Advertisement – this post is based on a press stay with Visit Sweden and the Gothenburg and West Sweden tourist boards
Both Chris and I love travelling to Sweden. We’ve enjoyed a fair bit of time in Stockholm over the years, and I was lucky enough to be invited on a press trip to the southern region of Skåne back in 2017, but there’s still so much of this vast country to see. So, before heading back to the capital for Stockholm Furniture Fair and Design Week earlier this month, we decided to spend a few days exploring Gothenburg and the west coast – an area that we’d been longing to visit for ages.
After a quick hop across the North Sea (direct flights from the UK take less than two hours), we arrived to find Gothenburg blanketed in a fresh layer of snow, with candles glowing in restaurant windows. The first thing that struck us was the friendly, laid-back feel – it’s Sweden’s second-largest city, but you’d never guess from its carefree attitude and distinctive character. The second thing that struck us was just how pretty the whole place is. Crisscrossed with canals and flanked by a waterfront that acts as the gateway to a string of beautiful islands, it encompasses elegant architecture, swathes of green space and burgeoning design, food and art scenes. It’s also very compact, and everything is easily accessible on foot or via the iconic blue and white trams which rumble along the streets.
We spent three nights in Gothenburg, hopping between design shops and galleries, strolling through parks which sparkled in the snow and warming up with coffee and cinnamon buns in cafés, before embarking on a mini road trip along the coast. More on that to follow next week, but first here are my top tips for a design-led break in the city itself…
Hotel Pigalle, Södra Hamngatan 2A
Occupying a 19th-century building just along the street from the central train station, Hotel Pigalle is a Parisian-themed hideaway with plush velvet curtains, decadent wallpaper, gilded mirrors, glass chandeliers and flickering candles on every available surface. It’s not exactly the kind of minimalist design that I’d normally opt for, but I loved it – there’s a gently tongue-in-cheek approach that avoids any risk of tackiness, and it made a very cosy place to stay on a freezing February weekend. Our room was huge, with a heavenly bed and a pair of armchairs to sink into, and soundproofed windows meant we barely heard a peep from outside. Breakfast was a buffet feast spanning everything from healthy fruit and granola to filled croissants and lamb sausages, and we had a delicious meal in the top-floor restaurant on our first evening – more on that below.
Radisson Blu Scandinavia, Södra Hamngatan 59
Set just across the road from Hotel Pigalle, the Gothenburg branch of Radisson Blu is a more affordable yet no less central option. We tried it out on our last night in the city and were very impressed with the rooms, which have all recently been given a smart new look with a sprinkling of Scandinavian design classics (Louis Poulsen lamps, Arne Jacobsen chairs). They’re also fairly large, and most have seating areas of some description; ours, a Junior Suite, came with a sofa and a little terrace gazing out over the rooftops. We slept very well and enjoyed making use of the spa, swimming pool and bar downstairs. Our only disappointment was breakfast, which was served in a cavernous space lined with cafeteria-style tables and didn’t make for a particularly relaxed start to the day.
Other places which I haven’t stayed at myself but which come highly recommended include Upper House, Radisson Blu Riverside, Avalon and Hotel Bellora.
The Garden Society of Gothenburg, Slussgatan 1
This leafy haven in the heart of the city is one of the best-preserved 19th-century parks in Europe, and it’s a joy to wander in any season. At its centre is an elegant old palm house filled with exotic plants, burbling fountains and lily-studded ponds. We spent a couple of hours soaking up the peaceful atmosphere inside, and there was something wonderfully surreal about basking in tropical warmth, amid towering palm trees and cacti, as snow fell outside.
Set just across the river from the city centre, Haga is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Gothenburg. Its cobbled streets are flanked by traditional wooden houses and the main thoroughfare, Haga Nygata, is lined with independent shops and cafés. The area is also home to the city’s indoor fish market, Feskekôrka (‘Fish Church’), which gets its name from its soaring neo-gothic architecture. It’s a beautiful building and a must-visit for seafood-lovers; there’s also a first-floor restaurant called Gabriel for a super-fresh seafood lunch.
