21 things to do in Gothenburg: What to see when visiting Gothenburg, Sweden’s delightful second city
Sweden is a big place. Stretching from just a few hundred miles across the Baltic Sea from Germany and Poland all the way up to the Arctic Circle and beyond, there is a whole lot to see and do in this Scandinavian land.
The thing is, though, for many travellers a visit to Sweden often begins and ends in Stockholm. Sure, there’s plenty going on in Sweden’s amazing capital, which is of course one of the top-ranked cities in Scandinavia and around the world for cleanliness, public transportation, amenities, culture and liveability.
But despite all that the Swedish capital has to offer, there’s just so much more to do and see in Sweden! One great place to start exploring the rest of the country is by visiting Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city.
There are plenty of unique and fun things to do in Gothenburg, despite the city flying under the radar of many travellers to the area. As the largest non-capital city in all of Scandinavia and the fifth-largest city of all the Nordic countries, it’s actually downright odd that Gothenburg isn’t on more travel itineraries.
Perched on the western coast of Sweden on the Göta älv River, Gothenburg is a historically important shipping and fishing hub. It continues to be vital to the economy of Sweden to this day, as the Port of Gothenburg is the conduit for an estimated 30 percent of all goods that are imported and exported to and from the country.
Things to do in Gothenburg don’t end at the city limits either, as it is also a hub for people who are keen on the outdoors. It’s a great jumping-off point to get into some trekking, boating, camping. Gothenburg is also a perfect base for exploring the charming fishing villages that dot the rocky granite coast a short ways down the Göta river toward the North Sea
And Gothenburg proper is much more than just a simple, utilitarian port city. It’s an endlessly fascinating metropolis that retains the famous Swedish order and cleanliness like you see in Stockholm, but Gothenburg infuses it with a bit more laid-back, bohemian, fun attitude, and offers visitors a bit more of a chilled-out, working-class vibe than you might expect having just come from the capital.
The result is you can easily spend a week or more exploring the city and the nearby coastal areas without running out of things to do in Gothenburg. You should definitely devote a minimum a few days to checking out all the Gothenburg attractions on offer — and here are some of the top reasons why!
Top things to do in Gothenburg
1. Visit the Haga District
The beating bohemian heart of Gothenburg is the Haga Nygata neighbourhood. Here you can easily see just how this fully planned city was laid out by the Dutch engineers who were commissioned by the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus to drain the area’s marshlands and give him a strategically important city on the west coast.
Today the neighbourhood still boasts rows of amazingly well-preserved houses with their distinct design of a stone or brick ground floor and wooden stories above, Gothenburg sightseeing makes you feel like you’re traveling back in time as you wander around.
Haga Nygata also plays host to a ton of cafes and restaurants, and the smell of strong Swedish-style coffee permeates the air. You you can start off on your visit to Gothenburg by fully immersing yourself in the Swedish fika culture by enjoying a cozy coffee along with a hagabullen, the famous local pastry. It’s a delicious cinnamon bun as big as a dinner plate, so you might need some extra time (and maybe another coffee) to get the whole thing down!
Haga Nygata is also a great place to get started on enjoying all the shopping here, which is among the best things to do in Gothenburg according to many visitors. Haga is the place to find all manner of artisanal shops selling everything you can imagine — like really, almost literally everything. You can find artisanal soap, traditional Swedish wooden toys, antiques, high-end fashion, second-hand clothing, and of course artisanal chocolate and marzipan.
From there you’re just a 15 minute walk to Avenyn, the locals’ shorthand name for the unwieldy Kungsportavenyn, the city’s main shopping district. This is where the shopping gets a little more high-end and fashion becomes the name of the game at malls and department stores like NK, Arkaden Galleria, Nordstan and more. On Kungsgaten Street you’ll find Scandinavian high-street fashion stores like H&M, Gina Tricot, and Lindex as you explore Gothenburg city centre.
3. Gothenburg Museum of Art
If and when you get tired of shopping, head down the Avenyn for a quiet respite in one of the finest museums in Scandinavia. The Museum of Art is highly recommended on most visitors’ lists of things to do in Gothenburg, housed in an unassuming but nonetheless impressive building but hosting a stunning collection of masterworks from across the centuries.
