-needed facelift in the 1980s and today, the historic quarter is one of the city’s liveliest and most fashionable neighborhoods. With its cobblestone lanes and distinctive 19th-century artisan buildings, Haga oozes character and the largely pedestrianized district is crammed with vintage clothing boutiques, independent designers and quirky antique shops.
Join the city’s creative types for a stroll around Haga and once you’ve finished browsing the shops and admiring the unique architecture, stop by the legendary Café Husaren, famous for its giant cinnamon rolls – a Swedish specialty – or relax at the stylish Hagabadet Spa. Another popular pastime is climbing the nearby Risåsberget hill, where the 17th-century Skansen Kronan fortress offers stunning views over Haga below.
With a history dating back to 1874, the Feskekörka is Gothenburg’s oldest market hall, Scandinavia’s largest fish market and the much-celebrated focal point of the city’s legendary fishing industry. Owing its peculiar name (literally: the ‘Fish Church’) to its church-like appearance, the Feskekörka’s unique surroundings only add to its charm and a stroll around the lively marketplace is a popular pastime for tourists.
Today the busy market remains largely unchanged from its 20th-century heyday, with elaborate displays of fresh, seasonal produce and a steady stream of top chefs, local families and visiting foodies haggling over the morning’s catch. From fresh-off-the-boat cod and halibut, to live spider crabs and lobsters, seafood lovers will find everything they need here, but even if you’re only browsing, head to one of the food stalls or restaurants, where you can sample local delicacies like pickled herring, smoked salmon or seafood smörgås (open sandwiches).
With its dramatic perch on the Gota River waterfront and a façade inspired by its maritime surroundings, the Gothenburg Opera House (Goteborgsoperan) is undoubtedly one of Gothenburg’s most impressive buildings. Inaugurated in 1994, the grand venue is the creation of architect Jan Izikowitz, and its ship-like silhouette and 26-foot tall Bård Breivik sculpture add a modernist edge to the industrial landscape of Gothenburg Harbour.
A large part of the opera house’s popularity is due to its varied roster of entertainment and the 1,300-seat stage plays host to an array of operas, musicals, classical concerts and ballets throughout the year. Behind-the-scenes tours are also available, offering visitors the chance to peek into the dressing rooms, watch the expert wigmakers, stage designers and costume tailors at work, and browse the extensive library, said to contain over 15 tons of sheet music.
Built in 1629 and known simply as Stortorget (Big Square) for two centuries, Gustaf Adolf Square gets its name from the plaza’s statue of Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden from 1611 - 1632. Notice how the statue’s finger points to the ground. Story goes, the king rode up Otterhällan Mountain and pointed to the fields surrounding the canal below, saying “The city shall be placed here.”
Snap a pic of yourself doing the same pose as Gustaf, and you won’t be the only one. Said to be one of the great military leaders of European history, the king is said to have steered Sweden to greatness in the Thirty Years War, so Gothenburg’s main square seems a fitting place for his statue. On the north side of the square, see Gothenburg City Hall, a neoclassical dream of gleaming white pillars, and a popular place to get married. Also look out for the city’s law court. Its 1934 extension, by leading Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund, has been much lauded by fans of his modernist style.
Whether peeking into the engine rooms and crew’s quarters of a North Sea freighter, learning how to navigate a submarine or sipping coffee on the deck of a 1960’s passenger ferry, there are few better ways to discover Sweden’s rich maritime history than with a visit to Gothenburg’s Maritiman. Much more than just a museum, the Maritiman ranks as the world's largest floating maritime museum, comprising around 20 vessels, which are moored along the Gota River waterfront and linked together by a series of walkways.
The museum’s star attraction is the huge naval destroyer Smålan, measuring in at 121 meters long, but other notable vessels include the Sölve, the museum’s oldest ship, which dates back to 1875; the 69 meter long submarine Nordkaparen; and the 1915 lightship, Fladen. Highlights of a tour include visiting Småland’s secret cryptograph room, getting a glimpse of life at sea in the medical rooms, cabins and kitchens.
As Gothenburg’s principal marina, Lilla Bommen forms the focal point of the city’s waterfront and the scenic riverside stretch is home to a number of top attractions. The eponymous skyscraper, Lilla Bommen, takes center-stage, a 23-floor skyscraper alternatively nicknamed “The Lipstick” or the “Lego House” for its unusual white and red façade, and its top-floor café offers expansive views along the Göta River.
Additional highlights include the Barken Viking, an early 20th-century merchant ship permanently moored in the marina and now home to a floating hotel and restaurant, the grand Gothenburg Opera House (Goteborgsoperan) and the nearby Maritiman, a floating museum of around 20 restored ships. Lilla Bommen is also the launch-point for boat cruises to the island fortress of Nya Älvsborg.
The biggest indoor food market in Gothenburg, upmarket Saluhallen hosts over forty shops and places to dine. Built in 1889 on the site of the former boatyard at Götaverkan, its iconic barrel roof was designed by Swedish architect Hans Hedlund.
Inside, shop at independently-owned delis for spices and cheeses, olives, fruits and chocolates. Look out for tasting samples as you wander! Organic, locally-sourced produce is as big as you’d expect in Sweden: look out for Saluhallen bakery, which sells all kinds of organic breads. Saluhallen Kungstorget, also known under the name Stora Saluhallen, is located a block from the canal on Kungstorget (Royal Square) in central Gothenburg, There are lots of bistro style spots with daily-changing menus that offer everything from soup to fresh fish. A few of its restaurants stay open late for summer too, and have terrace bars where you can sit outside and enjoy the Swedish sun.
