A couple of days in Gothenburg, Sweden
The trip to Gothenburg was a spur of the moment decision. The city wasn’t one on my list of ‘must see’ places but in need of another break already, it was somewhere new and I was prepared to give it a go – along with my friend, Marc.
Rather luckily for us, it was British Airways Avios that covered the cost of the flights, although we each had to pay a flat charge of £30.00 on top of the 9,000 points required for each seat. Not only that but the routing was an interesting one, travelling from London Heathrow to Manchester and onwards to Gothenburg with Sun Air of Scandinavia (a British Airways franchisee) before flying home directly. For those who aren’t enrolled in the airline’s frequent flyer programme, it is definitely worth signing up for. The miles add up quickly and can be exchanged for free flights, discounted upgrades, hotels etc.
On Friday 31 May, it was a very early start for me. The alarm went off at 3.00am, I jumped into the shower, stuffed the last items into my suitcase and hit the road at around 3.40am, setting off to collect Marc and then off to the airport. Arriving at around 5.15am after parking in an off-airport car park, there was just enough time to check in, collect some Swedish Krona and grab a coffee before boarding the flight.
I am often called a travel snob, which is probably true. I’m not a fan of low cost air travel. I don’t like not to be allocated a seat, I don’t like flying to and from airports in the middle of nowhere, I don’t like to pay to check in a suitcase (I mean, who seriously can make do with a hand baggage allowance?) and I don’t like to be charged over the odds for a sandwich and a cup of coffee when in the air. British Airways, as always, were a perfect choice for this trip.
Our 35-minute flight to Manchester passed very quickly. During the trip, each of the 15 or so passengers (yes, it really was that empty) was fed a tasty breakfast muffin and drinks. Once in Manchester, it was a 2 hour wait until our onward flight to Sweden. With little in the way of shopping and restaurants at terminal three, it quickly became a little boring. It was a far cry from the excellent terminal five at Heathrow.
Having browsed Facebook to death, it was at last time to continue our travels to Gothenburg. The small aircraft operating our flight had just 30 seats on it, of which only seven were occupied. We were told of a short delay whilst an eighth passenger, arriving into Manchester on a delayed flight was brought to the flight, but the staff gave up waiting, closed the doors and got the flight under way.
At 12.30pm local time, we landed in a breezy but warm Gothenburg. I was expecting chillier conditions but instead the temperature sat in the low twenties and the sun shone brightly – and it continued to do so for most of the following two days.
Our base for the trip was the Radisson Blu Scandinavia hotel, a 4-star hotel on the doorstep of the Gothenburg central train station and the Nils Ericson terminal, the city’s bus and coach station. With taxi fares extortionately high, we were keen to find a hotel within walking distance of the bus station and with it’s good reviews, complimentary breakfast and WiFi, the Radisson made for a good choice. Like lots of other passengers arriving into Gothenburg’s Landvetter airport, we travelled into the city using the Flygbussarna coach service. It was a reliable service, buses were
frequent (around every 20 minutes) and it was reasonably priced at around £18.00 per person for a return journey. Getting off of the coach in the city, we could see our hotel just a couple of hundred yards away. The location was perfect.
For anybody considering the Flygbussarna, be aware that only credit cards are accepted, even if purchasing from the ticket counter inside the airport terminal. Also note that by buying tickets on the internet in advance, a small saving can be had. The service is very popular so don’t be too surprised if you find yourself standing on your journey to/from the airport.
The Radisson Blu Scandinavia (not to be confused with the cheaper and less central Radisson Blu Riverside) was a really great hotel. Aside from a perfect location, the service was good, the rooms were large and equipped with everything needed for a comfortable stay, the breakfast was excellent and the free internet throughout was a real bonus. Struggling to sleep, I could turn on the iPad and watch a programme or two on Netflix.
It made sense on our first afternoon to visit the local tourist information centre, just a stone’s throw from the hotel, and it was there that we each purchased a 48-hour Gothenburg City Card. The city card is not particularly cheap but with unlimited use of public transportation, free access to no end of attractions in and around the city and various discounts too, it was a worthwhile expense. Passes are available for 24, 48 or 72 hours. The price of ours was around £42.00 so we were keen to put it to good use.
The first activity for us was a trip on the Paddan canal boat, lasting a little under an hour. Even in late May, it is considered low season, so boat and bus departures are few and far between. Other attractions can also have reduced opening hours.
Boarding our boat in the city centre at Kungsportsplatsen, we enjoyed a leisurely cruise through the canals of Gothenburg, passing under a number of bridges and out into the harbour. At the beginning of the trip, the tour guide told us that one of the bridges was so so low that we would need to get on the floor when passing under it. Of course, lots of people laughed, assuming that this was a joke. The lowest bridge, known locally as Osthyveln (or the cheese slicer bridge) really did require us to hit the deck! Enjoying the sunshine, the many people sat on the banks would wave as the the boat passed.
