Whenever I have the pleasure of taking guests to show them my city I wonder: will they be happy to see things from the outside or would they rather go inside? This might sound like a weird question to you, but allow me to explain. One of the most frequent things I do is walking tours. I pick up my guests at their hotel and we go for a walk where I show them the beauty of Gothenburg.
Would you like to go inside?
There are so many great things to see in a city, but when you have a limited amount of time, we tend to simply scratch the surface. We walk past some of the most amazing buildings but don’t go in. We point out “here’s this museum, and this is City Hall, and over there is where the local parliament resides, and it’s a beautiful building.” We never go inside which is a shame.
There are two main reasons why: a) most buildings aren’t open to visitors, which is a shame. Our local stock exchange is one of the most impressive places we have to show, but it’s only open once every blue moon at specific times, which never suits visitors from abroad. I can tell them that their president or prime minister had dinner here with our king, but I can’t show them.
The second reason is time. Even if the building were open, if you have four hours for a walking tour, there’s not time to spend one or two hours in just one building.
You need a reason to come back…
This is my MO for every place I visit: I miss something important, simply because I’d like to come back. And on a second visit, I may not have to do the “usual” again, but I can dive deeper. I’ve been to Venice countless times since I was a child, and while I have my “have to’s”, e.g. to drink a glass of Prosecco on St. Mark’s Square after dark and listen to live music, these days, my visits to this amazing city allow me to visit places most first-time visitors don’t see.
As a tour guide here in Gothenburg, I kind of see it as my responsibility to water my guests’ mouths, to make them want to come back for more. It’s a delicate balance and I always make sure to learn about hteir interests ahead of time, to make sure they experience exactly what they want, whether it’s walking past a building or going in (if possible.)
What was once an industrial city is changing, rapidly, into a modern cosmopolitan city
Gothenburg as a city is changing. Rapidly. And right now, the changes are happening faster than ever before, or so it seems. I’m not sure if this is true for other cities, as well, but my town seems to need a “reason” to change. In 1921, ahead of the previous big jubilee, it saw huge changes: an amusement park, several museums and stately buildings which still dominate the landscape, to this very day.
Does it take a large event for major change to happen?
After that, the city seemed to have slumped a bit and just evolved. When I moved here in 1992, Gothenburg seemed to be a tired, beaten city. Run-down buildings everywhere, fifty-eleven shades of gray, you name it. The demise of the three large shipyards in the harbor, the troubles Volvo was going through, it all affected the spirits of the city. But there was a sense of hope, nevertheless. We had been awarded the 1995 IAAF Athletic World Championships, and we were going to clean up our city for that event. Boy, did we succeed!
Major projects underway
Since then, the city has grown, loads of new housing has replaced the empty spaces where keels were laid out and ships were built. Particularly on the western banks of the river Göta. But more is yet to come, and with the immense growth of that side of the city, there is a need for better transportation infrastructure.
As we approach the next big celebration of our town, 400 years, in 2021, the city is suddenly ready to take leaps into the future:
a futuristic cable car across the river as a means of mass transportation
a brand new car, tram & bus bridge to cross the river, replacing the old one from 1939
a brand new tunnel to help with traffic congestions
our first “subway” tunnel of sorts, with two new underground railway stations across the city
Karlatornet (and the entire neighborhood), which is going to be Scandinavia’s tallest skyscraper
and several other neighborhoods are in the process of being re-developed with tall buildings adding thousands of apartments for tens of thousands of new inhabitants.
Traditionally, we have very few “tall” buildings in Gothenburg. Several devastating city fires put a damper on that. However, when the city fairgrounds built their third hotel tower a few years ago (which includes Sweden’s very best hotel), that tower breached 100 m, thus officially (ridiculous compared to other cities, I know, but this is Sweden) making it a skyscraper.
When builder Ola Serneke announced the project, people went nuts. The idea was so crazy, so outlandish that nobody believed it. And against all odds, it is actually being built. All the permits are in place and many of the apartments are already sold. It’s going to be a landmark for sure, replacing Turning Torso in Malmö as Scandinavia’s tallest building with its whopping 245 meters.
Along the river
But there is more. About a decade ago, we tunneled the main traffic artery through the middle of the city, and that entire space is now ready for development. Sadly, in our town (I’d be happy to tell you on a tour) some of these things seem to take forever, but you can already see the changes in a few places, and with the coming train/subway tunnel, it sank some of the plans even further.
Gothenburg is built on clay and every building needs to be firmly “poled” into solid ground, sometimes dozens of meters into the ground. Not easy when you’re also building a tunnel through all of that.
