One of the best ways to see Gothenburg is from the window of a tram. The trams run all over town and move slowly enough for you to get a proper look at the city. However, Gothenburg is a fairly small city, so the distances involved are perfectly manageable on foot.
Gothenburg is sometimes described as a large town. Almost, but not quite, a city. This means that nothing is very far away, and if you are in any of the central parts of town, like Vasastaden, Lorensberg or Inom Vallgraven (within the moat), you'll find that everything is within walking distance – it may even be quicker to walk than to take a tram or bus.
In the summer, Gothenburg is a wonderful place to be, being situated by the sea and having lots of cafés, vibrant street life and beautiful areas for pedestrian exploration. In May, when the bars and restaurants open up their outdoor seating, the nightlife seems to explode in a way that never fails to surprise you. The town is less lively in the wintertime, but since it is the second largest town in Sweden, there are a lot of concerts, museums and theaters to visit.
Gothenburg has a lot of diversity within the theater scene, with several stages at Stadsteatern, a number of independent theater companies, and the world-class opera house.
The Stadsteatern offers a mixture of new drama and classics, often performed in a grand and theatrical manner. The theater is situated at Götaplatsen, at the far end of Avenyn, and has a number of stages. The old and beautiful venue Stora Teatern, at the other end of Avenyn, is also used for some of Stadsteatern's productions. The Folkteatern at Järntorget offers a similar kind of repertoire.
Backa Teater and Angereds Teater are both situated in the suburbs and play mainly for younger audiences, something which is made quite evident by their heavy focus on lots of music and newly written plays. Teater Uno lies by the Central Station and is even more strongly focused on younger audiences. They are unorthodox and innovative.
The primary venues for farces and cabarets are Lorensbergsteatern near Avenyn, and Lisebergsteatern at the amusement park Liseberg. Their productions are rarely favored by the critics, but attract large and faithful audiences.
Göteborgsoperan, the modern looking Gothenburg Opera House, was opened in the 1990’s and the building dominates the cityscape by the river. It has a main stage for classics and other large productions, and a smaller stage which is mainly used for newly written operas. The opera enjoys a solid reputation for innovative and technically advanced set designs.
Most of the museums in Gothenburg are spread out around, but still close to, the city center. In a large English park–Slottskogen–you will find the Museum of Natural History on top of a hill. This is the place to go if you're interested in the diversity of life on our planet. And if science sparks your interest, don’t skip a visit to the Universeum, Scandinavia’s largest science center and home to everything from dinosaurs to sharks, snakes and even their own rainforest. At the end of Avenyn, the impressive Museum of Art looms in yellow brick over Götaplatsen. Röhsska museet is dedicated to design and to Chinese collections, and can be found at Vasagatan, which crosses Avenyn. Down in the harbor, a destroyer, a submarine, and a number of other ships make up Göteborgs Maritima Centrum, which is said to be the largest ship museum in the world.
While the main venues for classical music in Gothenburg are Konserthuset and Göteborgsoperan, Gothenburg plays host to all kinds of musical happenings. In other genres, major concerts and events are often held at Lisebergshallen or at Rondo. If an even larger venue is needed, the football stadium Nya Ullevi is sometimes used. But Gothenburg also has a lively music scene for small bands, with a number of venues. Most of them are situated west of the city center, within the moat and stretching west towards Haga and Långgatorna. Nefertiti has daily jazz concerts and sometimes world, blues or soul, and Jazzhuset is located in Vasastaden and, in spite of the name, they frequently hold concerts with new and interesting rock and pop bands. For country music, Oakley's is located nearby. Situated in this same area, Henriksberg often features blues bands.
Avenyn, with its of bars, late hours and throngs of people, is a very safe bet when it comes to finding large crowds and a party atmosphere, although bars and clubs of all kinds can be found all over the city. Most places close at three, but it is easy to find places that are open until five, at least on the weekends. The Rover, in Linnéstaden, is a warm, cozy pub that is a favorite of locals and is as well known for its atmosphere as it is for its passion for beer and its large whiskey selection. The burger and, surprisingly the veggie burger, also get a mention for being some of the best in the city. Right off Avenyn, Parken is just one of the city’s most popular nightclubs. Depending on the night you visit, you can find anything from theme parties to live concerts and all kinds of craziness in between. Other popular clubs in the city include Excet, right down the street from Parken, which has three floors, two dance floors and even a rooftop bar, and Park Lane, located on Avenyn itself with its stages, concerts, theater pieces and theme nights. Park Lane is also a popular spot with celebrities for late night after parties. If nightclubs aren’t exactly your cup of tea, you can try your luck at the Casino Cosmopol with its slot machines table games, poker, fine dining and live entertainment.
