Gothenburg and its archipelago were on my travel bucket list since 2 or 3 good years already. The need to disconnect from daily stress, material matters, as well as the desire to come back to simple things finally pushed me to book my flights and go there for an extended week-end. The ones during which you spend your time wandering in the streets, eating till bursting, catching up with a good book that you’ve started 2 years ago – yeah, I swear it’s possible – and exploring the archipelago and its peaceful surroundings, indeed. The ones during which you also make sure to turn off your phone and seize the present moment and the beauty of what is around you.
I’ve always loved nordic countries – even more since I lived in Finland – and I directly thought about them when I seriously started to need some me-time. Dominant nature, surrounding calm and locals sympathy are definitely pushing them to be a dream destination for anybody who is looking to recharge energy and run away from routine for a while. Gothenburg is the second biggest city in Sweden and is still pretty much unknown from tourists, in spite of the stunning landscapes of its archipelago or the atmosphere of its streets. I was originally not planning to focus on Gothenburg archipelago, but after discovering the beauty of the islands, it appeared essential to me to include it to this travel guide to get a complete overview. They are all year long easily reachable by ferry, which is a common public transport in the region – check out the few useful links I’ve included at the end of the post.
So here is my sum-up of the spots, flavours and activities I’ve loved the most during my trip to Gothenburg. Even though I stayed there for 4 days, the main things are doable within 3 days, preferably sunny if you want to fully enjoy the beauty of Gothenburg archipelago islands.
Gothenburg archipelago: Southern islands
After reading about the different islands around Gothenburg and their characteristics, I finally went to 3 islands in the southern part of the archipelago: Vrångö, Donsö and Asperö. This choice appeared quite meaningful afterwards, as each of them have their own personalities. Vrångö island is the one that is the most in the south of Gothenburg, as well as one of the biggest. I had the feeling that it’s the wildest island I’ve visited that day, as it’s covered by a big natural reserve and many coast paths and rocks to hike on, hiding some peaceful little beaches here and there. Donsö island is the one for fishermen and sailors, with its dozens of colorful fishing huts in the harbour. Most of the 1500 inhabitants living on it are going from one point to another by golf-car or motorcycles, as common cars are actually forbidden on the archipelago islands. Asperö, which is the third and last island I’ve been to, might be the most picturesque one, with its colorful houses and old wooden docks everywhere, to which many fishing boats are tied-up to. It’s also possible to hike to the top of the hill if you want to have a stunning view on the island and its surroundings.
To have time to visit the 3 islands within a day, I took a ferry to Vrångö around 11am in Saltholmen. You can see the most of the island in about 4 hours, lunch break in the middle of the rocks included. The restaurant near the ferry dock also makes delicious Chokladbollars. You’ll need a bit less time to explore Donsö and Asperö, around 2 hours each, while walking on a good rhythm. It’s possible to take a ferry directly from Asperö to go back to Saltholmen. You should also take good shoes with you if you plan to leave the beaten path and hike in the middle of the rocks like I did on Vrångö.
Things to do
• To discover Gothenburg
Wandering in the streets of Gothenburg is generally super enjoyable, no matter the area. One of the areas you absolutely need to see is Haga district, which is one of the most touristic ones, but also one of the most charming: paved streets, wooden houses surrounded by cute backyards, and many second-hand and antiquity shops characterise the hood. Right in the west of Haga, you’ll find the Linné district, which gathers around Linnégatan. This hood is slightly hipster, but has many good coffee shops, open-airs and the amazing Emmaus shop I’ll talk about below. Magasinsgatan district, which is on the peninsula, is full of cool fashion and design shops, good spots where to eat, as well as the university and the pretty church on Kyrkogatan. If you’re visiting Gothenburg during spring, stop by Järntorget place to admire the blossoming cherry trees.
• For photographers and architecture freaks
> Lejontrappan: Lejontrappan stairs are perfect to enjoy the view over the numerous bridges crossing the canal, where you can also take nice pictures before the sun goes down. Just next to it, you can find the Gothenburg city hall and the Gothenburg museum.
> The harbour cranes: they are easily reachable from Lejontrappan by feet and are also worth a good snap. Then enjoy the occasion to walk to the opera and the harbour.
> The Gothenburg opera is also a nice stop for all the architecture lovers. You’ll find it by the harbour, where you can also see the Swedish ship Göteborg.
> Nearby the harbour too, you’ll find Göteborgsutkiken also known as the Lipstick. You won’t miss it with its big red and white body.
