In film and fiction, there's no character more enticing than the underdog. And the same goes for cities. While Stockholm is deservingly praised for its effortless style, medieval streets and competitive fine dining scene, Gothenburg is too often left in the shadows. Yet just hours after arriving in this compact, laid back city, we knew it would always be our first choice.
Stylish, relaxed and warmer than a freshly baked cinnamon bun, Sweden’s second largest city bursts into life in the summer. It is the best time to get a flavour of its famous music scene, which plays host to an eclectic bag of artists. In fact, wandering around on any given evening, you will hear everything from chirpy buskers to bands entertaining dancers on the fringe of the parks. Not to mention Way Out West, the three-day festival that has turned Gothenburg into a mecca for music lovers in August.
The city’s approachable size makes it easily to explore by foot or bike. Its cobbled centre (a hardcore hippy hangout in the 60s and 70s), traditional red wood buildings and striking contemporary architecture providing the perfect backdrop, while old, pale blue trams yawn their way across the city, ferrying locals around the lake-speckled parks, coffee-scented squares and glistening canals. It is one of the most tattooed cities in the world, with people of all ages sporting ornate body art, while their innate, clean-as-a-whistle sense of style feels like an afterthought rather than a conscious decision.
Locals are infectiously friendly and sociable, valuing their downtime by making use of the city's abundance of unspoiled green space – 274m2 per person, to be exact. On warm evenings, when the sun can hang in the sky until 11pm, they can be found on the grassy banks of the river, or sipping local beer at the outdoor bars that line the water. The city has adopted twelve ambitious environmental objectives to be achieved by 2020, including sustainable forests, clean air, low-emission traffic zones and reduced climate impact. Perfect, crystal-clear water runs from the taps, while most of the food you will come fresh from the surrounding land and waters. On warm days, locals head to Gothenburg’s famous archipelago, a collection of twenty islands scattering along the coast, full of toy town fishing villages, wild stretches of land and squeaky-clean beaches.
The city’s culinary scene is quietly exploding – made up of seven Michelin stars, colourful food trucks and hundreds of forward-thinking restaurants where organic, seasonal eating is not a trend but a way of life. Fika, the hopelessly Swedish daily ritual of coffee and sweet treats, takes place at the endless cafes and coffee shops strewn around the city. Some are traditional, while others are furnished in the spare, cosy style that defines modern Sweden – candles flickering from morning to night, sheepskin rugs tossed over sturdy mid-century furniture and wide windows drinking in natural light. Fish and world-famous oysters grow slowly in the icy waters of the North Sea, developing the deep, full flavours that flood every dish. and the clean, crisp air blowing in from the sea and surrounding countryside is enough to blow away the thickest layer of cobwebs.
Liberal, creative and refreshingly unpretentious, Gothenburg is a city where anything goes, fuelled by a noticeably young population who cherish Swedish tradition with their eyes fixed firmly on the future. It is a place that feels at once like home, but is full of surprises around every corner. Which explains why we spent the last night at our favourite natural wine bar, toasting a plan to spend two months of next summer here. If you’ve never thought of visiting this city, now is exactly the right time. Just promise you won’t tell anyone.
Jinx Food Truck
Open for just a couple of hours most lunchtimes, the queues to the window of this Asian food truck have remained long and winding since it was launched in 2015 by two local chefs. The self-titled ‘Bastardized Asian Street Food’ menu is concise and heavily addictive – steamed pork belly buns with peanuts and kimchi salsa; vegan bao buns with fried shallots and umami-rich marinated tofu; ‘thaicos’ with minced pork, lime and garlic. Locals wolf them down on the outdoor benches with a dash of sriracha and cans of sunny Trocadero.
Cinnamon buns (kanelbullar) play a vital role in the national Swedish pastime of ‘fika’. Along with good company and a hot cup of coffee, cafes across Gothenburg compete to serve freshly baked buns to rival the most guarded grandmother’s recipes. Husaren is a classic bakery in Haga, selling everything from squidgy banana breads to tarts, cakes and crumbles. But it is their mammoth cinnamon buns that pulls in the crowds. Why? Because they are the size of a giant’s frisby, and come warm, sticky and perfectly spiced.
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Run by one of Sweden’s most respected restaurateurs, this Michelin-starred spot gives you the chance to eat the freshest seafood imaginable on the sparking Klippan waterfront. This traditional falun-red wooden house dates back to 1775, and was once used as a warehouse by the East India Company. Most of its original features remain, with thick beams cutting through the interior, creaky wooden floors and vaulted ceilings. Outside, tables fill a waterside veranda overlooking the dock, where fishermen tend to old sailing boats and seagulls swoop overhead. Come at lunchtime for the summer buffet, where you can help yourself to platters of shellfish, prawns, baked cod, smoked salmon and cured fish, which locals lap up with frosty glasses of champagne. Oh, and apparently Bruce Springsteen’s a huge fan…
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Wakal Street Food
Follow your ears and nose to this taco truck, which is perched on the canal across from leafy Kungsparken. Music pumps out of the little black van, while locals line up to order from a daily-changing menu of tacos, quinoa corn bowls and guacamole, whipped up on-site using the freshest ingredients.
