Gothenburg in Sweden has become a popular destination for a long weekend break. Described as ‘a city for all’ it was awarded the annual prize in 2014 for the European city ‘that has done the most to improve its accessibility for less able residents.’ Surrounded by water and countless islands it is elegant and sophisticated with museums, boutique hotels and gourmet restaurants but for those who want to dig deeper it has plenty of humour and a quirky feel that makes you smile.
The flight from London was no more than an hour and thirty five minutes to Gothenburg. The air was pristine, the countryside a mass of rocky outcrops, pine trees and endless water. There was a feeling of space and the city’s half a million residents made the most of its parks, cafes, restaurants and open spaces. It had a warm welcoming feel and felt unhurried; no doubt because in Swedish culture, ‘fika’ is a must. It is simply part of everyday life and means a coffee and cake break with friends.
If you stay at the centrally located Avalon hotel it is sure to put a smile on your face. It may be quirky but it has every amenity you could wish for. It is filled with paintings by native born Ernst Billgren; some more bizarre than others. Outside our bedroom the striking artwork showed a man with a bum instead of a hat and if you sat in the deep egg shaped chair to view it you disappeared almost from sight.
Balconies on the top floor sported life size stallions with lampshades. Quirky chairs and cushions popped up everywhere and breakfast even included vitamins for those who needed a pick me up. On the roof top, part of the pool jutted unsupported high above the cobblestone square and sent ribbons of rainbows over the guests sitting below.
We used the bus to take a tour of the city as it included a good commentary and provided a great overview. On the top deck giant trees full of blossom leaned over the main boulevard and scented the clear air. We learnt that Gothenburg was originally built during the 1600s by the Dutch and they were responsible for the city centre’s famous canals. The original city was built inside a large zigzag shaped city wall but little of it remains. Years later, following a fire, King Gustavus Adolphus is said to have pointed to the ground and declared the current main square as the site of the new Gothenburg and a bronze statue commemorating the event has become an important landmark.
During the 1700s Gothenburg grew. The port became a major trading and shipping town and many new neighbourhoods were built. Today touches of modern art pop up all over town amongst the traditional buildings. These include three cream white figures crouched on three tall poles. Based on the three wise monkeys they illustrate ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.’ At night they change colour, each alternating between blue, green, purple and red.
The sightseeing tour aboard the Padden boat gives a completely different overview of the city. It takes you through the old moat and canals, under countless bridges and into the very heart of the city. It continues into the harbour with glimpses of the shipyards, fishing harbour and the maritime museum. Our guide provided more historical information but peppered it with humour and more obscure facts such as ‘did you know the Swedes eat more bananas than any other nation’. Visible from the boat are more of those quirky statues like the one of Prometheus who features a triangular pyramid for a head. It is said to symbolise his enlightenment.
Gothenburg is a busy port but it also has an archipelago which stretches out like a string of pearls along the shoreline. Here it is anything but quirky. It is nature at its best. We were the guests of Stromma on an evening cruise. As we set sail we drank champagne and as we made our way out of port the prow of the ship sent giant undulating ripples of deep blue and bright green towards rocky islets and reefs. Tiny fishing villages lined the rocky shore and lighthouses warned of unexpected dangers. Live music accompanied an awesome salmon and shrimp buffet and as the sun set we returned to a harbour of twinkling lights and the striking outline of an old sailing ship which is now a busy hotel.
They say Gothenburg is a city for all which is very true. The evening cruise is excellent but it is possible to get the same enjoyment for a very small sum by taking one of the ferries which visit the islands in the archipelago. Many islands do not allow cars and for those who do not wish to go ashore staying on board is just like cruising. The ferries have comfortable seats, outside areas, food and even free books to read and toys for children to play with.
Gothenburg’s location means that fish dishes are abundant and the fish church is a striking building and well worth a visit. Here fish and shellfish are ‘worshipped’ and can be both bought and eaten. It is not however the only place where fish is treated with reverence and praised for most restaurants feature it prominently.
With so many great places to sit and enjoy the scenery picnicking is popular. In town, Slottsskogen is a favourite place. Here there are children’s rides set amongst flower beds and walking trails. There are also zoo animals, penguins, seals, even moose, and this is all available for free. Festivities include great spreads of traditional food.
If you want to put another smile on your face then a meal in the Moon Thai Kitchen is a must. It plunges you into a world where you could be forgiven for thinking that you were taking a trip on LSD. It is a psychedelic wonderland of the weird and bizarre but full of good vibes and surprisingly authentic Thai cuisine. Around every corner another assault on the senses sets you reeling in amazement and disbelief.
So whatever your inclination you will not be disappointed. Gothenburg is truly a ‘city for all.’ Few cities can boast that they have an up-to-date accessibility inventory listing 3,000 public buildings which are up to scratch at all times. Even a visit to a public swimming area will have alterations made to improve accessibility with ramps, toilets and changing rooms. This is even true in some swimming areas on the rocky archipelago. Enjoy your stay.