Swedes didn’t always adore Gothenburg. The resurgent second city, equidistant between Copenhagen and Oslo on Sweden’s western coast, was long viewed as a grungy port in slow decline. But locals saw the potential. Languishing neighborhoods became incubators for improvisational creative projects — in music, art, design, dining — and sparked a renaissance that spread from one district to another. Today, the city’s blue-and-white trams still rumble down the wide boulevards, but visitors will also find a diverse music scene, inspiring art, world-class breweries, trendsetting shops and gregarious locals determined to convince you that this west coast is the best coast.
For evidence of the city’s ongoing evolution, head west to Majorna, a revitalized area with working-class roots and wide, tree-lined avenues that are now home to a growing number of antique shops, record stores and inviting cafes. Visit Cum Pane, a hole-in-the-wall eco-conscious bakery, for a kardemummaknut (twisted cardamom bun, 23 Swedish kronor, or about $2.75), then stroll north through the neighborhood. Keep an eye out for buildings with a first story of stone or brick and two upper stories of wood — an architectural quirk unique to the city that once capped wooden structures at two stories. Then find the retro marquee marking the entrance to Bengans Skivbutik, a longstanding record shop, concert venue and hangout. Browse the Swedish section for the latest album from the reigning pop princess Veronica Maggio, or snap up First Aid Kit’s “Ruins” LP.
We call it happy hour, but Swedes refer to that relaxing, post-work period of discounted drinks, as “after work” (yes, they say it in English). That’s when the weekend starts on Tredje Langgatan, a long street packed with bars and restaurants. Join the buzzy scene at Olssons Vin, a wine bar with a new glass-roofed courtyard orangery, where, between 4 and 6 p.m., crowds feast on budget-friendly charcuterie platters and generous pours of Bourgogne blanc. Thirsty for a local beer? Cross the street to Brewers Beer Bar, where 14 taps often dispense hard-to-find beers from area craft breweries, like Spike Brewery’s hazy Atlantica I.P.A.
A local musician and poet was the creative catalyst behind Studio HPKSM, a restaurant and artistic hub that opened in 2016. Through a garage door entrance and past a bar stacked with vinyl, descend a few steps into the cozy dining room with piles of old books, exposed brick and a wall covered in mesmerizing doodles. Strewn about are copies of the monthly in-house magazine listing upcoming events in an adjoining space: weekly jam sessions, literary readings, live bands and D.J.-ledclub nights. This multitasking restaurant also serves weekday lunch specials and boozy Saturday waffle brunches, but come for dinner when the kitchen sends out rustic Italian dishes, like garlicky snails, spaghetti vongole, and osso buco. Dinner for two, about 600 kronor.
What began as an underground, members-only music club has evolved into Unity Jazz, an atmospheric jazz bar that opened its doors to all last summer. Crowds cram the back room during live shows, which have ranged from modern jazz to a Finnish trio’s Coltrane tribute night, but you can also linger out front within earshot on leather Chesterfield sofas amid flickering candles and fringed lampshades.
Start the day at Slottsskogen, a vast park south of the city center. The hilly, half-square-mile expanse of meadows, forests and wooded trails also features a series of animal enclosures, mainly of Nordic species like majestic elk, horned goats and Oland geese. But don’t miss the pool of seals corkscrewing through the water, or the adorable waddle of Humboldt penguins, a threatened species. In warmer months, there’s also a free petting zoo with native sheep, goats and rabbits, and pony rides on the herd of diminutive Gotlandsruss (20 kronor). While wandering through the woods, take advantage of the free dendrology lessons: Informative signs detail the characteristics of the surrounding linden, beech, maple and oak trees.
Hoga Nord is a local record label that produces limited-edition vinyl for music distinctly outside the mainstream (give Pete Bassman or Pistol Disco a listen). In 2016, its offerings expanded with the opening of Kafé Hoga Nord, a soup and smorrebrod (open-faced sandwich) cafe adjacent to the label’s record shop. Pair the daily soup — creamy cauliflower with roasted hazelnuts was a recent special — with one of the vegetarian smorrebrod, like toast topped with crisp romesco-slathered cabbage, adzuki beans, almonds and shavings of Spanish goat cheese (110 kronor). Then see to expanding your music collection next door.