For a more laid back atmosphere, Barrique in Lorensberg is a sophisticated wine bar that also offers tasty plates of food and even theme menus with wine pairings sometimes. Publik is an "alternative" café and bar that is very popular among the young and hip of Gothenburg. They often have DJ’s spinning music, and the scene is as lively in the outdoor seating area as it is inside. It’s not just booze at Publik either as they put a lot of emphasis on their high quality coffee.
There have been many wars between Sweden and Denmark throughout history, and the Danes have occupied the fortress Älvsborgs fästning outside of Gothenburg many times. In 1613, Swedish and Danish delegates met in Knäred in the county of Halland for peace negotiations. This time, Denmark had occupied both Älvsborgs fästning and the areas which today constitute the city of Gothenburg. Sweden had to buy them back for the tidy sum of one million rixdollars.
But all of this happened before Gothenburg existed as a city. The town is one of many that were founded by the government in the 17th Century. This was part of their economic policy, because urbanization made it much easier for the king to exert control over businesses and collect taxes from the citizens. The inspiration for this came from Holland as the Dutch had a lot of influence in Gothenburg. In the late 16th Century, King Karl IX improved relations with Holland and in 1603, while staying at Älvsborg Castle, he decided to build a town on the island of Hisingen. The king wanted to create a miniature Dutch colony and construction began in 1604. This made the Danes rather nervous, however, and in 1611 the Kalmar war broke out. The Danes occupied Älvsborgs fästning, and you know the rest of the story.
In 1619, the new King Gustav Adolf II was staying in Älvsborg Castle. The Danes had reduced Gothenburg on Hisingen to ashes, but the Swedes would not give up. Instead, they planned a new site for Gothenburg on the mainland, a location which would be much easier to defend. It is said that Gustav Adolf II looked out from a hill in the marshlands, where Gothenburg now rests, pointed and said: "This is where we will build the town." This event is represented by a statue on Gustav Adolfs torg. But this statue is actually a copy of the original one, which fell into the sea off the Danish coast, after which it was melted down in Germany in 1942.
Göta älv, the river which runs through Gothenburg, has always played an important role in Swedish history. Archeologists have found the remains of an early Stone Age settlement from around 7000 BCE in the district of Kungsladugård near the river. In the 11th Century, the river constituted the border between Sweden and Norway.
In the 17th Century, Gothenburg boasted the most advanced defense system in Europe. It had a water-filled moat, a wall around the entire city, and two fortified towers: Skansen Kronan and Skansen Lejonet. Amsterdam, with its regular blocks and canals with trees and bridges, served as the prototype for the city planners. A large part of the city area was marshlands with deep layers of mud. This required a lot of draining, but piling-works were also employed. It is because of the mud that there is no subway in Gothenburg.
Today, the district inside the moat is considered extremely attractive, but that has not always been the case. King Gustav Adolf had such trouble populating the area that he gave tax reductions to those who settled there. And those who still resisted found their houses burned down.
Trade has always been important to Gothenburg. In 1731, the Swedish East Indies Company was established. The import of goods from the East Indies was not a new concept, the leading nations had been doing business with the Indies for more than a century. At first, business was thriving and the company made more money than the state did at that time. The first ship left port in 1732 and came back with silk, tea and china. But in the late 18th Century, times got harder. The fleet was old and there were import restrictions on tea in England and Holland. In 1806, the last ship returned to Gothenburg and in 1807 the company went bankrupt.
Nearly all Swedish towns have experienced more or less devastating fires. In 1639, the City of Gothenburg adopted fire safety statutes which placed the responsibility for fire safety squarely on the shoulders of the local populace. But that didn't prevent additional serious fires from reducing entire city blocks to ashes. Between 1660 and 1820 there were 11 large fires, but thanks to the canals, which divided the town into large city blocks, the damage was limited by natural fire-breaks.
