Stockholm, sure. Lapland, naturally. Malmo, of course, who doesn’t love The Bridge?!
But if you are thinking of Sweden and you haven’t thought of Gothenburg, then you’re missing a trick. A beautiful, perfectly formed, walk able, friendly, delicious trick!
Gothenburg is Sweden’s second largest city, home to two universities, and ranked 12th Most Innovative City in The World by Forbes Magazine. Considering you can walk from one end of Gothenburg to the other in 20mins, there is a lot packed into this perfectly formed city on the west coast of Sweden.
I went for West Pride, now in it’s eighth year, having grown from a small rally in the town square to a week long event that includes a film festival, pop-up weddings, wrestling in cake toppings, a circus tent with hundreds of live acts, and of course a massive joy-filled parade with all the trimmings.
The whole city has embraced Pride and you can tell from the moment you land at the airport with its three large rainbow flags billowing in the breeze.
During the short taxi ride into town, the rainbow flags kept coming thick and fast until, upon arriving in the city center, the only way to not see a rainbow flag was to close your eyes. Every tram, every bus, every government building, private shop and restaurant proudly had at least one rainbow flag on display. No hiding your pride in Gothenburg!
Other than Pride, there are a few other things Gothenburg takes very seriously…
Club Queer (Kungsportsavenyn 36) is hailed as the city’s best dancing spot, and certainly the line of young gays and lesbians, straight students, and out-of-towners snaking down the street would indicate this is true.
Inside it feels more like a Las Vegas casino with poker tables, go-go boys and sparkling magnums of champagne being delivered by girls in short dresses. A side room with two drag queens playing pop was more fun than the main space, although dancing on stage in the main room with a man in his 70s and three college girls was pretty special.
Far more gritty fun and far less pretentious was Greta’s Bar and Night Club (Drottninggatan 35), with a dance floor surrounded by an upper balcony that had more than a few people living out their Evita fantasies.
Sing-along pop was the order of the day here, and boy do those Swedes love their pop.
Go-go dancers dominated here too, but none of the perfectly shaved, dead-behind-the-eyes bodies of Club Queer.
Here it was girls of all shapes and sizes who were having so much fun that I reckon they’d do it even if they weren’t getting paid. If you are going to only have one big night out in Gothenburg, this is the place to do it, easily the friendliest club I’ve been to in years.
Bee Bar (Kungstorget 13-15) is a catch-all where you can spend your whole evening starting with dinner, going on to drinks at the bar on the sidewalk, and finish it off dancing to camp classics on the makeshift dance floor inside once they clear all the tables away around midnight.
They bill themselves as the best ‘straight friendly’ bar in Gothenburg, and not knowing who’s gay and who’s straight is half the fun after a few beers.
Magsinsgatan is the main shopping area where you will find everything from large chain stores and Swedish brands, to the more interesting boutiques with handpicked items.
Stores on this street seem to like giving things away too, from free 45 records outside one shop, to free jelly beans at another, an arty tote bag here, a stylish hand-fan there.
You could buy nothing and still come away with shopping bags. Result!
Sweden is the largest coffee consumer in Europe, beating out both France and Italy.
You don’t meet for a coffee, you meet for a Fika… and it’s not just coffee, oh no, you have to have a cake as well, otherwise it’s just not Fika, and that’s just not how it’s done.
You’ll find Fika spots on every corner buzzing with meetings, catch-ups, gossip and beautiful people with great hair doing something equally beautiful and great on their laptops.
After a morning of shopping and dining at the food market just beside, stop in Da Matteo (Magasinsgatan 17A) for a Fika. Sitting in the garden out back, you’ll feel just like a local.
I was mainly expecting to delight in Swedish beers while in Gothenburg. Believe me, I did, but a well-made cocktail is always a treat. Some of the most innovative and interesting cocktails I’ve ever had were at Familjen (Arkivgatan 7), a cool bistro with fantastic food and ridiculously sexy staff.
Go for the food, sure, but the cocktails make this place a must.
The resident bartender Thom personally delivers the drinks to your table with a story about how he came up with them and each served with a tactile surprise on the side, a candied stalk of rhubarb with dipping sugar for one, a jar of crystalized spruce shoots for another.
I had a Dill and Dill made with gin, dill seeds, malt vinegar and orange bitters, served with sourdough crisps on the side. It sounds challenging but the only challenge was knowing when to stop, if my three empty glasses were anything to go by.
You could easily spend your whole time in the city center, and since it’s totally walk able you really won’t need transport. That being said, riding a tram or taking one of the hire bikes adds to the fun. Buy a City Card at any station or tourist info center and all of the transport options are included.
If you want to get out of the city for a day, take a tram to Saltholmen at the edge of the city and hop on a ferry for a quick 20min ride to the island of Styrso, an old royal spa retreat that has no cars and is famed for its seafood.
The locals get about on bikes or mopeds and you can easily pick up one of these at the harbor or just walk around dreaming of the life you could have if you lived here.
While you are there stop by Pensionat Styrso (Skaretvagen 53), the largest (and only) hotel on the island which has a stunning dining room overlooking the sea. Sit in one of the cozy lounges sipping a beer and planning your day, or go whole hog and book one of the 13 bespoke rooms, each uniquely decorated with local art and furniture.
I should point out that Sweden has a reputation for being hugely expensive and while it’s not a bargain holiday, it was by no means the priciest place I’ve been. Food, clubbing, and accommodation was pretty much in line with most European city destinations, with alcohol being the main difference in price. A round of five beers was 290SEK (about €32 or $44)… steep to be sure but in the grand scheme of things, a small price to pay for a holiday destination with so much to offer. Gothenburg, I’ll be back and next time, I’m packing my rainbow flag!
From the UK: BMI Regional fly directly between Birmingham International and Gothenburg. Fares start at just £82 ($139, £103) one-way, 6 days a week excluding Saturday. All BMI Regional flights offer 20kg checked baggage, a full at-seat bar and snack service and – where possible – 30-minute check-in. In 2013 the airline won the prestigious accolade of Silver Airline of the Year at the European Regions Airline (ERA) Association in Salzburg, Austria.
For super-fast transfers between London and Birmingham, Virgin Trains offer great value fares with a journey time on one of its state-of-the-art tilting trains in just 1 hour and 25 minutes, 6 days a week. Fares start at £7.50 ($13, £9) one-way.
For more on the sights and sounds of Gothenburg, check out this week’s homoLAB podcast direct from London.