I’m not really one for winter. In fact, I’d like to spend my life in the sun, turning a shade of terracotta usually only seen in pottery.
The exception to this rule is December, where I love to be as cold as Anna Wintour’s stare. There’s something about spending gloriously sunny, bitingly cold days wrapped in layers of thermals and chunky knits, supping on a cream-topped, hang-the-diet hot chocolate that makes me feel decidedly festive.
And it’s exactly this that Gothenburg – less than two hours’ flight away from the UK – delivers with aplomb. The city’s as Christmassy as crackers.
Its Christmas crown is the wonderful, slightly bonkers Liseberg, an amusement park on the edge of the city centre. Opened in 1923, it boasts a rollercoaster (Michael Jackson apparently went on it five times in a row) and a plethora of other rides but, at Christmas, it’s as festive as Santa’s suit.
The park transforms in to the largest Christmas market in Scandinavia, decorated with over 5m lights. The memory of it is overwhelmingly magical. (And saddening, in light of yesterday’s tragedy at a Berlin Christmas market.)
There’s everything from a super-traditional Christmas market to a Medieval-themed area where you can sample moose sausage – smoky in flavour, smooth in texture – and purchase a reindeer pelt to use as a rug (poor Rudolph). There’s also an achingly hip designer market, where you can buy the sort of delicious Scandinavian knick knacks that one salivates over in Conran.
The high point of our trip to the market was, by far, the ice show. This year’s show is The Nutcracker, an interpretation of the classic delivered by some truly impeccable skaters.
It’s an outdoor performance, but the spectacle was so beautiful that we managed to forget all about the cold for the time it was on. The minute it finishes though, you will remember you’re in Sweden in December, so wrap-up warm. Buy thermals, please.
Liseberg aside, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied for a weekend. The art museum is a fantastic way to get yourself acquainted with Scandinavian art (it has the largest collection in the region) and the shopping in Magasinsgatan is like roaming through Shoreditch or Brighton’s Lanes, but with significantly more attractive shoppers and shop staff. (The Nordic race really are blessed with very, very good genes.)
Gothenburg is Sweden’s second city, but has a population of only 500,000 (1m, if you include those living in the suburbs). So, understandably, the scene isn’t huge.
But this being Sweden, everywhere is mixed, and you can expect to see same-sex couples walking through town holding hands and no one batting an eyelid. (Same-sex marriage was introduced in 2009). That being said, there are a handful of LGBTI bars worth checking out.
Bee Bar a scene staple. It’s a great place to start the night, or finish it – there’s excellent grub served all day, and it takes on the feel of a cocktail bar once the night draws in – something that happens very early in the wintertime.
If it’s dancing you’re after, head to Gretta’s. Hidden down a side-street (it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair), the club’s where the whole spectrum of gay Gothenburgians head after-hours. Hosted by a Scouse drag queen, it’s a slightly strange affair. The music choices (Barbie Girl, anyone?) will make those of you older than 30 feel like you’re back in their teens, but it’s good fun.
A word to the wise – drinking in Gothenburg is NOT cheap. Indeed, the same goes for the rest of Sweden. I needed a sit down after paying £30 [$37.13,€35.76] for three single vodkas – and that was during happy hour.
If you’ve travelled as far as Gothenburg, we’d suggest taking the time to explore the breathtakingly austere beauty of Sweden’s west coast. Hire a car (or jump on a bus) and head north to Sweden’s archipelago.
Sweden has about 8,000 islands – the vast majority of them uninhabited – that are perfect for wandering. Orust, one of the bigger ones, is about an hour’s drive from Gothenburg, and the perfect place to camp-down for a couple of days.
We slept at Lådfabriken, an utterly delectable B&B. Co-owner Johan grew-up on the island. After living across the globe returned with his Dutch partner, Marcel, and created Lådfabriken. There aren’t the words to describe just how incredible their home-cum-hotel is.
Johan had a career in design, and it shows. Everything, from the bathroom taps to the crockery on the table, is in exquisite taste.
The guys will make you feel so welcome. And they’re happy to spend as much or as little time with you as you like. They’ll provide information on the history of the island and take you for strolls with their pet pooches. Plus, they’ll make sure you’re never hungry.
Never have we seen two people create so much fresh food, from scratch, whilst remaining so unflappable. The traditional Swedish breakfast buffet, so much bread, they laid on was enough to propel one for days.
The B&B is perfectly located for short, bracing walks taking in the magnificent sea views (it has its own section of beach), and for exploring the near-deserted villages. There’s something quite haunting about the lack of people, and it’s perfect if your normal routine leaves you craving a couple of days in near-complete silence.
It being winter, you’re advised not to spend too much time outside. (Unless you fancy kayaking – in which case you’re probably mad). So the main focus of your time in the countryside should be food.
Salt & Sill, on Orust’s neighbouring island, Klädesholmen, offers chuffing delicious traditional seafood cuisine. There’s herring by the net, (the restaurant’s set opposite the island’s last remaining herring cannery) served in more ways you can imagine.
The restaurant offers cooking lessons, where you can prepare your own herrings in a variety of ways. And you can bring it back to Blighty with you, though how advisable that is remains doubtful…
Johan and Marcel laid on a spot of gingerbread house-making for us. This is a Swedish Christmas tradition that you really shouldn’t miss out on. We may’ve gone slightly over-the-top. Our creation looked like something Barbara Cartland could’ve conjured-up – but it’s Christmas, so the camper the better.
Closing on the subject of gingerbread, you will find it everywhere. Best served with glogg (mulled wine with raisins and almonds), the Swedes seem to thrive on it. And if it’s good enough for the descendants of Vikings, who are we to argue?
For more inspiration on gay and lesbian travel to Sweden, visit VisitSwedenLGBT.com or join the conversation at #SwedenYoureWelcome. @VisitSwedenLGBT. Plan your trip to Gothenberg at goteborg.com, and discover the archipelago at westsweden.com.