Opening in 1923 to coincide with Gothenburg’s International Exhibition, the museum features works by European artists who were active from the 1400s right up until modern day times. Here you can see pieces by artists like Picasso, Gauguin, Chagall, Monet, and van Gogh, as well as Renaissance and Baroque pieces by Rembrandt, van Dyck, and Rubens.
But one of the areas of which the curators and the city of Gothenburg are most proud is the Nordic art area, which has a generous collection of works by people like Edvard Munch, Peder Severin Kroyer, and Anders Zorn.
4. Natural History Museum
While we’re on the subject of museums, why not head off the beaten track a bit and check out the eclectic yet fascinating Gothenburg Natural History Museum. This weird and wonderful must-see attraction should be on your list of Gothenburg attractions if for no other reason than the fact that it is home to the world’s only stuffed blue whale exhibit. The beast is some 50 feet long, weighed 25 tons, and used to be on display with its mouth open for visitors to walk inside — until a young couple got caught in there enjoying an intimate moment in what is perhaps the weirdest place on earth for that sort of thing.
But you should also make the effort to seek out the museum’s famed “special cabinet.” This wild and woolly collection (called the Naturaliekabinett in Swedish) is jam-packed with a carnival freak show list of oddities, including a stuffed weasel being squeezed by a snake while he simultaneously bites the reptile’s head, a two-headed cow and more.
In fact, as you stroll through the exhibits, you’ll quickly find out that the taxidermy skills of the earliest collectors—this museum also opened in 1923—varied almost as wildly their imaginations. The results range from the impressive to the cringe-inducing, but overall it’s definitely a worthwhile addition to your itinerary of things to do in Gothenburg.
If you’ve had enough of musty museums and creepy dead animal displays, perhaps it’s time for the fresh air of Liseberg, the largest amusement park in Scandinavia and a huge family favourite among Gothenburg attractions.
Among the well-maintained green spaces and trees within the park you can get your adrenaline rush on with rides ranging from Balder, one of the top-ranked wooden roller coasters in the world, to the Helix, Scandinavia’s longest and fastest roller coaster. There’s also the AtmosFear, Europe’s largest free-fall attraction, or the Mechanica, a 360-degree ride that spins riders around up to 100 feet in the air.
Thoughtful designers made sure children’s rides are strategically placed throughout the park as well, and you can also find free concerts throughout the summer as well as special Halloween and Christmas attractions, making the park a must-see on your list of what to do in Gothenburg.
6. Skansen Kronan
If you’re a history buff, you’ll want to add Skansen Kronan to your list of Gothenburg sightseeing attractions. This impressive hilltop fortress was constructed in 1697 to defend the Swedes from the incursions of the pesky Danes, and over the years it has been variously used as a prison and a military museum, although today it is home to a restaurant and a conference centre.
An adjacent former army barracks houses a seasonal cafe that is open in summer, and while the hike to reach the top of the hill can be challenging, the 360-degree view over the city and the harbour makes it all worthwhile. Plan to end your day there to catch a gorgeous sunset on a clear day, one of the best things to do in Gothenburg!
No trip to a coastal town in Scandinavian country would be complete without getting involved in some seafood action. Believe it or not, the residents of Gothenburg are so into seafood they practically worship it — the city’s famed fish market is known affectionately as the Fish Church, or Feskekörka, named after a design style that resembles a long chapel.
Built in 1874 as a daring architectural design challenge to create a building without pillars, architect Victor von Gegerfelt was inspired to create the Feskekörka after studying Norwegian wooden stave churches and Gothic stone churches. Today it is home to a bustling fish and seafood market where vendors peddle the freshest wares, and a must-see for anyone doing some Gothenburg sightseeing.
8. Gothenburg Botanical Garden
Another highly popular item on everyone’s list of what to see in Gothenburg is the botanical garden. This massive park sprawls over 175 hectares of land, and includes an arboretum and nature reserve. The Gothenburg Botanical Gardens are also home to some 4,000 plants kept in greenhouses, where you can find the largest collection of orchids in all of Sweden, numbering in the thousands.
The arboretum offers visitors a lovely respite from the city’s energy, with a gorgeous waterfall and a rock garden where some 6,000 plant species are on display. Don’t forget to add the sophora toromiro or Easter Island tree to your list of Gothenburg attractions — this species is extinct in its native habitat, and you are unlikely to see it anywhere else!
9. Kronhusbodarna and the Old City Hall
Once you’ve had your fill of the gardens and you’re ready to venture back into the Gothenburg city centre, take the time to visit Kronhusbodarna, the area where the old city hall is located just off of Gustav Adolphus Square.
