Spending the Christmas season in Gothenburg, Sweden, is like spending your holidays in a real-life version of a Hallmark movie. People are outside caroling, the stunning European architecture is transformed with thousands of twinkling lights, Avenyn (the main boulevard) is alive with holiday music and every shop, restaurant and building is decked out in evergreen and mistletoe. And it’s all as genuine and beautiful as the Swedish people themselves.
Even the grumpiest of Scrooges will find themselves busting with holiday spirit after just a few hours in this stunningly vibrant and picturesque west Swedish city. Christmas markets take over the city’s main attractions — Liseberg is transformed from an amusement park to Scandinavia’s largest holiday marketplace. The city’s famous restaurants offer Christmas buffets for lunch and dinner with traditional offerings like pickled herring and Julmust. If you’re looking for magic and enchantment this holiday season, Gothenburg is where you need to be.
Where to stay
Most of the holiday celebrations occur right in the city centre, so the ideally located Clarion Hotel Post is the perfect place to rest your head between the festivities. Built less than a year ago, this gleaming hotel is filled with modern amenities, a very trendy lobby and restaurant and renovated, spacious rooms. The hotel may be new, but the building is far from it. The gorgeous 100-year-old building was once a busy post office. Located right next door to the train and bus station, a few steps from a main tram line and across the street from a busy mall, there’s plenty to do and easy access to get around the city. Rooms start at $219 during the holidays.
Located a few steps from the bustling Kungsportsplatsen tram stop, the Dorsia Hotel is a hidden oasis in downtown Gothenburg. The exterior is fairly moderate, but as soon as you step inside, you’re transported to a lavish new world, complete with art-deco furniture, bright-fuchsia drapes, ornate-patterned black-and-white wallpaper and stunning art pieces collected by the owner. Every room is decorated in a decadent motif with art pieces and velvet wallpaper. The restaurant, which follows the same motif, is one of the best-rated places to eat in all of Gothenburg. Even the wait staff is dressed in sophisticated and glamorous outfits, complete with sparkly headpieces. Rooms start at $300 a night.
What to see
Undoubtedly, the largest attraction in Gothenburg during the holiday season is the Christmas market in Liseberg. Noted as the largest marketplace in all of Scandinavia, the amusement park is filled with over 70 stalls selling holiday gifts and Swedish snacks and delicacies. At first glance, it seems a bit over the top, a little kitsch. But as soon as you stroll under the twinkly trees, pass the small huts that smell like sweet pastries and warm cider and hear the children laughing as they ice skate in the nearby rink, you can’t help but feel the holiday cheer. Be sure to stop by the many sweets and food stalls and fill up on Swedish donuts, glazed pastries and warm holiday glogg (spiced mulled wine).
If there’s one thing the Swedes love to do during the holidays, it’s shop. For the best Swedish shopping, check out the Nordiska Kompaniet, which is a four-story shopping center with over 45 stores. If vintage and hipster is more your vibe, head to Haga, one of the older districts. Here you’ll find many second-hand stores and vintage shops along the cobblestone streets. For cultural souvenirs, go to Victoriapassagen, which is a roofed street filled with locally made crafts, clothing and knickknacks. One of the busiest places to shop is the Nordstan shopping center. Here you’ll find tons of modern stores and a Christmas market in the center, which is home to many Swedish handicrafts. The Christmas market at Kronhuset is another great place to find many local crafts and goodies.
After you’re done shopping, visit the Gothenburg Museum of Art (Göteborgs Konstmuseum). Located right at the end of the Avenyn, the busiest street in Gothenburg, the museum is home to classic and modern art. Be sure to visit the sixth floor, which showcases primarily Scandinavian artists and sculptures. A visit to the beautiful southern archipelago is another fun activity for families and couples. You can take an hour-long ferry ride to Vrångö, which will show you the beautiful isles that surround the city.
*The best way to get around the city is the tram, so be sure to purchase a City Card for access on all of the city trams.
Where to eat/drink
Gothenburg is home to some of the world’s best seafood, thanks to its location near the cold waters of the North Sea. For a taste of some of the city’s most-famed seafood offerings (like shrimp, prawns, oysters and salmon), visit the Feskekörka fish market, or “the fish church” as the locals call it. For lunch, head right upstairs to Restaurant Gabriel. This place, which is run by a father and son, offers the freshest seafood available in incredible modern ways, like rich garlic-prawn soup.
For a truly authentic taste of Sweden, you need to book a lunch or dinner at Sjömagasinet, a Michelin star-rated restaurant on the outskirts of the city. From late November to early January, it features a Christmas buffet that is very similar to the ones many Swedes have at their own homes during Christmastime. The buffet is massive and offers an array of traditional dishes, like pickled herring, smoked ham, deviled eggs with roe and an assortment of desserts.
For a more modern spin on Swedish fare, visit Familjen, located a few blocks from the Valand tram stop. Here you’ll find inventive dishes using some of Sweden’s famed ingredients, like cloud berries, elk and herring. The vibe matches the theme of the food with modern lighting and family-style seating. If you’re in a bit of a rush, stop by Kåges Hörna, which is right in the market hall. Open for lunch, it’s constantly busy with workers on their lunch break. Here you’ll find traditional meals, like herring and warm potato salad.