Whether you prefer a nostalgic ride on the spinning teacups or a stomach-churning rollercoaster descent, there’s something for all ages and tastes at Liseburg amusement park, Gothenburg’s most thrilling attraction. Since opening its doors back in 1923, Liseberg has been consistently voted among Europe’s top amusement parks, drawing in over 3 million annual visitors and hosting a range of live music, dance and theater events during the evening hours.
Of course, the main draw is the amusements and there are around 40 hair-raising rides to choose from. Thrill-seekers can defy gravity on the award-winning Balder wooden roller coaster or the 1.4-kilometer Helix roller coaster; brave Europe’s tallest free falling ride, the AtmosFear; or enjoy the views atop the iconic Liseberg Ferris Wheel. Liseberg is also the center of Gothenburg’s yuletide festivities with the amusement park getting a festive makeover during the holiday season, serving up seasonal delicacies.
Buzzing with activity day and night, the grand main street of Avenyn (Kungsportsavenyn) runs for a kilometer through the heart of Gothenburg city center and makes a popular starting point for exploring the city. Laid out in the middle of the 19th century, the scenic parade is lined with stately architecture and crammed with shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as offering tram links to all the city’s top attractions.
Start your walk at Götaplatsen square, home to the City Library, Gothenburg Concert Hall and the Gothenburg Museum of Art, as well as one of the city’s liveliest nightlife areas, then follow the boulevard all the way to the Rosenlund Canal, where you’ll find the grand Neo-Renaissance Stora Theatre and the Kungsportbron bridge, from where boat tours set out along the city’s canal ways.
More Things to Do in Gothenburg
Gothenburg’s famous Slottsskogen Park contains 137 acres of woodland, open spaces, jogging trails and penguins right in the heart of the city. That’s right, penguins. At 2:30pm every day, you can even see the birds being fed at the lake they share with a group of clapping seals.
Throughout Slottsskogen Park there are open paddocks where you can see Swedish animals like elk, deer, and Gotland ponies. This is a park that doubles as a zoo -- the oldest one in Sweden. There’s also a children’s petting zoo, open in summer, where kids can get to know the park piglets, rabbits, and kid goats. It’s also fun to see the Swedish heritage area with small cottages from different regions. Once used as deer hunting grounds, Slottsskogen has been a protected park since 1874. Wander the forest trail in late summer, past native beech, maple, and oak trees, and look out for wild strawberries and blueberries -- the perfect trail mix -- right at your feet.
A collection of small islands located on the Kattegat Sea coast, the Southern Archipelago makes a fashionable holiday destination for Gothenburg locals, as well as a popular choice for boat cruises and day trips. The car-free islands offer a notable change of pace to mainland life, with their sparsely populated villages and traditional fishing settlements linked by scenic footpaths.
The largest and most built-up islands are Brännö and Styrsö, each served by a cluster of guesthouses and restaurants, but equally appealing are the tranquil beaches and sleepy villages of Donsö or Asperö, where walking, cycling and kayaking are the principal tourist activities. Additional highlights of a boat cruise around the archipelago include the nature reserve of Vargö, a top spot for bird watchers, the small isle of Köpstadsö, where wheelbarrows are famously used as transport, and the military-controlled Känsö island, which blooms with wildflowers during the summer months.
If you’re into sand tiger sharks or toucans, dinosaurs or all things space-related, Universeum is for you. Gothenburg’s largest science center, there are seven floors of things to do. Check out the Ocean Zone, one of Europe’s largest aquariums, where you’ll see 8 different kinds of shark go wild at feeding time, and touch the sandpaper-like skin of the local rays. Head to the indoor rainforest where you’ll see sloths, monkeys, and butterflies -- look out for poison arrow frogs too.
Opened in 2001, this huge science center spans 8,000 m2, with hands-on workshops on every level. One of the most popular spots is the Space section, where you can go inside full-sized space capsules and ‘jump’ on the moon. If you have a kid who is interested in being the next Sherlock Holmes, take them to the Crime Lab to learn more about how investigations work. In this section, the kids can also find out how good a witness they’d be.
Guarding the mouth of the Göta River, the island fortress of Nya Älvsborg was built in the 17th century to protect the city against Danish invaders and boasts a long history of warfare, coming under siege several times during the 18th-century Great Nordic War. Acclaimed as one of Sweden’s best-preserved castles, the sizable sea fortress has served a number of roles throughout the years, used as a prison in the 19th century and later as a storage facility during the First World War.
Since 1971, the castle has been maintained as a tourist attraction and boat cruises to the island are a popular choice for visitors to Gothenburg. Visits to Nya Älvsborg typically take the form of a dramatized guided tour, narrated by historic figures like King Christian IV of Denmark and Admiral Peder Tordenskiöld, while the castle’s prison cells, square tower and chapel provide an atmospheric backdrop.
There are few more atmospheric ways to discover Gothenburg’s rich maritime history than bedding down in a stylishly redesigned ship cabin or dining with a porthole view over the waterfront, making the Barken Viking one of the city’s most intriguing attractions. Despite itsname, the Barken Viking bears no relation to the Norse warriors – instead, the boat was built in 1906 as a merchant ship and since retiring from service has been permanently moored in Gothenburg harbor.
Today, the striking four-masted ship floats proudly in the Lilla Bommen marina and has been transformed into a hotel and restaurant, with marine-inspired décor designed to complement the ship’s original fittings. Although the ship is closed to non-guests, many visitors choose to enjoy lunch or dinner at the onboard restaurant or sip a beer at the top-deck bar – the perfect excuse to explore Scandinavia’s largest vessel.
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