Right now, a further stretch of the city freeway along the central station is decked over and an entirely new neighborhood is being developed. The sketches from the city almost appear like science-fiction.
It’s always a good time to visit…
Whether you like to see the old or watch the new city grow, or if you’re interested in how we tackle the future, which includes getting ready for the ever-increasing sea-levels, then you should visit Gothenburg now. All the rest, food, great lodging, art, fun, entertainment is in place as always, but a city in a revolutionary transformation from “industrial” to “futuristic” isn’t something you get to witness every day.
Good question: what if you don’t know what to expect, what to see?
In a previous post here, I underlined the importance of talking to your tour guide, to let them know what you want to see, do. This has prompted some reactions, both online, on social media, but I’ve also received an e-mail, from Paul, living in Manchester. He writes:
“…but what if I don’t know what do see, what to do in a new destination? Clearly then, a standard tour may be a better option for me, to get a flavor of what the place is all about?”
Allow me to clarify…
First a big thank you to Paul for his e-mail. I do understand your point, and tour companies selling standard tours make it very well, in destinations all over the world. I’d not want to see my post or this company as a competitor to those offerings. We’re a complement, for the most part.
If you spend a week or more at a destination, if you have plenty of time, I think those off-the-rack tours can be very valuable. We recently spent two weeks on Madeira and spent one day on one of those hop-on-hop-off buses as a means to get an overview of Funchal.
There are pros and cons to everything
But with every offer, there are pros and cons. With a standard tour, you have no choice. You’re either in, or out. You get to see things you want to see, and you’ll be dragged to see things, or do stuff you don’t care for. As I exemplified in my very first post, one of my personal pet peeves is shopping on tours. For someone else, it may be architecture, or museums, or…
Trust your guide
So what if you don’t know what to do, what to expect. Trust your guide. We’ve lived in our cities for a long time, we know what people tend to like. I’ve guided visitors through Gothenburg since 1992, and I know what people like to see, and what they will wrinkle their noses at.
The whole point of customizing is to provide that little extra. Allow me to exemplify: say you love architecture, building techniques. I could spend days just showing you different buildings here, I could show you differences in Sweden’s building standards, fire safety and even take you to homes to see how we actually live. One tiny topic, we could ‘nerd’ for days!
Any information you provide makes your tour better
I maintain: the more information you provide your guide, the better and interesting your tour will be. You don’t need to know your destination, but I presume that you do know what you like, and if you tell me to just surprise you, I can do that, too. But you’ll forfeit the right to complain about my choices… 😉
Make sense? Welcome to Gothenburg. Contact us here.
What is it with raining men or “cats and dogs” anyway? I once taught a class in Singapore, with trainees from across Asia, some whose English wasn’t as good. When suddenly faced with a downpour, I looked out the window (it was one of my first visits to Singapore, too) and – utterly amazed by the downpour exclaimed: “Look, it’s raining cats and dogs…” Some of the trainees, unaccustomed with the expression, rushed to the window, taking it literally. Imagine their disappointment when it was just water…
Gothenburg & raining = a thing
I’ve lived in Gothenburg for twenty-six years, and yes, it rains a lot here. It’s not actually as bad as our reputation claims if you look at the official statistics:
You can expect rain, more or less, every other day. That doesn’t mean it will be pouring constantly!
We don’t normally get tropical downpours here, but it’s more what we in German would call “Landregen”(steady rain) and a drizzle, annoying but you hardly even need an umbrella. Rain also feels different in summer and winter. Summer rains are calmer, it’s not usually windy so it’s just raining.
In the winter, when it’s also blowing with gale force winds, our rains are like something taken from a Hollywood movie, horizontal and coming right at you. Still, not bucket loads, but don’t bring an umbrella. It.Just.Does.Not.Work!
Instead, people here wear “oil garments”, at least on the islands. They’re not quite as practical in the city, but a waterproof coat with a hoodie, and you’re good to go.
So what do you do?
Loads! We have so many amazing museums, from our city museum where they often tackle historically sensitive topics, to our famous art museum with exhibits that focus on the “Nordic Light” (more later) to our Design museum, the Universeum with its amazing aquarium, or why not the Volvo museum?
