Gothenburg: Big fun in Little London
If Stockholm is Sweden's public face, then Gothenburg is its legs, working hard to keep the country moving forward. Almost three centuries have passed since the Swedish East India Company began launching ships from the city, and it remains a gritty, industrious place, with a proud seafaring heritage.
But beyond the sprawling Volvo warehouses and the container-clogged port, the tram-rattled streets are effortlessly cool, with enough galleries, museums and world-class seafood to make a week-long visit worthwhile. In summer, the city's parks and gardens fill with students, while in winter, cafes warmed by wafts of gingerbread and chai provide shelter from the falling snow.
Founded on the west coast of Sweden in 1621, the city grew up with help from the Dutch. These days, the British influence is more obvious, with cosy pub-restaurants, grey drizzle and the locals' disarmingly good English skills all adding to the city's "Little London" nickname.
Just west of the centre is Gothenburg's ace card: a car-free cluster of rocky, forest-covered islands dotted with red cottages. Take a ferry here after the main summer rush and you'll be one of the few outsiders.
A comfortable bed
For panoramas that you can enjoy in your pyjamas, check out the newly opened Upper House at Gothia Towers (www.upperhouse.se, 0046 31 708 8200). Rooms here are between floors 21 and 24, high above the city in a soaring glass tower, with access to a spa offering treatments inspired by Sweden's west coast - think water, salt and smooth grey rocks. Doubles from 3,995 Swedish kronor (Dh2,209) including taxes.
Next to Gothenburg's main train station, Clarion Hotel Post (www.clarionpost.com; 0046 31 619 000) has become a popular rendezvous for locals. Above the busy grill-bar, which fuses Swedish and American flavours, the vast former post office building has 500 rooms, where the slumber-inducing beds are draped with Norwegian-down duvets. Doubles from 1,620 kronor (Dh896) including taxes.
A cheaper, more authentically Swedish experience can be had at Änggårdens Bed & Breakfast (www.anggardensbedandbreakfast.se; 0046 31 419 706). Doubles with a shared bathroom cost 800 kronor (Dh442) including taxes.
Find your feet
Tree-lined streets and grassy parks put some distance between Gothenburg's main sights, but buses and trams make it easy to stay on track. Start at Göteborgs Konstmuseet (www.konstmuseum.goteborg.se), an imposing, brick-built gallery on the city's central avenue that houses Nordic paintings from the 15th century onwards, as well as works by Picasso and Rembrandt. From here, it's an easy walk to Liseberg (www. liseberg.se), Scandinavia's biggest theme park, with bone-jangling roller coasters in the summer and a winter market in the run-up to Christmas. Two kilometres to the west you'll find the old working class district of Haga, one of the few historic areas to survive the overzealous bulldozing campaigns of the 1960s, and still the most attractive place for coffee and a cinnamon bun.
Meet the locals
Fresh ingredients lure locals to indoor markets around the city. Recently renovated and invariably packed, Stora Saluhallen is the best option for reindeer, elk, coffee and spices. For a real taste of the coast, head west to Feskekôrka, a churchlike market specialising in seafood. Fishmongers here sell mountainous crayfish salads, drizzled with lemon and topped with sprigs of dill. If avoiding other tourists is your top priority, try the newly opened Kville Saluhall, north of the centre on the island of Hisingen, which has delicatessens, a flower shop and its own Peruvian restaurant.
Book a table
In the last few years, Gothenburg has transformed itself from a relatively niche destination into a full-blown foodie hot spot. The region's natural bounty - awash with fresh seafood and seasonal flavours - is scrumptiously diverse.
Down by the opera house, the businesslike Swedish Taste (0046 31 132 780) has white tablecloths and colourful menus that change to take advantage of the best local produce. At this time of year, the highlights are autumn apples, golden chanterelles, mussels and red berries. Three-course dinners for two start at 1,310 kronor (Dh724). Cheaper and a good deal cosier is Haga's nautically-themed Sjöbaren (www.sjobaren.se; 0046 31 711 9780), where hearty fish soups and plates of garlicky prawns are served with rustic bread and butter. A three-course dinner for two costs around 600 kronor (Dh332).
If you want to avoid seafood altogether, dive into the vegetarian buffet at Andrum (0046 31 138 504) on Östra Hamngatan. The dishes are homemade, with vegan and gluten-free options, many inspired by Middle Eastern cooking; it will set you back 77 kronor per person (Dh43).
You can join locals for some bargain hunting at one of the flea markets in Gothenburg's suburbs. North-east of the centre, Kvibergs Marknad (weekends only) has plenty of clothes to rummage through, plus furniture, old books and cameras.
What to avoid
Kungsportsavenyn, the city's main avenue, is an inevitable stop for first-time visitors. Enjoy its sculptures and shops, but sidestep the overpriced restaurants.
During the Cold War, a vast aircraft hangar was carved below ground on the edge of the city and filled with fighter planes. Now open as Aeroseum (www.aeroseum.se; entry 80 kronor/Dh44), an aviation museum, the bunker lets visitors learn about the facility's secret history, and see an impressive collection of jets.
If you go
Return flights from Abu Dhabi to Gothenburg with KLM (www.klm.com), via Amsterdam, cost from Dh2,521 including taxes.