Pink streams of skylight flash across an interminable watery darkness. A huge cruiser with more layers than a celebrity wedding cake chugs towards a bridge in a harbour peppered with giant, looming cranes.
This view of Gothenburg reflects its status as Sweden’s historic, industrial heartland. It’s the largest port in Scandinavia, and a manufacturing hub. Situated on the west coast, and bisected by the soothing azure of the Göta älv river, the city was founded in 1642 by Gustavus Adolphus. Nowadays, there’s more fun to be had here than playing peeping Tom outside a brothel window – whether it’s hopping across the stunning archipelago, going to the fantastic Liseberg amusement park, or dropping into a string of art galleries and museums.
A myriad of quaint, pastel-coloured wooden houses stand astride cobbled pavements, sprouting with tufts of moss. In the backdrop, the slate-green spire of a magnificent 19th-century stone church dominates the vista like a redwood in a sea of vines. Welcome to Haga, the oldest and most interesting district in Gothenburg, dating back to 1648. It’s wonderfully crammed with specialist clothes and antique shops where you can buy everything from bowler hats and lace dresses – pity they didn’t have our size – to old silver cutlery and Art Deco furniture.
Strolling around, you’d never guess this beautiful quarter has had a more drastic makeover than Victoria Beckham post-Spice Girls. In the 80s, buildings were either renovated or demolished and replaced by post-modern replicas. So take it easy, and soak up the marvellous atmosphere. And while you do, as this locale is such a smörgåsbord of eclectic coffee shops, enjoy the Swedish tradition of a fika: a break to have a soft drink with family, friends or colleagues.
Drift back, mentally at least, to a time when the Vikings still ruled this domain, by visiting the untouched scenery of Gothenburg’s fabulous north and south archipelagos. A staple of many Norse sagas, this chain of dozens of islands appear as dramatic pinpricks of yellow, green and brown caught up in an avalanche of deep blue; the Kattegat sea. The most engaging are accessible by ferry, and each one has a quintessential charm that makes it a pleasure-seeker’s dream. Whether it’s Styrsö with its golden, sun-drenched beaches; Vrångö and its nature reserve; or Donsö for idyllic hiking and fishing.
Due to its size – Gothenburg has a population of almost 549,000 – to expect this metropolis to have a huge gay scene is as logical as thinking that King Kong isn’t big where it counts. Nevertheless, there are some unmissable watering holes and shindigs. Indeed, trees adorned with black trainers, a mad hatter in stripy monochrome trousers, and daffodils drooping down from tin cans, make us think our last trip was one too many, such is the life of the travel journalist. However, it’s not jet-lag hallucinations we’re suffering from. Rather, we’re at the latest LGBT night in town, Absolut Androgyn (Sundays only). Set in the courtyard of hip restaurant Magnus and Magnus, you won’t be surprised to learn that this evening’s theme is the films of Tim Burton.
Taking its first name from the 30s Nordic sex siren that was Garbo, the two-floored club Greta’s is just as much of a legend. Inside, amid the Buddha statues, palm tree-print wallpaper and mirror balls, Swedes with features more chiselled than Mount Rushmore get hot and bothered to all kinds of music. And, to start off your evening, make a beeline for the kitchen-cum-drinking den, the Bee Bar. Their dance floor is so small it’d be filled by two competing sumos. But after a weekend in Gothenburg, the only person we’d be fighting is anyone who told us we had to leave.
GT travelled with British Airways, britishairways.com, who fly from London Heathrow to Gothenburg return from £115.55 including taxes. GT stayed at Clarion Hotel Post, clarionpost.se. Double rooms from £73. For more information visit; Absolut Androgyn, magnusmagnus.se and Gothenburg Tourism, goteborg.com
Words Luke Smith