Museum visits can be added at any time when the weather turns sour. If it’s a short rain (we usually track weather radar around here and have a pretty good idea how bad it will be), you go for a Swedish “fika”, i.e. coffee/tea and cake and enjoy a break. Or you could go shopping, or you could catch a movie (we show most movies in the original language, so always plenty of English spoken movies to see)
Sometimes, it’s raining for days…
Let’s not despair. It’s not ideal. I agree. When I studied Nordic culture at the University of Zurich, one of our professors told us that research in the Nordics showed that visitors who enjoyed good weather on their first visit, would always return, addicted by the Nordic light, which is quite unique and which as inspired artists for centuries. On the flip side, those who had bad weather would never return. So yeah, bad weather up here means darker days, the walls of buildings are wet and dark, and it’s easy to get the impression that this is a depressing place. We share that across all the Nordic destinations. It’s part of our DNA.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to do. Dress properly and I promise you that a visit to a forest for a walk (less rain under its canopy). I promise you, the smells will make you feel quite relaxed and, depending on the month, we might even find mushrooms.
A visit to the ocean…
Or, you take that raincoat of yours for a walk to the coast. The worse the weather, the more impressive it can be. A storm around here is rarely dangerous (unless you’re acting recklessly), but visually impressive. Sitting on a public transport ferry that’s rocking in the waves, drinking coffee, or walking along almost overflowing jetties and beaches, watching waves crash against the boulders out west. Trust me, it’s an unforgettable experience, and you’ll completely forget that it’s raining around you.
Rain can be annoying, but at the end, there’s always a rainbow…
Sure, we all wish that our destinations were always sunny. It’s why so many of us travel to the Mediterranean in the summer. I get that. But that’s just not what we have up here. Instead, we offer lush greenery you don’t find in many other places. You can’t live here without embracing the rain.
And we know that after each downpour or drizzle, there’s a chance to see a rainbow, and that’s always something to look forward to!
Coming to Gothenburg means expecting rain. But I promise you, I’ll make sure you’ll want to come back again, despite what research says! Feel free to contact me to learn more.
When I moved to Gothenburg in 1992, it was to study. It was a different city then it is now. The wounds (scars?) after the disappeared shipyards were still gaping on the north shore of Göta River, yet there was an optimism in town, something that really appealed to me.
Gothenburg had recently been awarded the IAAF Athletics World Championships and the year 1995 proved to be pivotal for how we locals viewed our town. Perfect weather, huge crowds, and amazing competitions made those days memorable to anyone who’d been there. In the local amusement park, our tourist organization kept showing a short movie while we waited to see the city from what was then a turning viewpoint (since turned into a freefall attractions) about various parts of town, and I’ll never forget the slogan: “Göteborg, we love you!”
A rapidly changing, but friendly city
Yeah, yeah, I know, corny. BUT, us Gothenburgers really do love our city, and we hurt when things don’t go well, and we love to show her to our visitors. As a Gothenburger, I am proud of the city I live in, the progress we make, the way the skyline is changing, new business sprouting, in life-science, computer science, new buildings, including landmark Karlavagnen.
I’ve lived here, in the archipelago, for over twenty-five years, and with all the cultural happenings, the infrastructure investments (roads, railway, tunnels), and all the new food places and cafés, this is an exciting time to visit Gothenburg. On this blog, I’ll share (weekly, that’s the plan) some of my favorite places. Keep in mind, there are loads of them, there’s so much to do, which is why Condé Nast, the Guardian, the Independent and many U.S. papers keep referring to Gothenburg as a top tourist destination. Did I mention that we are really friendly here?
What about that name?
You probably wonder: Gothenburg? Göteborg? Huh? They say a dear child has many names, and our city was built by Scots, Germans, Dutch, and Swedes, so it’s no surprise that it’s been translated, just like many other great cities. In Swedish, it’s Göteborg, Gotenburg is our German name, Gotemburgo our Spanish/Italian and Gothenburg our English one, but you can also hear “Goteborg” or “Göteburg”. But don’t worry, whatever name you use is fine with us! 🙂
I’ll grant you this though, the aforementioned film uses the Swedish name. For a while, we had a mayor who insisted that we use the Swedish name, even in international marketing. The year after he retired, things slowly went back to normal and we now use Gothenburg again, mostly, but the city’s official marketing logo is still a reminder of that ‘era’, although I like their twist on it, using the internationally mostly inexistent “ö” and turn it into a call to action: GO to Gothenburg!
I moved to Gothenburg twenty-six years ago to study. I’m still here, and I love my hometown. I’ve learned a lot about our history, culture, and I know a great many places to visit. I’ve been showing people around here for as long as I’ve lived here. I’d love to show you around, too, virtually, here on this blog, and personally, during a visit.
I’ll add photos here, too, but let me finish with a tip of someone who uploads the most beautiful pictures of our town on Instagram, daily. Don’t miss her account: https://www.instagram.com/goagoteborg/
Meanwhile, if you have questions, feel free to reach out to us. Any tips on what to write about? Suggestions are welcome.