The original plan was to go to Stockholm, but that would have involved handing over our hard-earned dosh to Ryanair, something we had pledged never to do again… so that plan was never going to take off. Thankfully, with the help of Google and our trusty 36 Hours in Europe book, it didn’t take long to conjure up an alternative: Gothenburg. Sweden’s second city caught our attention because it was often lumbered with the tagline of being a little rough around the edges but undergoing a resurgence. We like the sound of places like this, they are usually a little more under the radar and less chaotic than the main tourist haunts.
After spending a long weekend in Gothenburg, I would whole-heartedly recommend it as city break destination for those who are content with strolling the pretty streets, browsing through the trendy shops, and wandering down the halls of their excellent museums. We did all that, but mainly so we could walk off all the food we were devouring. The city is covered by both the Michelin Guide and its specifically Nordic counterpart, the White Guide, so there is a lot of great food to be had at all times of the day. We dabbled in the Swedish ‘fika’ culture with stops for tea and buns, while also enjoying a mix of traditional and modern Swedish cuisine – here are a few ideas for you if you ever find yourself in Gothenburg…
Indulge in Fika…
Cafe Husaren, Haga
After some extensive browsing through the shops of Haga, Gothenburg’s oldest neighbourhood, we found ourselves in need of a tea break and I knew of just the place to go. From the outside, the cafe could pass for any other in a busy corner of this old neighbourhood but the orderly queue inside and the constant stream of people passing through its front door gave us a clue that it was a well-loved local establishment. Cabinets housed a huge range of pastries and open sandwiches, but we were here for their famously gigantic cinnamon buns! At about the size of a dinner plate, we literally needed a knife to cut it up and even with the two of us summoning our second stomachs, we still couldn’t finish it off – not the best buns in town, but worth a visit for the novelty!
Ahlstroms, City Centre
Opened since 1901, Ahlstroms is one of the city’s oldest bakeries and still one of its busiest. We arrived late in the afternoon, which I wouldn’t recommend as they were almost all sold out of pastries, but luckily managed to snap up their last cinnamon bun and semla bun. Their cinnamon bun was definitely my favourite of the whole weekend – the bread was super soft and fluffy, and I loved the custard in the middle. You’ll find Ahlstroms near the main shopping street; either pop in for some buns to takeaway or find a seat in the old school dining room.
Da Matteo, Various
It’s a bakery chain but apparently the place to find some of the city’s best kanelbullar (the Swedish name for cinnamon buns), so I had to set aside my prejudices and try one. Their cafes are actually in great locations around town so they are really handy and reliable spots to embrace a bit of fika – their buns were pretty decent too!
After a morning spent at the fantastic Goteborgs Konstmuseum (a really engaging art gallery, even for those of us who aren’t exactly art buffs) we refuelled at Tvakanten which is a short walk down the main boulevard. I would describe their style as an updated take on traditional Swedish cuisine, served in a casual and welcoming atmosphere – I’d highly recommend their Swedish meatballs served with mashed potatoes and lingonberries in a cream sauce!
Swedish Taste at NK, City Centre
We found ourselves window shopping (sometimes I really wish I bought baggage allowance) at Gothenburg’s most trendy department store, NK, so it would have been remiss to not stay for lunch at the outpost of Swedish Taste located in the cellar vaults. At this concept of renown local chef Magnus Lindstrom, we found a small food market area on one side and a welcoming dining room on the other. The menu was succinct but there was plenty to tempt us, including the mini tacos and the lobster roll; next time we might just stop for the oysters and champagne which were a favourite amongst neighbouring diners.
It was extremely difficult to find a decent place open for lunch before our flight home on Monday, so we were thrilled when our waiter at Swedish Taste recommended we visit Sjobaren. There are two branches to choose from, we went with the one in Haga, but at both you can expect traditional Swedish fare, a warm welcome and a room full of happy locals. Lunch service had a very informal and communal vibe; we were invited to help ourselves to bread and salad before tucking into our mains, a fish stew for me and the prettiest, most generous fish pie I’ve ever seen for a certain someone!
Fine Dining Dinners…
There are six Michelin star restaurants in Gothenburg, all with fantastic menus and a very distinct Nordic style so it took quite a while for me to finally settle on Koka. What swung it for me was their commitment to local ingredients and their very modern but unfussy style. They also have a predominantly organic wine list and the highest score of all the Gothenburg restaurants also listed in the Nordic White Guide. Our meal lived up to the accolades; we went all out with the seven course menu and were treated to seriously good dishes where each ingredient was treated with care. One of the highlights was a sirloin dish like nothing we’ve tried before… remarkably tender and only ever so slightly cooked which resulted in this bold pink centre. At first glance it almost looked like slices of tuna steak, served alongside a hazelnut purée with garlic and excellent crispy Jerusalem artichokes.
Upper House Dining, Heden
Not many restaurants are open on a Sunday night in Gothenburg but I managed to get us a table at Upper House Dining. While they weren’t serving their Michelin star menu tasting menu, they were serving a more succinct set menu. We started with snacks which included the most delectable cheese-stuffed profiteroles, had starters of beef tartare and salmon waffles, a main of pork belly, then finally finished on a rich rum chocolate brownie. The dining room is on the 20-something floor of Gothia Towers so the views are fabulous and the staff and atmosphere were lovely too!
So Make a Move…
- Getting there: if you’re avoiding Ryanair too, you can fly from London with Norwegian Air for around £60-80/pp return, flight time is approximately 2 hours. From the airport, take the Flygbussarna bus service to get into the city centre in 30 minutes.
- Ditch the cash: don’t bother getting any Swedish krona sorted for your visit as the country is almost cashless. We used our credit card for everything… which is why we still have the SEK1,000 that we got out at the airport!
- Gothenburg Konstmuseum: the city’s Museum of Art houses a fantastic collection of both traditional and contemporary art. We easily whittled away several hours exploring its various exhibitions. Entry is SEK60/£5 for adults, free for under 25s.
- Gothenburg Konsthall: next door to the Konstmuseum, this gallery houses ever-changing, interesting contemporary art exhibitions. Entry is free.
- Trädgårdsföreningen: take a walk around the Garden Society of Gothenburg park, make sure you don’t miss the beautiful Palm House. Entry is free.
- Feskekörka: this fish market is one of the most recognisable buildings in the city… from the outside it’s quaint and inviting but there’s not much to see inside. Pop in for a look if you’re walking by but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it, especially not for lunch.
- More restaurant ideas: other restaurants I had on my list but we didn’t get a chance to try included Bhoga, Bar Centro, Familjen, Bord 27.