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Gothenburg: why Sweden’s pocket-sized metropolis is a magnet for internationals

With its location in the heart of Scandinavia, Gothenburg has a growing reputation as both an important business hub and an exciting tourist destination. It’s also one of the fastest-growing regions in Europe – and the growth looks set to continue.

Gothenburg: why Sweden's pocket-sized metropolis is a magnet for internationals
Photos: Photo: Anders Wester/Göteborg & Co

By 2030, the city’s labour market area is expected to include 1.8 million residents, up from 1.4 million today. As the city celebrates turning 400, The Local takes a look at its rich industrial and cultural history and explores why Gothenburg is a thriving location for international workers, businesses and visitors today.

A thriving international city: learn more about the wealth of opportunities in Gothenburg – one of the fastest-growing regions in Europe

A business hub offering enjoyment and efficiency

“My meetings can start at 7.30 in the morning with a meeting with China and end at 5pm with a meeting with the US,” says Romana Fischer. “Just in my team, we have at least eight nationalities.”

German-born Romana, who moved to Gothenburg in 2012 after living in New Zealand and Paris, is a management consultant focusing on sustainability at manufacturing giant SKF. Gothenburg feels more international than the French capital, she says, while also retaining an informal Swedish culture that allows you to take more pleasure in work and in life. No wonder, it’s known as a pocket-sized metropolis.

“Business is not less important – it’s even more important here – but people are more relaxed and go about it in a different way,” she says. “You can enjoy being in the city more. I feel I have more time to get things done in a day without actually having to work more.”

Gothenburg’s geographic location is crucial to its strong international appeal – 70 percent of Scandinavia’s population and industry lies within 500km. It’s no surprise then that it’s a logistics hub and an important base for many European and multinational firms. 

How is this shaping the city today? Well, there’s the small matter of 10,000 more jobs in the city since 2010 and a 41 percent increase in gross regional product.

Discover more about Gothenburg’s growth – and the opportunities for you in the city

From shipbuilding to science parks and sustainability 

Gothenburg became a major trading and shipping town in the 18th century. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the city was a shipbuilding centre of international standing.

But by the 1980s, the shipyards were unoccupied and the Lindholmen area was in need of revival. In the 1990s, the City of Gothenburg took responsibility for the area and efforts to create a Science Park gathered pace.

Today, Lindholmen is the most dynamic and knowledge-intensive area of the city. Lindholmen Science Park focuses on strengthening Sweden’s competitiveness, promoting innovation and acting as an arena for collaboration across geographical borders. Gothenburg as a whole is seeing major investments in life science and the region is home to one of AstraZeneca’s three global strategic R&D centres.

Lindholmen Science Park. Photo: Business Region Göteborg

The city’s approach to sustainability also marks it out as a 21st Century city and its urban development continues. In the newly created Gothenburg Green City Zone, innovative technology for both vehicles and infrastructure is being tested. The aim is an entirely emission-free transport system by 2030, and Volvo Cars is among the big names supporting the initiative.

“The city is very clean, and there’s a culture of taking care of your environment,” says Romana. “There’s also an urge to do something, especially from younger generations. Lots of start-ups focusing on sustainable business models are popping up.”

To mark the city’s 400th anniversary, and the 10th anniversary of Magasin Göteborg, a special English edition of the magazine has just been published. It includes stories from Romana and other international people who help make up the rich fabric of the city today.

City of culture: music, museums and more

Away from business, Gothenburg’s cultural highlights include major museums and a vibrant music scene. Gothenburg-born Håkan Hellström is arguably the biggest artist in Sweden (even if his international fame is hardly a match for some Swedish exports!) and the Way Out West festival is a major event – headliners for 2022 include Robyn and Nick Cave.

Outdoor options for tourists include a picnic or a stroll through Slottsskogen, the main city park, or a trip into the Gothenburg Archipelago for magnificent views, sea air, and perhaps even a seafood safari.

What would our international residents recommend to visitors? “Grab one of the ferries and go into the Skärgård (archipelago),” says Romana. “Take a picnic basket and you’re all set!” 

And in the city centre? “The Museum of World Culture is fantastic or you can just stroll through Haga, one of the oldest areas, with its cute little houses, nice shops and the best fika in town.”

The Gothenburg Achipelago and Haga. Photos: Jonas Ingman/Westsweden.com and eska Hearne, Lobster & Swan/Westsweden.com

Her Brazilian colleague Aline Novaes says many Swedish cities are “only attractive in the summer but I find Gothenburg attractive all year round.” The restaurant scene is one big reason for this: “I really like how you can find food from many places but often with a Swedish touch.”

She also recommends Liseberg amusement park. “It’s always interesting, whether it’s the summer concerts, Halloween or the Christmas markets. The big rollercoaster is way too scary! But I’ll go on the others.”

Romana is especially looking forward to the return of live music. “I really like the music scene,” she says. “You get festivals and concerts with world artists.” What will her next Gothenburg gig be like? “It will be mad! People want to get out there and have a good time.”

If you’re thinking of visiting as a tourist, it’s worth knowing that the city has won international acclaim in this area. Gothenburg was named as one of two European Capitals of Smart Tourism 2020 by The European Commission – an award judged on factors including accessibility, sustainability and digitalisation. It followed that up this year with an award for Best Sustainable City Stay from travel guide Lonely Planet. 

Romana Fischer and Aline Novaes

Opportunities for internationals

Gothenburg is also home to the largest International House of its kind in Sweden – offering activities, services and guidance to ease the process of integrating into Swedish society for international workers and students. You can get help with everything from understanding the school system to building your social and professional network. 

Aline, a global category buyer, lived in São Paulo and Singapore before moving to Gothenburg in 2016 to do a Master’s. “I don’t speak Swedish but I can find good opportunities here speaking English, as well as a very good quality of life,” she says. “You can cross the city easily by bike, you have good transport, you have nature, and you have flexibility at work.”

Looking for a new start or a fresh challenge? Learn more about why Gothenburg is one of Europe’s most innovative growth regions – and how it supports new arrivals

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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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