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CHRISTMAS

A complete guide to getting into the Christmas spirit in Gothenburg

As the advent season is well under way, Sweden's second city has plenty on offer to help you get that festive feeling. The Local guides you through the best places to go for gift-buying, decoration-admiring, and julbord-eating.

A complete guide to getting into the Christmas spirit in Gothenburg
The Liseberg theme park is the high point of the festive season for many. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/SCANPIX/TT

Markets

The Liseberg theme park is the highlight of Gothenburg's Christmas festivities for many. Open from December 4th-8th, 10th-23rd and 26th-30th, this is a chance to pick up gifts or foods from the market stalls and enjoy the festive decorations. If you can time your visit for 7pm on weekdays, 4.30pm or 7pm on Saturdays or 5pm on Sundays, you'll be in time for a version of A Christmas Carol on ice skates.

But it's by no means the only market. The city's oldest can be found in Kronhuset every day except Mondays until December 21st, so that you can check out crafts and of course festive food and drink in one of the city's most important historic buildings.

Head to the Academy of Design and Crafts (HDK) between December 6th and 8th to pick up some artsy gifts made by the students there.

And a modern Christmas market can be found in the Nordstan shopping centre until December 30th, with the chance to meet Santa on December 13th-15th, while Kville Saluhall hosts a festive foodie market for one day only on the 14th. 

If it's an escape from the city you want, the annual market on the archipelago island of Hönö has been extended this year, taking place each Saturday until Christmas. There will be music, refreshments, games and activities for children, and special events such as a Christmas beer tasting on December 7th and late night fireworks on the 21st. And over in Kungälv, Bohus fortress hosts a Christmas market on December 14th.

The market in the Haga district. Photo: Göran Assner/imagebank.sweden.se

Shopping and browsing

As well as the markets, one of the top shopping spots to visit is department store NK which boasts some of the most beautiful and certainly the most elaborate Christmas window displays in the city. The Saluhallen Food Market is a great spot to pick up edible gifts.

In the trendy Magasinsgatan neighbourhood you'll find some of the best known Swedish brands and can check out the gingerbread house baked at favourite fika spot Da Matteo. This is one of the most prettily decorated parts of town and on Wednesdays you can also enjoy mulled wine and Christmassy music.

And if you'd like to give gifts to people who are struggling this Christmas, local charity Räddningsmissionen is collecting them in the lobby of Gothia Towers until December 15th. Gift cards are particularly appreciated. Alternatively, Stadsmissionen's Christmas Tram will make its way through the city collecting gifts and giving out mulled wine and gingerbread to those who donate on December 7th. You are also welcome to make donations to their shop on Drottninggatan any weekday until December 20th.

Photo: Göran Assner/imagebank.sweden.se

Lucia

On December 13th, Swedes inject some light into the winter darkness with Luciadagen or Lucia Day, a festival that revolves around lights and music. Many of the best known church performances have already sold out, but there's still a chance to hear the classic festive tunes.

Early risers can head to Drottningtorget to see the performances on the Hotel Eggers balcony (for free) at 6.45am and 7.45am.

Otherwise, catch the magic in the food market Stora Saluhallen at 1pm, or the Nordstan shopping centre at 3pm and 3.30pm.

From 3pm, you can buy any remaining tickets for the performance at Gothenburg Cathedral which starts at 7pm.

Events

Bio Roy will be showing some festive films, including ET, sing-a-long showings of A Nightmare Before Christmas, and a live broadcast of the Nutcracker ballet.

Prefer to see ballet live? See the Nutcracker performed by St Petersburg Festival Ballet at the Symphony Orchestra on December 14th.

Or for an interactive experience, Kungsportshuset is hosting a Christmas Party which combines the classic julbord with musical and other performances.

Photo: Stian Lysberg Solum/NTB scanpix/SCANPIX

Concerts

The festive season is a musical time of year in Sweden.

Book tickets for a musical version of A Christmas Carol at Göteborgs Operan. The singing will be in Swedish, but even non-Swedish speakers will likely recognize the story even if the blend of classical music, pop, rap and opera is new.

City choirs create the 'Singing Christmas Tree', now an annual tradition in Gothenburg that you can watch in Kungsportsplatsen every day from 6pm until December 21st. Perfect for taking a breather during a dash to the shops.

Vasakyrkan's Frid på Jorden (Peace on Earth concert) takes place on December 20th.

Head to the city's cathedral on December 20th or 21st for a Christmas concert featuring a wind orchestra and one of Sweden's top sopranos. And at Stora Teatern, you can choose between an evening of traditional Christmas songs on December 17th, or the Jazzy Christmas event on December 23rd, to get even the most Scrooge-like people in the festive mood.


Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Eat and drink

Swedish Christmas wouldn't be Swedish Christmas without a gigantic festive buffet, and there are plenty of julbord to choose from in Gothenburg.

