Quirky tips to enjoy Gothenburg

The industrial port city of Gothenburg, on Sweden’s west coast, has little of the glamour that graces the country’s capital, Stockholm. But this once resolutely working-class city is nevertheless making a name for itself as a new hive of the creative arts, with its homegrown fashion labels and upstart indie bands, its rollicking craft beer bars and alternative arts scene. Gothenburg (Goteborg in Swedish) is also the fitting host to Scandinavia’s leading film festival and hugely popular music festivals, including Summerburst and Way Out West.  Maybe you’ve already checked out Gothenburg’s main sights and are wondering what’s next. Or perhaps you’re just keen to avoid the really popular places and find some fun, quirky and offbeat things to do. Whether you’re on a romantic weekend away or visiting Gothenburg with kids, this tips should give you plenty of ideas.

Rent a Kayak

Tourist boats run summer trips around Gothenburg’s canals but if you’d rather escape the crowds and still see the city from the water, hire your own kayak. Point 65 Kayak Center, down by the Barken Viking ship at Lilla Bommen, rents out decent kayaks and lifejackets from 199 SEK per day. You can have a quick test paddle in the harbour and then, when you’re feeling confident, head downriver and into the canal system for a look around town. Summer is the best time to give this a go, but it is possible (ice permitting) to kayak at other times of the year too.

Seek out the Special Cabinet

Gothenburg’s natural history museum has some really unusual exhibits, including the world’s only stuffed blue whale. Before you run to check out that smelly beast, try to find the ‘special cabinet’ (actually called Naturaliekabinett) which is stocked with a miscellany of bizarre exhibits, including shark teeth, a stuffed weasel-like creature being squeezed by a snake, and even a two-headed cow. The museum is slowly being refurbished, so go sooner rather than later to appreciate its strange, antiquated charm.

Ice Hockey

Gothenburg’s local heroes, the Frölunda Indians, play their home matches at Scandinavium, a huge indoor stadium just a short walk from the city centre. The atmosphere inside is electric on match nights, with a few thousand fans squeezing their bums onto hard plastic seats for a full hour of frantic puck chasing, all backed up by a relentless onslaught of adverts. Games are divided into three periods and the breaks are just long enough to head for a drink in the downstairs bar. You can’t bring strong beer back into the arena itself, though 3.5% folköl, sold from the popcorn stands outside, is allowed. You’ll know when a game is planned because the sides of the stadium are lit up red and green, the home team’s colours.

Step back in time

A little way out of town in the suburb called Kortedala, this quirky museum is tucked away inside a block of flats. The museum takes the form of an old apartment done up in 1950s style, and is a kind of living time capsule. All of the furniture inside the flat dates from the 1950s and 60s, a crucial time in the development of Sweden’s welfare state, and the cupboards and bookshelves are stocked with old products from that era. The museum is completely free to look around, and the guides who work there have some great tales to tell about how life in the area has changed over the decades.

Bake yourself in a public sauna

Sweating it out in a sauna is a classic Swedish experience. But unless you’re staying in a fairly swanky hotel or paying top dollar to visit a proper spa, it can be a tricky thing to try. Luckily, Gothenburg now has a free, public sauna down by the water at Frihamnen, a part of the city that’s rapidly being redeveloped in time for Gothenburg’s 400-year jubilee in 2021. The sauna, which looks like some kind of giant metal robot from the outside, has great views over the harbour, and will soon be joined by a bathing area for people who want to splash around in when they’re done with cooking themselves. The only snag is that, in classic Swedish style, places inside the sauna have to be booked in advance. If you still want to give it a go, the most important thing to know is that dam means women and herr means men. Oh, and another thing: swimming gear is mandatory (not always the case in Swedish saunas).

Catch a film at Hagabion

Going to the cinema in Sweden is a little different from most other countries because one nationwide chain has a virtual monopoly on movie theatres, deciding what gets shown and when. But there are also a couple of independent cinemas in Gothenburg. The best one, Hagabion, has just one screen in a former schoolhouse and shows independent films from around the world. Occasionally it also screens blockbusters at rates lower than regular Swedish cinemas, expect to pay around 80 SEK for a ticket, compared with around 110 SEK at a mainstream cinema. There’s also a great veggie-friendly restaurant in the same building, and a fun bar down at street level.

Do the pentathlon at Liseberg

The main reason for visiting the Liseberg theme park is to try out some of the thrill rides, but the tickets for these can work out really expensive, especially if you’re in Gothenburg with the kids. If you’d prefer not to spend so much or would rather just avoid whizzy rides, do as the locals do and challenge your buddies to a femkamp (pentathlon) inside the park. This is how it works: each person buys a book of five vouchers on the way into the theme park and can then use these to compete in little fairground challenges like throwing basketballs through hoops and shooting down targets with a big-ass water gun. You can choose any five games and the winner of each game wins a snazzy badge. To add a bit more excitement, agree in advance that the person with fewest badges buys the first round of drinks in one of the park’s themed bars.

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