The large-scale street art murals splashed on walls, doorways and garages around town are not random graffiti, but an urban beautification project called ArtMadeThis. This series of paintings, all by female artists, began in Gothenburg in 2015 and has since spread to three other cities (and one municipality). Two works to seek out: the exuberant bee-rider by Mimmi Andersson and Merete Lassen at Kungsgatan 65, and Ebba Chambert’s mystical goddesses at Vallgatan 22.
To see what’s trending on Sweden’s west coast, browse local shops large and small. Start at Heyday, a year-old, millennial-pink boutique with colorful cappuccino cups, pastel tassel earrings, cheeky enamel pins and a coffee bar serving red-velvet lattes. Down the street, duck into Rum21, an interior design retailer stocked with nubby Hay pillows, speckled ceramic vases and brass oil lamps. Visit Vallgatan 12, a cavernous two-level complex, for clothing for both men and women from top Scandinavian labels, like Rodebjer, Filippa K and Mads Norgaard. Next door, find Miksajo, a tiny shop of curated goods: Kuboraum’s statement sunglasses, suede Eytys sneakers, and Tom Wood’s silver signet rings. Then find inspiration in a spinoff shop from the influential interior store Artilleriet called The Kitchen. Opened in 2015, this beautifully styled kitchenware specialist is filled with copper ladles, walnut cutting boards, stoneware bowls, French cheese knives and cast-iron crepe pans.
Southwest of the historic center, the laid-back Linné district is populated by independent shops, cafes and friendly neighborhood bistros, like Bar Normal. Opened in 2016, this casual restaurant serves an eclectic mix-and-match menu along with biodynamic wines and creative cocktails. Try a few of the savory Asian-inspired small plates, like soy-marinated salmon sashimi with wasabi mayonnaise and shiitake mushrooms, or grilled avocado doused with teriyaki and topped with a pile of greens and fried shallots. Dinner for two, about 500 kronor.
After dinner, walk around the corner to Hagabion, an indie cinema in a handsome 19th-century brick building with a lively second-floor restaurant and bar, Hagabions Café. Choose a seat around the circular bar or find even more fun in the quirky basement locale known as Bar Kino, decorated with glittering disco balls, precariously placed taper candles, festive streamers, checkerboard floors, and flea market furnishings. Both upstairs and down, several taps are dedicated to the city’s finest brewery, Stigbergets Bryggeri. If it’s on tap, don’t miss the excellent Stigbergets Muddle, a citrusy I.P.A.
Da Matteo is a local institution that grew from a tiny espresso bar to a small empire with its own coffee roastery, bakery and a half-dozen locations — one cozier than the next — around town. For breakfast, head to the largest cafe, at the bakery and roastery on Magasinsgatan (not to be confused with the Vallgatan cafe, right across the courtyard). Try one of the buttery, berry-filled sweet buns and a fruity Costa Rican roast, or splurge on the Lyxfrukost (125 kronor), which includes fresh-pressed juice, coffee, yogurt or warm porridge with granola and berries, and a bread buffet of fresh sourdough loaves with butter, marmalades and Swedish cheeses.
After breakfast, hop on a bus headed north toward Frihamnen, an industrial harbor area that the city is transforming into an urban park called Jubileumsparken. The first stage of the project is scheduled to be completed in 2021 for Gothenburg’s 400th anniversary, but already the former shipyard is taking shape. In 2015, a public bastu (sauna) opened in a two-story, corrugated-metal structure overlooking a new public swimming pool floating in the harbor. Now there’s also a saltwater plunge pool, an outdoor roller derby rink, a lending library, an artwork-cum-playground, picnic facilities and free summertime sailing lessons in easy-to-manage dinghies.
Opened in 2014 in an 18th-century building near the central train station, Hotel Pigalle is a 26-room boutique property with Parisian-inspired interiors, an elegant Belle Époque-style bar, and a top-floor restaurant with plush banquettes and a rooftop terrace (Sodra Hamngatan 2A; 46-31-80-25-21; hotelpigalle.se; from about 1,000 kronor).
In an ideal, central location, Hotel Vanilla is a budget-friendly property with 32 comfortable rooms ranging from singles to an apartment-style family room, all simply decorated with colorful artworks. Rates include a daily breakfast buffet at the in-house, ground-floor cafe (Kyrkogatan 38; 46-31-711-62-20; hotellvanilla.com; from 960 kronor).
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