Gothenburg is brimming with charming. It’s the second largest city in Sweden, but it has a peaceful and quaint feel to it. There are plenty of lovely things to do in Gothenburg, especially if you’re a fan of good pastries and cute neighbourhoods. Gothenburg isn’t exactly an iconic city. Most likely, you won’t show up with a list of things to do in Gothenburg which makes it all the more fun to discover while you’re there.
I only wound up visiting because a friend moved there a few years ago. So glad she did! Sweden wasn’t on my bucket list, let alone Gothenburg (which to be completely honest, I hadn’t even heard of). I arrived in Gothenburg with no exceptions, and found a pleasant Swedish city with lots to see and do, but none of the hustle and bustle of major tourist cities. Which, you have to admit, is a really nice change of pace.
The rain and short days keeps many people away from Scandinavia, but trust me – it’s all a ploy by Mother Nature. Swedish residents have learned to embrace the weather, too. You’ll notice right away, and even in my photos, that all the roofs are bright red. This is to help brighten up the city on grey days. There are some awesome Swedish traditions that just make everything better and more cheery, as you’re about to discover.
Things to do in Gothenburg
Explore and Shop in Haga
The Haga quarter of Gothenburg was our first stop on my visit. Haga is a charming little area with lots of sweet cafés and cute shops, occupying beautiful old buildings. It’s one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Gothenburg, entirely set on a pedestrian-only street.
Many of the shops in the area are locally owned and operated. It’s a great place to buy art, clothing, and souvenirs to bring home with you. The same goes for the many cafés in the area.
Visit the Gothenburg Museum of Art
The Gothenburg Museum of Art is home to a variety of interesting works of art. This is one of the best things to do in Gothenburg when it’s raining (which it almost certainly will be at some point)! It’s home to an incredible collection of Nordic art dating as far back as the 15th century, along with art by the likes of Picasso, Monet, and Rubens.
There are permanent collections, such as the French and Nordic galleries, and there’s usually a visiting exhibit on as well.
Fika is a wonderful Swedish tradition, one that you’ll be able to get used to! The word “fika” translates to “go out for coffee.” It’s to take a break from the day, and also an opportunity reflect. Many department stores in Sweden have cafés in them, the idea being that you relax with coffee and a pastry before making your purchases. Thus why there’s a café in IKEA.
Eat at Feskekôrka Fish Market
Gothenburg’s fish and shellfish market is located along the canal in central Gothenburg, in a building that you might mistake for a church. The design for the fish market was inspired by medieval Gothic architecture and Norweigan Churches – hence, it’s nicknamed the “fish church.”
There’s a strong smell of fish the moment you walk in! There are two restaurants in the market, a couple of stands that offer take out, and lots of stands selling fresh fish to take with you.
Have fun at Liseberg
Scandinavia’s largest amusement park is found in Gothenburg. Head there for a fun day of rides, games, and concerts. Liseberg also takes up holiday themes, like Hallowe’en in October and Christmas in late November. I’ll be honest, I opted to skip this one because I only had a couple days in Gothenburg (and I went to Tivoli Gardens in Denmark) but I’ve heard great things!
An unlimited, full day pass costs just under $60 USD.
Climb to Skansen Kronan
Skansen Kronan is a military fort built in the 17th century, to defend against possible attacks. When it was built, Skansen Kronan was outside the of Gothenburg but the city has since grown around it. The walls are 4 meters thick, and the fort was once fitted with 23 guns. It’s in perfect condition, though, because it never fell under attack.
The best part of Skansen Kronan is actually views. The fort is built on Lilla Otterhällan hill, and there’s an amazing view of the neighbourhoods Haga and Göta älv. I came up here a couple times, it was one of my favourite things to do in Gothenburg.
Visit Slottskogen Gardens and Zoo
Slottskogen is beautiful park that includes a zoo and botanical gardens, with everything from penguins and horses to a beautiful waterfall. The animals in the zoo live in 3 different locations and categories; the Barnes petting zoo, the Säldammsbacken birds, and the Djurgårdarna forest animals. The zoo is completely outdoors and free to enter and explore. We walked past the Säldammsbacken birds where we saw penguins and a couple species of geese, and then took a walk through the forest to Djurgårdarna where we saw elk, moose, goats, and deer.
The Botanical Gardens are right next to the zoo, and they’re free to enter. The gardens contain thousands of plant species, and some beautiful hidden spots like small ponds and a pretty waterfall. It’s a great spot for photos! Håberget lookout point is located at the top of a hill within the Botanical Gardens, where you can get a great view of Gothenburg.
Check out the Museum of Gothenburg
The permanent exhibits at the Museum of Gothenburg will take you through Gothenburg’s history, all the way back to the Vikings. You’ll learn about the Swedish Empire, and the development of modern Gothenburg.
More recent topics include industrialization in the 19th century, and life in the 20th century. Temporary exhibits examine specific events and themes more closely. Once again, another great place to be when it rains!
Bike around Gothenburg
One of the best things about European cities is how easy and enjoyable it is to get around on foot and by bicycle. Gothenburg is the same. It only costs a few couple of dollars for unlimited access to a bicycle, which you check in at a station every 30 minutes.
I loved being able to get everywhere by bike. The bike lanes are distinct from both the roads and traffic. They even have independent traffic signals in some places! Cute, and safe. Cycling is a great way to get around, but it’s also one of the nicest things to do in Gothenburg when you do get a nice sunny day. I suggest riding along the canal!
Tour the Volvo Factory
Take a tour of the Volvo Factory to learn about how the Volvo cars are made, and to see robots in action. Tours can be booked for large groups or individuals by e-mailing here, and there’s also a Volvo museum that you can access for about $11 USD.
Visiting a factory to learn how cars are made might sound like an odd activity, but there are a couple reasons to consider it. Firstly, it is very interesting and not something you get the chance to see everyday. Secondly, and most importantly I think, is that the Volvo museum takes you through the companies history and it’s role in Gothenburg’s history. Volvo is a large manufacture responsible for a lot of the employment and development of Gothenburg – it’s sort of like visiting the Guiness Factory in Dublin.
Island Hop the Gothenburg Archipelago
Picturesque finish villages are less than hour from Gothenburg, and easily accessible by ferry or car. The Gothenburg archipelago is a beautiful area to explore, kayak, and bring a lunch. I love that the Southern islands are car-free!
Catch a ferry from Saltholemn and use you ticket to jump from island to island. The Northern islands are connected to the mainland by a bridge, so you can drive right there. Reaching the southern islands is only possible by boat. This webpage by Gothenburg’s official tourism website has all the details on how to get (I’ve linked their page so you get the most up to date information on trams). Essentially, though, you can take a tram from Central Gothenburg to Saltholemn which takes about 30 minutes, and then catch the ferry.
The Palm House
This is probably the most “instagrammable” place in Gothenburg. It’s a stunning greenhouse, part of the Gothenburg Garden society, and modelling after the Crystal Palace in London. Wide windows, and a glass and cast iron facade. The Palm House is divided in to five sections, each with a different plants from around the world.