This is the oldest building in Gothenburg, a six-story brick structure on the outside that is constructed of wood on the interior. It was built in the mid-17th century to be used as a military post, but today the Kronhusbodarna plays host to orchestral concerts and other events.
Even just walking around and checking out the courtyard and surrounding structures that were built around the same time as this centuries-old structure is worth the trip
If you’ve got younger folks with you who quickly grow tired of touring historic buildings and the like, be sure to add the Universeum to your list of things to do in Gothenburg. This combination adventure park and hands-on science museum will keep both kids and adults occupied for hours, with its displays covering how lasers work, criminal and forensic science, and an indoor tropical rainforest with real birds, sloths and monkeys cruising through the branches above as you walk on wooden bridges throughout.
But easily the most popular draw that makes the Universeum one of the best things to do in Gothenburg for kids is the Ocean Zone, where you can get uncomfortably close to sharks and other creatures from the depths. Kids can even get hands-on here and touch various stingrays and other sea creatures!
11. Två Rum och Kök (Kortedala Museum)
If you want to try something off the beaten track in your quest to discover the best things to do in Gothenburg, take a short trip to the suburb of Kortedala and visit the Kortedala Museum. This quirky installation in the model town district of Kortedala recreates a completely furnished typical Swedish apartment from the period between 1955 to 1965, complete with fully stocked kitchen cabinets and living room shelves and furniture from that period.
It’s in Kortedala because the town itself is the creation of the Swedish government in the mid-1950s, designed to be the ideal style of living for the “modern” Swedish family of the era. The museum is free and guides are on hand to share stories about what life was like then and how things have changed over the subsequent decades.
It’s an oddly wonderful and charming adventure on any Gothenburg sightseeing tour!
12. Volvo Museum
While you’re on the museum tip, a short distance from the Gothenburg city centre you’ll find a museum dedicated to what is probably the best-known Swedish export (aside from Abba), the Volvo automobile.
The museum is on the waterfront along the Göta älv River, and showcases everything you ever wanted to know about the beloved car manufacturer, which was founded here in Gothenburg in 1927. You can see vintage cars and trucks as well as concept vehicles that were never brought into production.
And there’s more to see than just cars, as the minds of Volvo also pursued ocean-going vehicles and Volvo Aero, the company’s aircraft component manufacturing arm.
13. Gothenburg Archipelago
When you’re ready for a real break from city life, head downriver to the Gothenburg archipelago for a day trip or for an overnight stay in one of the small fishing villages in the rocky coastal area. You’re in for a treat with great seafood, plenty of the best Gothenburg sightseeing on offer with spectacular cliffs and beaches, trekking and much more.
The southern part of the archipelago is even more peaceful what with it being car-free, but wherever you go you’ll get to see a genuine slice of Sweden and the history of this unique and beautiful place where the land meets the sea.
There are a variety of means for getting there from Gothenburg city centre, with ferries, buses and car ferries (for destinations in the northern archipelago) on offer, including both day trips and longer stays.
14. Christmas in Gothenburg
While most visitors to Scandinavian nations tend to go in summer when the days are longer and the weather is balmier, you might consider changing that up when you learn that one of the most beloved of Gothenburg attractions is the city’s transformation every winter into Christmas City.
Gothenburg during the holiday season undergoes a metamorphosis into a fairy tale, snow-dusted postcard town, with Christmas markets popping up, Christmas lights and events taking over Liseberg amusement park, and Christmas concerts taking place all over the city, including the traditional Swedish Christmas concert for Santa Lucia.
Restaurants offer sumptuous Christmas buffets stocked with seafood and other traditional Swedish holiday foods, and it’s truly a winter wonderland throughout the metropolis. Any fan of Christmas would probably consider a holiday trip one of the best things to do in Gothenburg.
Whatever time of year you visit Gothenberg, a trip up the Guldhedstornet is always a must-see point of interest in Gothenburg. This massive water tower was built in 1953 and at over 400 feet tall it’s the highest point in the city, offering views of the entire city, the harbour, and even much of the Gothenburg archipelago.
On a clear day you can see all the way out to the fortress on Marstrand Island, some 30 miles away. There’s a cafe up at the top as well so you can hang out and savour the view over a sandwich and a coffee or a beer.