Critics falling for this fine dining gem, which the owners have designed ‘as an extension of a living room…where everyone feels at home’. Offering rustic dishes inspired by Sweden’s West Coast (nicknamed ‘Best Coast’ by locals), the ambitious chefs are dedicated to traditional cooking with a modern flair. Take their ‘Menu Familjen’, which includes tender entrecote with cabbage and oyster sauce, or the silky trout roe with grassy agretti, followed by strawberries with tarragon, oats and creamed milk. Along with a stonking wine list, Familjen has also made a name for itself as a cocktail destination, with locals filling wrap-around veranda to slurp oysters and high-grade G+Ts late into the sunny evening.
We’ve often thought that heaven would involve cocktails, wine on ice and king sized platters of shellfish. So we were understandably excited to discover this elegant bar and fine dining restaurant on the 23rd floor of the soaring Gothia Towers. Order an icy cocktail from the plant-filled marble bar, peruse a menu of local fish, organic meat and seasonal vegetables and take the views of Gothenburg’s tapestry of red and yellow buildings from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
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Robin and Christiane Edberg opened their first bakery back in 2008, and they have since become synonymous with Gothenburg’s artisanal baking revolution. Everything is made by hand on-site, preserving old methods of slow baking with ancient cereals and grains. Using flour from a small mill in Väröbacka, just south of the city, Cum Pane (meaning ‘company’) makes the most of the abundance of local produce, using only organic, seasonal ingredients in every bake. They stock only the best local cheese, juice and preserves, and use local fruits and berries in their award-winning sweet rolls. “The simplest things have to be done to perfection.” Robin tells us. Needless to say, you won’t find a better cinnamon bun in the city. And probably the entire country. Their tiny, warm bakery in the leafy neighbourhood of Majorna is a staple of the local community, who flock here to buy their daily bread, sweet treats and coffee from the small wooden counter.
If it’s a burger you’re after (when are you ever not?), then look no further than this abandoned barn-turned-local hotspot. Prime cuts of beef, locally-sourced veg and homemade mayo go in to every one of their handmade buns. Four friends set this place up back in 2013, dedicated to combining Swedish produce with classic American flavours.
In stark contrast to Gothenburg’s typical bright, wood-clad restaurants, Natur serves up organic, inventive dishes in a wintry room where candlelight flickers against forest-green walls and guest cosy up on Ercol chairs beneath soft brassy lights. The best way to experience the phenomenal (and pretty reasonably priced) cooking is to choose the three-course ‘chef’s choice’ menu.
While locally-sourced Swedish veg is at the core of every menu, you can expect to be blown away by plates like horseradish-dashed beef tartar, rooster with truffles and baked celeriac, cod with smoked mussels, and tangy raspberries with caramelized chocolate cream and rosemary. All washed down with a few glasses (read: bottles) of their carefully selected natural wines.
Geijersgatan 12, Gothenburg
Gothenburg is synonymous with speciality coffee these days, and it’s all down to Da Matteo, the city’s first third wave coffee shop specializing in small batch beans roasted on site. Since opening their first site in 1995, Da Matteo have reinvented Gothenburg’s classic cafe culture. Their biggest branch can be found in Magasinsgatan, a sunny square brimming with hipster food trucks, concept stores and tattooed locals sipping artisanal beer on reclaimed wooden benches. This particular Da Matteo occupies a former car parts warehouse, and is home to their giant roaster. Locals spread themselves across the café’s two rooms, where candles burn, baking cinnamon buns fill the air and sacks of carefully-selected coffee beans are piled on the stone floors. The staff are made up of various world coffee champions, with a shelf of shiny trophies lined up on the back wall. Coffee don Markus Vestergaard led us through a tasting session one morning, pouring, testing and timing five perfect cups, which we slurped up with spoons. “If people want to learn about the finer details of coffee, we’re very happy to teach them.” Markus tells us. “If they just want to come in and drink a cup of coffee, that’s ok too. Sweden has a long coffee-drinking history. We’re not trying to change the traditions; we just want to give people the option to drink the best they can.”
Tacos and Tequila
You’ll find this perpetually buzzing bar and eatery in Tredje Långgatan, an old harbour quarter that is now home to some of the city’s best nightlife. Join pre-partiers at this loud Mexican-American joint for ceviche, quesadillas, juicy tacos and killer margaritas.
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This soaring, sun-drenched conservatory fills up fast on summer evenings. Locals come to drink spritzes and artisanal beers at the stone tables, which are separated by csky-high plants in terracotta pots. Next door you’ll find a dangerously good list of natural wines at Olssons, an industrial-chic work of art/bar arranged across two levels.
