The Surprising Northerner
Gothenburg, a Swedish city famous with its white nights, causes an emotional blast with its hidden surprises.
I first went to Gothenburg in July. Since it was the season for the white nights, the city’s streets were abuzz with activity into the wee hours. The sun had set up its headquarters in the sky over Gothenburg and shone night and day, resting for just a few hours only to come out again shortly. I had expected Gothenburg to be an industrial city with a big harbor and lots of factories. I was therefore surprised to find a city adorned with canals and bridges where historic buildings stand harmoniously side by side with modern structures, a city covered in greenery where broad avenues open onto narrow streets lined with tiny shops, a city with a cultural life to vie with that of the capital Stockholm.
CITY OF PARKS
Gothenburg is Sweden’s second largest city, noteworthy for its parks, museums, theaters and wide boulevards. Perhaps because it is overshadowed by Stockholm, it hosts only around three million tourists a year. The Vikings are known to have once lived in this region, but the development of Gothenburg occurred after King Gustav Adolf II founded a city here in 1621. The Dutch who were invited to the city also made a contribution by fitting it out attractively with canals like Amsterdam. Known as ‘Little London’, Gothenburg hosts a jazz festival in August. Don’t miss it if you happen to be there.
Known for the manufacture of cars, cameras and ball bearings, Gothenburg is at the same time the telecommunications capital of Sweden. The city’s harbor is Scandinavia’s largest, and the area where ships dock is close to 20 kilometers long. Built primarily for commercial purposes, the harbor has a passenger terminal as well.
Gothenburg straddles the Göta River, which is also spanned by Sweden’s longest suspension bridge, the Alvsborgsbron. There are two main squares in Gothenburg, which you can easily discover on foot: the Götaplatsen, the city’s cultural center, and Gustav Adolfs Torg, which is surrounded by commercial and government buildings. The avenue that unites them is the Kungsportsavenyn, known for short as the Avenyn, or ‘the Avenue’. The heartbeat of the city, the Avenyn is a fashionable, tree-lined thoroughfare with numerous cafes, restaurants, galleries and boutiques.
ART AT EVERY STEP
A creation of the famous sculptor Carl Milles, Poseidon Fountain graces the Götaplatsen, greeting visitors in all its splendor. Also on this square are the Concert Hall, home of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and the Art Museum. Besides famous Swedish artists, this museum with its eye-dazzling sculptures also houses paintings by such great masters as Rembrandt, Renoir, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Picasso.
The Municipal Theater and Library add further splendor to Götaplatsen. Liseber Lunapark, meanwhile, which is reminiscent of Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, is one of Sweden’s biggest tourist attractions. Vacationing families with children especially can enjoy many delightful hours at this funfair, the largest in Scandinavia. Offering a spectacular view from on high, the 83-meter-high tower known as the Spaceport will also please the adrenaline addicts. And not far from the Götaplatsen is a park chock full of restaurants, an ice skating rink and stylish wooden buildings.
The Palace of Justice, the Stock Market and municipal buildings are located on Gustav Adolfs Torg. Housing a total of thirteen historic vessels, the Gothenburg Maritime Museum claims to be the largest of its kind in the world. A submarine, the Nordkaparen, and a frigate make this floating museum, which is open every day of the week, even more fascinating. A counterpart to London’s Crystal Palace, the cast iron and glass Palmhuset, or Palm House, built in 1878, is among the other important sights you will see in Gothenburg.
Although it looks quite ordinary from the outside, the cathedral known as the Domkyrkan, built in 1802, impresses visitors upon entering. Used as the City Museum today, the old East India Company building has the distinction of being Sweden’s largest museum. You will learn the city’s history at this museum, where Sweden’s only Viking ship is on display. Feske Körkan meanwhile, although it means ‘Fish Church’, is actually a fish market. Resembling a church, this building is home to the fishermen who set out in the early morning hours to supply the city with fresh fish. Masthuggskyrkan, on the other hand, is a real church whose wooden ceiling resembles that of a Viking ship. If it’s shopping that interests you, Nordstan opposite the train station is a virtual city in its own right, and Scandinavia’s largest shopping center.
The 20th century buildings on the nearby Kronhusbodarna have been attractively restored and are used as boutiques and gift shops. Among the products you will find here are porcelain and glass wares as well as textiles.
SWEDEN’S MOST BEAUTIFUL GARDEN
You can also tour the art galleries and bookshops in the Haga Nygatan district, which is bursting with lovely examples of wood-frame architecture and stone masonry. And when you weary, you can spend some time at the cafes in the fashionable, restored buildings. Gothenburg in the past was one of the best preserved cities. To appreciate that, another alternative is to go up the Skansen Kronan and take in the beautiful view. This castle in the Haga district, which was built in 1697 to defend the city against the Danes in particular, also houses the military museum. A pleasant view of the city and harbor is available from its roof. Elfsborg Castle, another 17th century structure, which you can reach by tourboats leaving from the harbor in summer. The Vasa district meanwhile is brimming with cafes and small shops.
If you go to the botanical gardens, the ‘lungs’ of Gothenburg’s, you will see 16,000 plant species brought here from all over the world. Acknowledged to be the largest of their kind in Europe, these gardens are spread over a 175-hectare-area. Their greenhouses boast upwards of 1,500 species of orchids. The gardens were chosen Sweden’s most beautiful in 2003.
CANALS AND ISLANDS
Gothenburg appeals to sports enthusiasts as well. One of its major stadiums, the Ullevi, is noteworthy for its extraordinary architecture. The top of the stadium is covered with 680 square meters of solar panels for generating electricity. And the 14,000-capacity-Scandinavium, one of Europe’s largest sports arenas, was built to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the city’s founding.
One of the most enjoyable ways to discover Gothenburg in summer is to tour the city on the open-top tram, or take a boat tour on the Göta River and the canals. When you venture outside this city, whose streets are swept by ocean breezes, wild nature will embrace you with peninsulas, azure lakes and verdant forests. If the beach is your priority, visit the islands known as Gothenburgs Skargard in Kattegat Bay.
Among them, Brannö, Styrsö and Vargö are the best. Varborg meanwhile is a resort town between Gothenburg and Helsingborg known for its castle. Dubbed the Swedish Riviera, the coastal strip between Malmö and Gothenburg has the country’s best beaches. If your travels happen to take you there, Gothenburg is a city that will treat you well. So put this modest Scandinavian beauty on your list right now. You won’t be sorry.
Turkish Airlines flies round trip to Gothenberg every Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Departure time from İstanbul is 10.10 am.