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TRAVEL

How to visit the city of Gothenburg without ever leaving your home

Travel this summer will look different, with restrictions in place globally. The oncoming months won't feature any of the usual large events and festivals within Sweden, and you may even prefer to avoid domestic travel. Here's how you still can visit Sweden's west coast city of Gothenburg without ever stepping outside your front door.

How to visit the city of Gothenburg without ever leaving your home
The empty amusement park Liseberg in the city of Gothenburg. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

A virtual walk through Haga

Haga is one of the oldest and most charming neighbourhoods in Gothenburg. The pedestrian street Haga Nygata is lined with well-preserved houses, many in the characteristic Gothenburg style called landshövdingehus with one floor in brick and the rest in wood. Today they house plenty of independent shops and cafés.

The fika (coffee with something sweet) you will have to cook up yourself – brew a strong cup of coffee, bake or buy several kanelbullar or cinnamon buns – but some of the shopping can be done from your couch. As can the sunny stroll up and down Haga Nygata, simply by visiting Google Maps.

A taste of Gothenburg

Talking about fika – Gothenburg, as, frankly, the rest of Sweden, has a strong coffee tradition. But since the creation of internationally-known roasters Da Matteo, in 2007, specialty coffee has been a growing scene here, providing plenty alternatives to the traditional Swedish bryggkaffe or filter coffee. The Gothenburg roasters have opened up a world of espresso, V60, drip, Aero Press and all the other latest additions to the evolving coffee industry.

And if you can't get to the café, the café can come to you. Da Matteo ships its home-roasted coffee beans and equipment across the world.

Another west coast taste that can't be left out of the Gothenburg experience is the räkmacka or shrimp sandwich, made with rye bread, fresh sea shrimps, mayonnaise and a soft-boiled egg. A popular place to buy seafood in Gothenburg is the Feskekôrka, or Fish Church, usually selling the catch of the day. But, conveniently, fresh shrimps can be bought throughout Sweden and if you're in Sweden can even be ordered online.


Järntorget in Gothenburg. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/TT

Experience the city with a book

What could be a better escape in these times than letting yourself be transported to another location and era through a book? There is plenty of untranslated Swedish literature that has Gothenburg as its main stage, if improving your language skills has been on your corona to-do-list.

If not, Simon and the oaks (1985) by Marianne Fredriksson is one beautiful example of a book, translated into English, and set in the Gothenburg of the mid-20th century. The book follows the Swedish man Simon Larsson throughout his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Larsson grows up with his adoptive, working-class parents, Karin and Erik. He befriends a wealthy classmate, Isaak Lentov, who has been forced to flee Nazi-Germany with his family. After Isaak's mother's illness requires that she stay in a mental institution, Isaak begins to spend more and more time with Simon's mother, who soon becomes a mother figure.

If you're more of a Nordic Noir type of person, you can try your luck with the works of Åke Edwardson. Edwardson is a Swedish author of detective fiction, and was previously a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University, indeed the city where many of his Inspector Winter novels are set. His first novel to be translated into English was Sun and Shadow, in 2005. The second, Never End, followed in 2006.

Cinematic Gothenburg

Gothenburg has not only been the stage to a number of novels, but, luckily, also to a multitude of series and films. One if the most recent and popular examples is the series 'Vår tid är nu', which is available on Netflix under the name 'Restaurant'.

Wait, isn't it set in Stockholm? Well, yes, or at least it pretends to be. The majority of the scenes were actually filmed in Sweden's second-largest city. Many of the interiors can been found in Haga, the neighbourhood described above. Other scenes of this post-war drama have been shot at, for example, the university library built in 1900, on Vasagatan, in the former working-class quarters of Majorna, in the castle of Nääs, in Änggården next to the Botanical gardens, at Hôtel Eggers opposite the central train station, and in many other hidden and less-hidden corners of Gothenburg.

If, again, you are looking for more suspense, give the Johan Falk films a try. The fictitious policeman can be seen chasing criminals through the city's streets, having a shootout in the shopping mall Nordstan and getting a nightcap in bar Notch on Viktoriagatan.


Gothenburg's central station. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Sounds of the city

As most concerts and other large events have been cancelled, venues and artists have come up with ways to transport music, operas, dance and theatre to your living room. Gothenburg's concert hall, for example, is live-streaming its performances, providing digital visitors with a broad selection of classical and modern pieces by, for example, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

Another not-to-miss sound is the voice of, arguably, Gothenburg's most famous singer-songwriter Håkan Hellström, who, through his songs, takes you through both his life and the city. Here you'll find a list of recommended tunes, in Swedish.

But, with Gothenburg's reputation of being one of the greenest cities in the world, with inhabitants having easy access to large parks, forests, lakes, the northern and southern archipelagos and wide ocean views, you might want to transport yourself to the country's west coast through a nature symphony.

YouTube and Spotify give access to ocean breaks and forest sounds, but if you want something more local and spring-like, try Fågelpodden, a night's worth of Swedish bird song as heard throughout Sweden, featuring robins, blackbirds and many other native and migrating species.

Night in the museum

Most museums in Gothenburg are still open to the public, which also means that not all of them have chosen to move their exhibitions online. Having said that: some actually did so anyway, enabling you to digitally wander these museums day and night from the comfort of your home.

A good example is Göteborgs Konstmuseum, which has digitalised some of its wonderful temporary and permanent exhibitions. Experience, for example, the contemporary '148 Works' by the Dane Trine Søndergaard. If you'd rather export yourself to the Renaissance and Baroque era, digitally visit Tryckt, an exhibition presenting prints from masters like Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn and Marcantonio Raimondi.

The adjacent Hasselblad Center even has digital guided tours of its new (contemporary art) exhibition, Feast for the eyes.

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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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