For our meal that evening, we decided to stay at Kungsportsplatsen (the city centre) and went to an Italian restaurant. As expected, it didn’t offer the best value for money, but no restaurant did. Eating and drinking in Sweden is expensive (alcohol especially) so the £18.00 or so for a large portion of spaghetti bolognaise plus £3.00 for a bottle of sparkling water was about average. A smaller portion was available for a little less.
Visiting Gothenburg on a budget might be tough. Even visitors sticking to a McDonald’s diet might be surprised, with even a medium extra value meal costing around £8.00.
On our second day, we had planned some activities and set off shortly after breakfast to catch the hop-on hop-off bus from Stora Teatern in Kungsportsplatsen, but there wasn’t a departure at the time we had hoped for. We were pointed in the direction of the Stinsen sightseeing train (also included in the City Card), which we gave a go. The novelty of riding on a train through the city was definitely more for the younger visitors to the city but it was still fun and a nice way to see some of Gothenburg.
On leaving the train, we decided to return for a tour on the bus, which included many of the same stops as the train, but offering a slightly better elevated view. One of the stops on the tour was the Feskekôrka (or fish church), which is a building containing a fish market and restaurants. It sits right next to the canal and looks just like a church – hence the name.
Gothenburg’s own theme park, Liseberg, was apparently accessible to us as City Card holders, so we decided to go along in the afternoon but were quickly disappointed. Little did we realise but the card only allowed ‘access’ to the theme park and not the use of any rides. Stood in line for one ride, we realised that everybody around us was wearing a bar-coded wrist band. Passing a member of staff, we asked why we too hadn’t been issued with these bands. It was explained that the City Card really did only allow us into the park to look around and not to enjoy any of the attractions. An additional fee of around £30.00 applied if we wanted to use the rides. Needless to say, we left.
Using the city’s trams to get around, we soon found ourselves back by the harbour, where we decided to explore the Navy explorer, Småland. Built in Gothenburg in 1952 and in service with the Swedish Navy from 1956 until 1979, the vessel is now open to the public as a museum and there is no entrance fee. Alongside it is the submarine Nordkaparen, which is also accessible to the public. Climbing into and out of the submarine definitely isn’t for the more claustrophobic visitors!
Heavy rain started to fall as we left the ship and it didn’t seem to stop. After spending a good 20 minutes or so waiting for it to pass, we decided to brave the conditions and to make a dash for it, passing a rather nice sweet shop on the way. It was an opportunity for us to take shelter again, to dry out a little and to stock up on some Swedish chocolate bars called Plopp. Despite the unappealing name, these milk chocolate bars contain a caramel filling and were tasty enough.
Returning to the hotel, we took advantage of the swimming pool in the basement, which cost an additional £5.00 or so per person. The pool was not the best, it was full of people and really not very enjoyable. After around 15 minutes, we could take no more and decided to leave.
Dinner that evening was at the Hard Rock Café in the city centre, which again wasn’t fantastic value for money, but the food was good, the service was good and it was a pleasant atmosphere. Like many of the Swedish people spoken to during our trip, when our Swedish server was asked “do you speak English?” she replied “of course!” They were all very friendly – and very fluent in English too! A two course meal here for the pair of us plus drinks (including three beers) was a little over £70.00.
On the following morning, we checked out of the hotel and made the most of our last day. Unlike some other European cities, a Sunday in Gothenburg is just like any other day of the week. Many attractions open as normal and the huge Nordstan shopping centre (the largest shopping centre in Scandinavia) was open too, albeit with slightly reduced opening hours.
With time running out on our city cards, we set off to the Aeroseum at Holmvägen. Well out of the city, this museum was once a top secret air base, based in an underground bunker. With a number of civil and military aircraft types on display, along with plenty of photographs, a simulator experience and snippets of information, it is a nice place to while away the hours. Unfortunately, we could only stay for around 90 minutes as we had to get back to the city before the expiry of our city cards.
After one last lunch and an hour or so sat by the canal, we headed back to the hotel for our luggage and then set off to the airport for the 9.30pm flight home. The airport was small and with our flight being the last of the day, many of the shops and restaurants closed, meaning that there wasn’t an awful lot to do there.
All in all, it was a great trip. Although expensive, there was enough to keep us busy for a couple of days, there was plenty of variety when it came to eating and shopping, and the people were very friendly too. I look forward to exploring more of Scandinavia in the near future.
A bit of an update (24.02.2015): The very clever WordPress tells me what people are searching for when they stumble across my posts. Two searches today were ‘Gothenburg is really boring’ and ‘Is Gothenburg boring for tourists?’ Just to reiterate, Gothenburg is far from boring. Yes, there’s not as much to do as there might in Stockholm, but it’s still a really fun and friendly place, and the perfect place for a short break.