Gothenborg, Sweden is the country’s second largest city, running drastically behind Stockholm in size, population, and also reputation. In fact, the immediate reaction to my telling people that I was going to Sweden but not to Stockholm was an astounding “Haha… Wait – you’re serious?” It didn’t help my case when I told them I was headed to Gothenborg.
Gothenborg is small, but I have to say I was not disappointed. Furthermore, having been indoctrinated to expect the worst (some warned of blandness and others of a grimy, seedy city with graffiti everywhere you looked), I was pleasantly surprised and more than satisfied. I hadn’t gone to Gothenborg with the image of an impeccable international city in mind; I knew it would be less glamorous and more “local-Swedish” – and it was. And not only did I feel safe and secure, I also liked it. And unlike the graffiti on the buildings that line the West Side Highway in Manhattan, it had a more artsy feel and added to the city’s pleasant character.
Gothenborg is located in the southwest region of the country and is right on the water. The main downtown area is bustling with shops and cafes, people leisurely walking from one small street to the next as many others sip café lattes and people watch. It’s typical of many smaller – but also large –
European cities, and it has an alluring quiet charm. On nice days, visitors can take ferries and go island hopping just off the coast.
Apparently the city has done some solid renovation in the past few years, which helps to explain the grave discrepancy between my intense overall satisfaction and previous visitors’ memorable disappointment. The city has added new stores, new restaurants and cafes, new luxurious hotels, an enormousnew soccer stadium that is host to many international musicians and artists (all who opt for Gothenborg’s quaintness in favor of Stockholm’s urban to-do!), and more general modernity and city upkeep. I’m telling you, the city’s worth a visit, even if you only stay long enough to stand outside the soccer stadium and sample the decadent offerings of coffee, smoked salmon, and baked goods (rich chocolate balls and apple crumb cake are local favorites).
However, I am still held in contempt by many Swedes and travelers for never making my way over to Stockholm while I was in the country. Admittedly, I tried to get a train at the last minute when I recognized that I could just barely squeeze in a hurried detour in my itinerary; but thanks to a Bruce Springsteen concert that was in town the weekend I was there, there were no trains available, despite the city’s adding of extra departures to accommodate the rush of people they anticipated to be leaving. Therefore, while I cannot and will not make the argument that Gothenborg is more worthy of a trip than is Stockholm, I will argue its worthiness overall. I have been to many large international cities – Barcelona, Tel Aviv, New York, Copenhagen, and more – and although Stockholm likely has its big differences, the merits of a smaller city like Gothenborg remain the same.
So my advice is this: If you find yourself planning a trip to Sweden and intend to explore more than just the capitol and its northeastern coast, look into Gothenborg. You will not be disappointed.