The Röhsska Museum of Design & Craft, Vasagatan 37-39
We couldn’t visit the Röhsska Museum during our time in Gothenburg as it was closed for refurbishment, but it’s since reopened and it sounds fascinating. It explores the role of design in society and covers everything from fashion and homeware to industrial and graphic design. Alongside permanent collections from Sweden and further afield, there’s a programme of temporary exhibitions and talks covering all sorts of topics.
The Frihamnen sauna, Frihamnen 7
Another place which we didn’t get to visit ourselves (it was closed for a winter break) but which I couldn’t resist including is this one-of-a-kind sauna, perched above the water in the old shipbuilding district of Frihamnen. It was built by German architecture collective Raumblabor Berlin and is mostly constructed from recycled materials – the changing rooms, for example, were made from 12,000 plastic bottles! It’s free to visit, with a choice between male-only, female-only and mixed sessions, but you’ll need to book online.
Eat and drink at…
Da Matteo, Vallgatan 5
With tables inside and out, this simple yet stylish café is the ideal place for a fika fix while shopping in the nearby boutiques. The coffee is excellent, as are the artisanal breads and mounds of sweet treats – we tucked into cinnamon buns, cardamom buns and a deliciously sticky pastry topped with walnuts and muscovado sugar. There are several other branches dotted around the city, too.
Restaurant vRÅ, Clarion Hotel Post, Drottningtorget 10
Hidden at the back of Clarion Hotel Post’s bar, this sleek little restaurant serves Japanese-inspired dishes made using Swedish ingredients. Head chef Sofia B. Olsson is committed to seasonal, sustainably sourced food, and much of the fruit, vegetables and herbs used are grown in a kitchen garden on the hotel’s rooftop. We opted for the four-course set menu, which included delights such as baked celeriac with soy mushrooms and roasted sesame seeds, and yuzu-baked apple with a Japanese whiskey and ginger ice cream. There are also à la carte and vegetarian options, plus an extensive range of sake. It’s deservedly popular, so book ahead.
Restaurant & Bar Atelier, Hotel Pigalle, Södra Hamngatan 2a
Hotel Pigelle’s buzzing top-floor bar and restaurant is a great place to linger over lunch, dinner and evening drinks, with banquette-style booths around the edge of the room and relaxed sofas in the middle. In winter, a fire crackles in the huge hearth at one end; in summer, there’s an outdoor terrace strung with fairylights. The inventive food showcases local ingredients, although they’re often given an international twist. We had cured cod cheek with pea puree and browned butter, baked salsify with silverskin onions, and a strange but wonderful dessert consisting of sweet cream and cranberries sprinkled with mature Swedish cheese.
The hotel’s ground-floor Bar Amuse is also an inviting spot, with leather armchairs and cosy window seats where you can watch the world go by over a G&T.
Gothenburg’s central market hall is a lofty, elegant space dating from the 19th century. There are more than 40 stalls brimming with cheese, cured meats, fruit, vegetables, bread, coffee, spices and more – ideal for picking up picnic ingredients or self-catering supplies. It also encompasses several cafes and restaurants where you can stop for lunch or fika.
For more Gothenburg restaurant, bar and café recommendations, see this excellent post by food blogger Kym Grimshaw.
Artilleriet, Vallgatan 1
Renowned far outside Sweden for its range of lighting, furniture and accessories, beautifully curated homeware and lifestyle store Artilleriet is unmissable. You’ll find everything from candles, skincare and fragrances (including perfumes by Gothenburg brand Agonist) to ceramics, design books and chairs. It’s currently housed in a temporary location while the main shop is refurbished, but it’s still a wonderful place to browse – and sister shop The Kitchen, which stocks stylish cookware and tableware, is open as normal just around the corner. It’s almost impossible to leave either empty-handed!
Grandpa, Vallgatan 3
With branches in Gothenburg, Stockholm and Malmö, Grandpa sells homeware, books, lifestyle accessories and men’s and women’s clothing from a range of Scandinavian brands. It also has its own in-house label, Low Key, which encompasses stationery, leather goods, wall art, shoes, blankets and more.