A lunchtime julbord with one of the best views in town is just 395 kronor on weekdays at Gothia Towers, rising to 695 kronor per person in the evenings and an extra 100 kronor on Friday or Saturday,

Villa Belparc offers a huge spread in the midst of the Slottsskogen park, but make sure to book in advance. 

If you want to head out of the busy centre, Långedrag Värdshus offers a seafood-inspired selection, or you can book a julbord cruise through the archipelago. If you're making a day of it, Tullhuset on Hönö has a highly praised seafood julbord available for large and small groups.

Feeling a bit sick of meatballs and prinskorv? Julbord with a difference is on offer at Lilla Spinneriet, with an Italian flavour (and only a few dates available at the time of publication), while Boule Bar has a French-inspired menu and Blackbird's buffet is fully vegan.

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SWEDISH HISTORY

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s ‘Little London’?

With ties to Britain dating back more than 200 years, the city of Gothenburg has long been known as Sweden’s Little London.

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s 'Little London'?

Grey skies, rainy days, a wide-mouthed river, and a love for English pubs. At first glance, it’s no wonder that Gothenburg has long held the nickname of Sweden’s own “Little London”, or Lilla London

But what are the origins of this British title?

“The nickname ‘Little London’ was first used in a newspaper in 1766,” explains Håkan Strömberg, educational officer at the Museum of Gothenburg.

“The Brits were the largest immigration group during the 1700s and early 1800s, mainly because Sweden was a country close by, it was economically underdeveloped compared to England and Scotland and had a lot of raw materials. To put it simply, could make some money here.”

The city’s reputation as a British enclave dates back to the 1700s when trade brought many foreign influences to the Västra Götaland region.

As merchants and shipbuilders like Charles Chapman, David Carnegie, and James Dickson moved to the area, local residents began to notice a growing list of similarities between the Swedish port city and the British capital.

Indeed, even one of Sweden’s most renowned scientists, Carl Von Linné, is said to have commented on the similarities between the two cities when he visited Gothenburg in the 1700s.

 “Being a group of upper-class immigrants, the British merchants made sure they had access to all the good things from their home country. But the feeling of Gothenburg as a Little London was most likely something the Swedish citizens had, rather than the Brits,” adds Strömberg. 

The historical roots that connect the UK and Gothenburg are still evident today, with many spots in the city still alluding to British names, like Chalmers University – founded by the son of a wealthy Scottish industrialist, or Chapmans Torgnamed after a family of sailors and shipbuilders once well-established in the area. 

Catriona Chaplin, a British expat turned Gothenburger, only began to see the similarities and know of the nickname after relocating to the region for work. Growing up in Leicestershire, central England, she’d never heard of London’s Swedish sibling city.

“We came to Gothenburg 17 years ago. We’d never heard about [the nickname] until we moved here, but there is a bar on Avenyn called Lilla London, so that’s when we started to know about it,” she says.

Today, as the membership secretary of the British Club of Gothenburg, she brings a taste of the British Isles to life in Gothenburg.

The Club, which organises social events like concerts, quiz nights, and theatre performances, has a membership base of nearly 200 families. And although less than 0.5 percent of Gothenburg’s population today was born in the UK, the club welcomes members from a range of nationalities.

In fact, the only membership requirement is having some kind of interest in the UK, be it from a cultural standpoint, a past tourist experience, or a love of the language. 

“People come to the British Club just to socialise in their native language. It’s also about the culture, like the banter, the jokes and playing on words,” she says. 

Although the city’s British roots run deep, questions remain about modern-day Gothenburg’s status as “Little London”.

To some, the west-coast maritime hub’s industrial legacy, strong working-class culture, and amiable nature are reminiscent of a different English city. “They ought to call it ‘Little Liverpool’!” says Chaplin, with a smile. 

Lasting Landmarks

Evidence of Gothenburg’s British connections can be found in many of its landmarks, shops, and of course, pubs. Some of the historical hotspots still apparent today include:

Haga – The British ‘hood 

The area of Haga, just outside the old city, was once considered a slum, but changed character thanks to British philanthropist Robert Dickson (1782-1858), who built public baths, a library, and other landmarks with the typical red bricks found in Britain at the time.

St Andrew’s Church 

A key part of the British community is the Anglican church of Saint Andrew’s, also in Haga. Dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland, it was built and to date funded by ‘The British Factory’, a British society founded in the 1700s to help expats in Gothenburg that remains active even today.

The Victorian gothic style of the church is in line with the architectural trend in Britain at the time. 

John Scott – a legend among Gothenburgers

One of Gothenburg’s most well-loved establishments is John Scott’s, a local pub chain named after Pastor John Henry Scott, an Englishman and prominent landowner in 18th century Gothenburg. 

The “English quarter”

The square of buildings delineated by Teatergatan, Storgatan, Kungsportsavenyn and Vasagatan was once known as the city’s English Quarter. The buildings in this neighbourhood are influenced by British design, and the original landowners were in fact English pastor John Henry Scott and his wife, Jacobina.

By Alexander Maxia, Lisa Ostrowski and Sanna Sailer

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