In spite of all the fires, the custom of building in stone didn't really catch on until the end of the 18th Century. But with a new building code adopted in 1803, Gothenburg evolved from a town with wooden houses, characteristic for the time, into a modern city with tall stone buildings. These houses were built in the center of town, while lower wooden buildings remained a feature of less fashionable areas.
In one hundred years, from 1800 to 1900, Gothenburg grew by leaps and bounds. In 1820 the population was about 20,000 and in 1920 it was ten times higher at 200,000. The first wave of industrialism reached Gothenburg in the middle of the 19th Century, and the rich just kept getting richer. Large donations to the city conveyed immortality to people like Chalmers, Sahlgren, Dickson, Renström and Keiller, whose names still live on all over town.
During World War II, the engineering industry experienced a tremendous boom, especially the ship yards and the ball bearing industry. This engineering boom peaked in the middle of the 20th Century, and Gothenburg experienced a shortage of both labor and housing. After 1974, many of the shipyards went bankrupt and the times favored the automobile industry and the public sector instead.
In slightly more recent times, one of the more notable events is the construction and inauguration in 1994-1995 of the new opera house down by the harbor.
If you travel to Gothenburg by plane, you arrive at Landvetter airport, which is the obvious location for the Landvetter Airport Hotel. But unless you’re just in town on a layover, you will probably prefer to lodge in the actual city, which is full of different accommodations to suit any traveler.
Inom Vallgraven & City Center
From Avenyn, crossing the old city moat, you will find yourself at Kungsportsplatsen in Inom Vallgraven (which literally means “inside the moat”). This is the liveliest shopping area in Gothenburg, and you can find a large number of small and medium-sized shops along Kungsgatan and Fredsgatan. There are also many hotels here. They may sometimes look a bit anonymous from the outside, but the genuine city environment can't be beat. Hotel Vanilj is a personable hotel which is actually better known for its café, Kafé Vanilj. Other hotels in this area include Hotel Flora, and the luxurious Elite Plaza Hotel, located opposite the dome.
One of the classiest and most expensive hotels in Gothenburg, Hotel Eggers, is situated opposite at the square in front of the Central Station. The Grand Hotel Opera is less expensive and situated a few hundred meters towards the center. If you go down to the river, you will come upon Barken Viking, a historic old boat which now houses a hotel and conference facilities.
This area is home to the amusement park Liseberg, the World Culture Museum and a Science Center as well. There are several hotels to choose from in the area from the expensive, upscale Gothia Towers, to the less expensive Quality Hotel Panorama.
Also in the area, along Avenyn, you will find the Gothenburg Museum of Art, the Concert Hall, the City Theater and a large number of bars and clubs. The Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel, which is large and expensive and is probably one of the hotels in Gothenburg where you will stand the biggest chance of spotting celebrities. Also in the area is the Scandic Hotel Rubinen. A few streets down from Avenyn, you will find Hotel Liseberg Heden, with somewhat lower prices and more peaceful surroundings.
The central neighborhood of Vasastaden is a part of the city that mainly consists of old houses from the beginning of the last century. This area has a lot of good cafés and bars, and it may be the best area if you are looking for a good bar rather than a disco. There are also many small shops around, and a lot of students. Plus a number of hotels, like the Hotel Vasa and the small and friendly Hotel Lilton.
If you arrive by ferry you will find yourself in Majorna, to the west. This part of town feels very genuine and attractive with its old wooden buildings and green courtyards. The easiest way to get into the city center from here if you do not have a car is by tram, but the bus is always a possibility as well. If you walk, it will take you about half an hour. There are not as many hotels here as in the city center, but a good alternative is Novotel, just by the river, which has a good view of the arriving and departing ships. There are two popular hostels in the area too for more budget travelers: STF Stigbergsliden and Slottsskogens Vandrarhem.
Outside the City
There are places to stay outside of the town as well, and you can frequently find inexpensive, personable and interesting places if you just leave the city center. On the charming island of Brännö stands Pensionat Bagge, which hosts a ballad festival in the summer. In the beautiful wooded areas east of the city there is a campground called Delsjöns Camping, and south of the city extremely budget-conscious travelers can stay at the hotel Formule 1.