Rum 21, Kyrkogatan 20-22
Also stocking a fantastic selection of homeware and accessories is Rum 21, housed in a stone-walled space that’s arranged as a series of inspiring room sets. There are pieces from well-known Scandinavian brands such as HAY and Menu, as well as designs by smaller independent names. I was very tempted by the L:A Bruket skin and body care, which is made on the nearby coast using natural ingredients.
Emma och Malena, Vallgatan 4
This wonderful boutique was set up by designers Emma Landström and Malena Ostwald, who draw inspiration from the west coast and specifically the island of Käringön. Made for adults and children, their beautiful clothes and accessories are adorned with contemporary marine motifs – think jellyfish, lobsters, mackerel, seaweed, swans and more. I particularly loved the look of the silk nightwear and the silver shell-shaped earrings.
Rum för papper, Victoriapassagen, Vallgatan 19
If, like me, you have a slight obsession with stationery, then you’ll love this fantastic shop. Arranged into striking colour-coded displays, it’s brimming with paper, notebooks, planners, cards, pens, pencils and more. It’s a joy to browse, and the friendly staff really know their stuff.
Norrgavel, Magasinsgatan 22
Founded by architect Nirvan Richter in 1991, Norrgavel is the place to go for simple, elegant homeware which draws on Scandinavian, Japanese and Shaker influences. Everything is made with sustainability and high-quality craftsmanship in mind, and natural materials are a focus. As well as furniture, you’ll find textiles, tableware, books, candleholders and lighting, plus Cooee Design vases.
Floramor & Krukatös, Kaserntorget 8
Founded by a mother-and-daughter team (one a potter, the other a florist), this quirky little store is brimming with flowers, plants, pots, vases, greetings cards, candles and more. It’s set in a courtyard just behind Da Matteo, and in summer its wares spill onto the cobbles outside. I particularly loved the eye-catching displays of watering cans, spider plants and vintage stools hanging from the ceiling.
Designtorget, Vallgatan 14
The Gothenburg shop of national chain Designtorget stocks an excellent range of interior, fashion and lifestyle pieces, with a particular (though not exclusive) focus on Swedish brands. It’s also a good bet for books, toys, headphones and portable speakers. There’s another branch inside the central train station if you need to pick up any last-minute gifts before heading home.
Granit, Vallgatan 19
Also a national chain, Granit is the place to go for great-value home and lifestyle accessories with a minimalist aesthetic and understated colour palette – think H&M Home meets Muji. Its office supplies, kitchenware and small storage solutions are particularly good, and I like to pop in whenever I’m in Sweden to stock up on things like tea towels, candles, picture frames and washi tape.
Take a day trip to…
Spinneriet, Spinnmästarevägen 2, Lindome
Located about 30 minutes south of Gothenburg in the town of Lindome and reachable by bus or train, Spinneriet is a former textile factory that’s been transformed into a centre for design and creativity. It’s now home to numerous studios and shops, including renowned names such as Fine Little Day. My favourites were interiors boutique INRX, carefully curated vintage homeware emporium Östlinghs, and record shop, recording studio and café Spinroad Vinyl Factory. There’s also a restaurant in one of the outbuildings serving lunch and fika made from local, seasonal ingredients.
The Gothenburg Archipelago and Bohuslän coast
Gothenburg also makes a great base for exploring the rugged peninsulas and islands of the wider west coast, meaning you can easily combine a city break with a dose of sea air. Regular ferries run from the centre to the peaceful, car-free islands of the southern Gothenburg Archipelago, but we chose to hire a car and head north to the stunning Bohuslän region. More on that in another post…
For more information on Gothenburg, see the city’s official visitors’ guide here.
Many thanks to Visit Sweden and the Gothenburg and West Sweden tourist boards, who kindly provided a free night’s stay in the city, as well as car hire and a night further up the coast. We paid for the flights, the other nights and our onward travel to Stockholm ourselves.
First and third Radisson Blu Scandinavia images via the hotel itself; Frihamnen sauna image by Beatrice Törnros for Göteborg & Co; all other photography by Abi Dare