16. Jubileumsparken Sauna
A lovely oasis in the centre of Gothenburg and a worthy addition to any Gothenburg sightseeing trip is Jubileumsparken for a soak in the sauna. This awesomely quirky metallic building looks like a carcass left behind after the Great Robot Wars or something, but it houses a free and amazing sauna offering great views of the harbour. You have to book a spot in advance, but you’ll see it’s worth navigating the Swedish-only website once you get inside.
The surrounding harbour area is soon to be transformed into an outdoor swimming area, so you’ll be able to go for a cooling dip after you sweat for a while.
17. Padden Tour
By this time you’ve probably figured out that most of best things to do in Gothenburg revolve around the harbour and the sea in some regard. And one of the best ways to really get a feel for Gothenburg attractions and all that the city has to offer is to take a padden tour.
Padden are flat-bottomed tour barges that ply the waterways in and around Gothenburg, setting out two or three times an hour from various hop-on, hop-off points throughout the city. You’ll cruise the 17th-century canals and pass underneath countless bridges, getting a perspective on Gothenburg unlike you’ve seen before.
Plus if you happen to pass by something that grabs your attention, you can just hop off and pick up again on the next padden that passes by!
18. Masthugg Church
This striking edifice was built as recently as 1914 but nonetheless is a must-see Gothenburg attraction. With its 200-foot tall tower it’s hard to miss as part of the Gothenburg skyline atop the Masthugg Hill along the river. It was designed in Nordic Romantic style by Sigfrid Ericson, the architect who also created the Gothenburg Museum of Art, and it holds up to 1,000 worshipers.
Be sure to check out the triptych behind that altar, also designed by Ericson, and the baptismal font, made from sandstone quarried at nearby Gotland Island.
19. New Alvsborg fortress
Be sure to check out this late 17th-century fortress on an island at the mouth of the Göta älv River if you get a chance. As far as Gothenburg sightseeing is concerned, it is unbeatable both for the impressive history of the place as well as for the views it affords. Constructed to provide the first line of defence in case of an attack by sea, the fortress was actually called into service in 1719 when a combined Danish and Norwegian fleet attacked.
The tours of the fortress go all out in embracing historical themes, and actors in period dress greet you as you disembark and lead you through the facility. The fortress is reachable by boat several times a day from Lilla Bommen and makes an excellent addition to your planned Gothenburg day trips.
While we’re out toward the coast, it’s a worthwhile addition to your list of things to do in Gothenburg to take a trip out to the island of Vinga. It’s ten nautical miles from the harbour entrance in Gothenburg, but a regular ferry complete with a cafe makes the journey comfortable and fun no matter the weather.
Vinga has been an important navigation point for sailors for centuries if not millennia, and the lighthouse on the island dates to 1890. If the Norse weather gods are agreeable and you don’t mind water that’s a little chilly, on a sunny day you can even go for a dip!
21. Gothenburg beer
After a nippy trip out to Vinga, you’ll likely be ready for a beer and maybe a whiskey on your return to the city. Luckily, brewpubs top the list for what to do in Gothenburg, and if you go at the right time of year, you might even catch a beer and whiskey festival.
The first brewery in Gothenburg was built shortly after the city’s founding in 1649 by a German immigrant, Johan Casparsson Poppelman, and craft beer culture has been a big part of the aesthetic of Gothenburg ever since. Poppelman’s legacy is still active today as one of his descendants runs Poppels Brewery, but he’s not alone.
Fully three different India Pale Ales brewed in Gothenburg came in the top 50 such brews in the world recently, and craft beer breweries in Sweden shot up from 30 to 300 between 2007 and 2017. You can find a list of some of the top brewpubs in Gothenburg, at go:teborg, to get you started!
Getting to Gothenburg
Gothenburg is easily reachable from Stockholm with several flights per day that take about 50 minutes, a 3-hour express train ride, or by car in about 4.5 hours. Gothenburg is also home to an international airport that is serviced by numerous cities in Europe and beyond multiple times per day.
From London you can find incredibly cheap tickets if you look, some coming in at under $50 round-trip for a flight that takes under 2 hours.
One thing is certain: you should get yourself to Gothenburg! When it comes to things to do in Gothenburg, you won’t run out of ideas anytime soon!
Scandification. Discovering Scandinavia.
Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. Stay tuned and we’ll bring the essence of Scandinavia to you.