Tredje Långgatan 9
Visiting this achingly cool bar is a bit like stepping on to the set of Almost Famous, with Gothenburg’s hippest lining the walls sipping local beer and head-bopping to Lou Reed. DJs play most nights of the week, and you’ll find time slipping away as you sample the vast beer menu, snack on simple bar food and enjoy the lack of wifi. It might be located on the city’s coolest nightlife street, but you’ll most likely stay until closing time.
Andra Långgatan 20
This modest, stylishly disheveled espresso bar is run by a wine fanatic and one of the best cooks in the city. In the evening, the candles are lit, the kitchen is fired up, and the outdoor tables fill up with beautiful people sampling cloudy natural wines and enjoying seasonal plates inspired by Asia and Europe. Grab a seat in the cosy, wallpapered front room to chat to the friendly, wine-loving young owners. There are only 12 seats, so booking for dinner is a must.
Brewers Beer & Bar
Kick off your evening with a few cold ones at this loud, friendly bar, which attracts a colourful mix of people and focuses on craft beer, natural wines and artisanal pizza made using their seven-year sourdough starter.
Tredje Långgatan 8
You’re never far from your next cup of speciality coffee in Gothenburg, and Viktor’s undoubtedly serves some of the best. Aeropress, cold drip, pour-over and every other coffee variety you’d never heard of until last year are on offer, along with perfect cheese toasties and homemade cakes.
Wander this peach-coloured indoor market hall for the very best Swedish produce. The semi-circular building dates back to 1889, designed by the renowned architect Hans Hedlund. You’ll find little bars to eat and drink at, with forty stalls selling everything from handmade chocolates and local fruits to freshly-caught fish, baked goods and cheese. Don’t you dare miss the cheese.
Situated in a hulking great boiler house in the harbour inlet, this alternative cultural centre plays hosts to a continuous line up of contemporary arts, including music, theatre, dance, workshops and art exhibitions. The on-site restaurant alone is enough of a reason to visit. Spilling out onto a waterside terrace in the shadow of the Älvsborg suspension bridge, it features a daily-changing lunch menu of seasonal comfort food, as well as a meat-free Sunday brunch popular with Gothenburg’s coolest kids.
RÖDA STEN 1
Commit a day to exploring Gothenburg’s scattering of postcard-perfect southern islands. Car-free, windswept and full of fishermen, they are easily reached from Saltholmen boat terminal. This June saw the launch of a direct ferry from Stenpiren in the city centre direct to the beauteous islands of Styrsö, Donsö and Vrångö, so getting there couldn’t be much easier.
Gothenburg Botanical Garden
On sunny days (and nights) you’ll find yourself taking full advantage of Gothenburg’s endless parks and green spaces. One of the most delightful is this rambling botanical garden, which features 16,000 specimens of tropical orchids, carnivorous plants and flowers, arranged across luminous greenhouses, rock gardens and herb patches.
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Floramor & Krukatös
Just when you thought Da Matteo’s biggest branch couldn’t get any dreamier, you’ll find this cluttered plant and pottery shop tucked away in the courtyard. Browse handmade pots, plates and plants, as well as works by Swedish artists, textiles and glassware.
Rum för Papper
No one puts more emphasis on life’s little pleasures than the Swedes. And when it comes to pens and paper, they look no further than this stationary haven in the hip arcade of Victoriapassagen. It’s surprising how much time can pass by browsing the wooden shelves of linen-bound notebooks, paper arranged by colour, pots, pencils and forest green suede pencil cases. It’ll make you want to throw your laptop off a bridge.
This eye-wateringly beautiful homeware shop should come with a warning: you will spend more money than you can justify on things you don’t need. By by god are they lovely. Set aside some time to browse the larger branch in Magasinsgatan, a softly-lit warehouse of velvet sofas, botanical posters, wicker chairs, lanterns and enough washed linen to sink a fishing boat. And then nip round the corner to their smaller kitchenware branch, where you’ll find Swedish ceramics, glassware and textiles, arranged like the kitchen you’ll never have. It may be time to up your baggage allowance…
This ‘Scandinavian Life Store’ is responsible for the effortless style of many a hipster from Stockholm to Malmo, and this branch offers a careful selection of clothes for men and women by high-end international designers. You’ll also find other Millennial Scandi staples, such silver jewelry, hats, backpacks and stacks of indie magazines.
If you still think clogs are reserved strictly for chefs and gardeners, think again. Wooden footwear is enjoying a stylish renaissance in Gothenburg, and you’re almost certain to jump on the clumpy bandwagon after a few days here. This cosy little shop in the Haga district has been selling top-quality Swedish clogs since 1932. The workshop in on-site, with handmade shoes in a kaleidoscope of colours covering the walls and ceiling. Our pairs have barely left our feet since.
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This airy shop in Haga has just about everything you need to deck out your home like a true modern Swede. Think wooden clothes ladders (yes, clothes ladders), stacks of pottery, linen sheets, filament bulbs and wicker bags.
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