> Älvsborgsbron bridge: much more in the south of Gothenburg city center, this bridge is located between Eriksberg and Majorna districts and cross Göta Älv. You can also visit Röda Sten art center, which is just under the bridge!
> Kuggen: I walked so much during my stay that I got too lazy to go there at the end, but the Kuggen, which literally means the tooth, is worth the detour. Some offices are inside the building, which is located nearby the harbour cranes in Lindholmen district.
• In case of rain
> The palm house in the Garden Society of Gothenburg is the ideal place to stay in case of moody weather, and it’s totally free. Plant lovers will find many species there, from exotic specimens to aromatic plants.
> The Gothenburg art museum highlights mostly nordic artists but also has a great international collection from artists like Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet,… The entrance costs around 5€ and you can easily see the most of the museum in 2 hours.
> The museum of world culture: I finally didn’t have time to visit this one, but the admission to the exhibitions is free and the topics seemed all super interesting. Most of them are treating about world cultural evolution in the globalisation context.
• For a stunning view
> Skansen Kronan: the parc is very nearby Haga district. Take the stairs to go on the top of the hill, from where you can enjoy an amazing view over Gothenburg. The best moment to go there is for the sunset, just sit on the grass and enjoy the landscape.
> Gothia Towers: I finally didn’t go there neither, but Gothia towers are apparently another good spot where you can have a global view of the city. Just enter the building and take the lift to the 23rd ground, where the Skybar is located.
Eat in Gothenburg
Quite unexpectedly, it’s the food part of this guide that is the most furnished, indeed. In spite of my badass stomach, I thought during one minute that my liver wasn’t alive anymore after I finished my first XXL Kanelbullar in one shot at Café Husaren. But beyond this little incident, Gothenburg is full of good spots and great quality products. For those who are still doubting about it, I swear that I didn’t spend the totality of my stay just eating, I still succeeded to roll from one part of the city to another in between.
• Local food
> Saluhallen market: this market hall is right on Kungstorget in the city center and it’s of the most important of the city. You’ll find about 40 food stands selling fresh products, butchers, fishmongers and many stands where you can eat. I recommend you to try the handmade Knäckebröd (aka grain crackers) from Brogyllen, which are to fight for! They also sell many local pastries, and their bread looks really good.
> Feskekörka fish market: this other market hall is a must-see! It’s the first food place I ran to when I arrived in Gothenburg. The building looks like a neo-gothic church and accomodates mostly fishmonger stands selling fish and seafood, freshly caught in the morning. There are also many options if you want to eat there as well as tables outside – the freakingly strong wind is also included -. I went to Franzèn & Manning stand and got stocked up for my picnic on Vrångö island: their salmon steaks are huuuge and taste really good for only 2,5€, as well as their salmon nuggets.
• Breakfast & brunch
> Café Kringlan: for about 10€, café Kringlan serves a daily breakfast-buffet made with fresh and homemade products. Set-up your alarm and go there around 9am to enjoy the morning peacefulness on the terrace meanwhile the first clients slowly arrive. Take your time to grab the first sun rays while drinking your coffee before to head to the islands for instance!
> Café Doppio: Doppio is located right on Linnégatan and serves really good coffee. The coffee shop is rather small but usually not too full, if you’re lucky you can grab a sit by the window and observe the world go by. Many options are possible for breakfast and their smørrebrød is super tasty!
> Strömmingsluckan: one must-eat in Sweden is grilled herring filets! I’m actually not going crazy for this fish, but the one from Strömmingsluckan is to die for. The grilled herring filets are served with some Dijon mustard, creamy mashed potatoes and a sweet lingonberry sauce. You can find the food truck in Magasinsgatan, which is opened for lunch hours.
> Kale’i Kaffe: Kale’i Kaffee is without hesitation one of the best spots if you’re looking for a healthy, quality and filling option for lunch. Each week, the place suggests a vegetarian menu made with fresh and seasonal products, including a soup and some sides. To give you an idea, the menu I got when I was there was composed by a carrot, cinnamon & orange soup served with roasted cauliflower and sumac, lemongrass turmeric cauliflower rice and a white bean cream with za’atar and caramelised onions. To push the detox further, you can also have probiotic water instead of casual one, which is good for the gut and immun system – and tastes like drinkable sauerkraut ;) -.
> Kafé Höga nord: this café is hidden in the backyard right next to Kale’i Kaffee and may be less well-known than its 2 acolytes mentioned above, but it’s one of my crushes of the week-end! The coffee shop is appended to a vinyl store and serves nice menus for lunch, including a soup and a smørrebrød. The carrot soup – yeah, apparently Swedes devote a passion for carrot soup – that I tried was tasty and super creamy, and served with toasted seeds, ramp pesto – if my taste buds didn’t betray me ;) -,… The smørrebrød flavours were also finely chosen : the mix between spinach, egg, crunchy miso, estragon, pecorino cheese and garlic was a killer, and I’m actually planning to try the recipe at home!
• Coffee shops & Sweets
> Café Husaren: my sweet tooth game was already pretty high, in particular since I’ve got used to eat enormous cinnamon pullas in Finland. But my stomach reached a whole next level when I discovered the XXL Kanelbullar from Café Husaren. Those monsters are at least head-sized and I recommend you to try them when you’re starving, or to ask a doggy bag when you’ll start to feel that your digestive system is about to give up. You can ideally share one for two with a cup of coffee, at least if your have a human-sized stomach. Café Husaren is a must-do in Gothenburg, especially at fika hour, and also serves dozens of other homemade sweet treats. If you want to try something else than Kanelbullar, try their homemade Kokosbollar, which are also massive but excellent!
> Da Matteo: located next to Strömmingsluckan in Magasinsgatan, Da Matteo is a mandatory stop for every coffee purist who has self-respect. Their make their own coffee, which is well-known all over Sweden thanks to the numerous competitions they’ve won. The place is also great if you’re looking for a calm spot for remote work during the week, and their sourdough Kanelbullar is delicious – and humanly-sized -. The chain has now 3 other shops all over Gothenburg.
> Open new doors: right in the middle of Tyska Bron bridge, Open new doors has a large choice of raw cakes, cheesecakes and desserts, as well as salad and vegan dishes. Prices are a bit higher than the average, but the place is great if you’re looking for some healthy, vegan and original alternatives. You can also enjoy the view on the canal while eating your raw cheesecake – PS: their snickers chocolate bars look insane!
Shopping spots in Gothenburg
> Emmaus: the Emmaus shops in Linnégatan is a true gold mine, as much for clothes as for shoes or props. If like me, you choose a hand luggage for your flight back, the risks that you have to adopt the onion strategy might be pretty big…;) I found the leather bomber of my dreams for only 30€ – 30€ YOU GUYS!!! -, a bunch of silver cutleries for almost nothing, as well as an old enamelled crockpot for 9€, which was also one of the reasons for my backpack to weight around 20 kilos on my way back to Berlin – my thoughts to this angry steward from Air Berlin that I succeeded to fool like a pro… -. But let’s be honest, if I could had taken the whole shop with me, I would probably have done so.
> Grandpa: I’m quickly switching to a whole other price range than Emmaus, but Grandpa is a gold mine for minimalist style addicts who are looking for quality. The shop is located behind Da Matteo in Magasinsgatan and sells many clothes from scandinavian brands, but also French ones, as well as books, home accessories,…
> Nordstan: the mall is located behind the city hall and gather most of the big Scandinavian brands for fashion, home,… It’s the perfect alternative if you’re looking for some time to kill on a rainy day.
• Design & props
> Artilleriet The Kitchen in Magasinsgatan highlights l’art de vivre et manger and sells very good tableware, ceramic and prop brands like Serax, Astier de Villatte or Mauviel. Food bloggers are going to turn crazy for sure, but you also should prepare a good budget to go with.
> Balders hage gathers a beautiful collection of props, tablewares and tools for kitchen and home. Prices are smoother and every taste will be satisfied. The shop is located nearby Open new doors, along the canal.
> Market | 29: right in front of Cafe Husaren, Market | 29 has also a large choice of props, texti;es and home accessories from small brands with varied prices. There is also an online shop, which delivers in most of the European countries.
> Floramor & Krukatös: plant lovers will fall in love with this shop hiding in a small backyard nearby Magasinsgatan. You can find there every kind of small plants, flowers, pretty pots, textiles, as well as cute postcards and posters.
A FEW USEFUL LINKS:
• To know more about Gothenburg archipelago islands
• The ferrys timetables to go to the southern islands (hors-season)
• Rent a bike smartly
• A bike roadmap of Gothenburg and its surroundings
• To get a Göteborg City Card (which gives you access to many museums and activities for free as well as the access to unlimited public transports)