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  • Big spools

    Photographer: ROBERT DAHLBERG

Holly Beckers´s guide to Gothenburg and West Sweden

  • Holly Becker

Guest Author Holly Becker is an American Journalist, Bestselling Author and Founder of the award-winning, influential design and lifestyle blog decor8. Read about her experience when she visited Gothenburg and West Sweden.

Ah Sweden in the Autumn and Winter months... The smell of burning firewood mixed with crisp salty sea air, red wooden houses dotted over and around rolling hills, and freshly-brewed coffee served with warm, sticky cinnamon rolls, is there ever a reason to say no to Sweden? 

I find the cooler months in this fabulous destination one of the most charming times of the year to visit because the Swedes create such a lovely, cozy atmosphere when the temps drop. I’ve been to Stockholm, Helsingborg and Gotland before and loved all three for different reasons, so when I was invited to Gothenburg (and the surrounding area) for a whirlwind tour , I jumped at the chance. I was curious as to what Gothenburg had to offer, especially since I heard this part of Sweden was particularly beautiful with its colorful Autumn foliage that make for jaw-dropping landscapes.

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Photographer: Holly Becker

First Impressions

Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden, yet feels like a village more than a metropolis. It may lack the polish of Stockholm, but it more than makes up for it by being approachable, friendly, easy to navigate and creative. Everyone speaks English, which was comforting during moments when I couldn’t understand the ferry departure location or when I needed to find a good coffee. The city is also incredibly easy to navigate, you can walk anywhere or jump on a gorgeous old tram and in minutes arrive to another part of the city with all new things to see and do. You can even take ferries here and there, which are timely and affordable.

You also won’t find clusters of hipsters or homogenization-gone-wild with a Starbucks on every corner, which was amazingly comforting and refreshing. Sadly, hipsters and homogenization are a bit of a fungus once a city has been identified as a hot spot and cities change rapidly, often losing their local flair and charm within a few years’ time. Local identity becomes muddy the moment cafes and shops look like they should be in the pages in a minimalistic lifestyle journal where people never smile and walls are always white. Luckily for now, Gothenburg has managed to have the best of both worlds - a little hip, a lot of cool but also carefree, relaxed and approachable without feeling fully taken over by stores you’d find in every major European city. It has an identity, it’s authentic – it has soul and character.

I really loved this part of Sweden for many reasons – from the gorgeous coastline to its fantastic laid-back vibe – it felt a lot like New England where I’m from back in the states – a mix of the Maine coastline and Marblehead, Massachusetts.

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Photographer: Holly Becker

Gothenburg definitely stole my heart through its mix of architecture, cobblestone streets, delicious foods and the glorious old trams which lend incredible old-fashioned charm despite how the city is pushing to replace them all with modern trains. I hope that the city manages to keep a mix of the new and old, because in my opinion, so much of the city’s character comes from its historical landmarks and the tram is definitely one of them.  

Another major draw to visit Gothenburg is that it is very easy to get to from other parts of the world, has a great airport, and a fantastic bus system to get you from the airport to the city easily and quickly. Once in the city, it’s very easy to navigate. I spent a day alone on foot, away from my tour guide, and it was then that I got to really see how easy it was to get around! In the morning, I took a ferry to get from my hotel to downtown area, walked all over and found everything on my list quickly and easily. The city doesn’t feel scary if you’d alone traveling nor is it dirty or hard to find a bathroom.

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Photographer: Holly Becker

Another bonus: It seems most locals speak fluent English (impressive!) in addition to their native Swedish, which made it so easy when you had a question or just wanted to strike up a conversation with someone nearby.

In addition to Gothenburg, I also ventured to Lindome, Lidköping, Borås and Kvänum, drove along the coast and had a picnic on the rocks, and got lost a little along the way ending up in a big grocery store scooping out candy from dozens of bins – I had no idea Swedes had candy by the kilo and it’s all so good! My adventure in West Sweden was how a vacation should be – a mix of emotions, a melody of sights, sounds and smells, and a million photos on your phone! I will tell you about some these gorgeous spots throughout this article.

A few places to eat

Give yourself a true culinary adventure at SK Mat & Människor, a Michelin-starred restaurant that is just divine. From the dark and moody atmosphere to the open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work, it was like eating at home (if you had a gorgeous home and an incredible chef on staff!). The vibe here is unpretentious, open, welcoming and warm. Many Michelin-star restaurants serve great food but sadly, an even greater amount of arrogance. You can tell food was made in a stressful kitchen and I believe what the chef feels at the moment of preparation goes straight into the food. If they feel passion and a certain calmness, it tastes better. This place was exactly that. Their chef and his assistants even allowed me into the kitchen to make a little Instagram video!

Their six-course meals are exquisite and have the most perfectly paired wines, and the timing between dishes is perfect. I can’t recommend this place enough. If the expense of dining here holds you back, just snack on small bites all day and put your usual day’s allowance for food only into your evening meal at this place. You won’t be sorry! Location: Johannebergsgatan 24

Another terrific spot to dine, this time for lunch, is Heaven 23 on the top floor of the Gothia Towers. I had their famous “Räksmörgås”, a piled-high open prawn sandwich with a glass of crisp, white wine while enjoying gorgeous city views. In fact, the views (and the delicious sandwich) made this place a must-see on my list so definitely go during the day for the best views (and photos!). Plus, you can’t go to Sweden and miss one of these traditional Swedish sandwiches. You’ll spot them in the airport when you step off the plane but trust me, experience it first at Heaven 23! Location: Mässans gata 24

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Photographer: ROBERT DAHLBERG

Whether you want a casual spot for lunch, or a very traditional Swedish “Fika” with cake and coffee, visit the oldest park in Sweden, The Garden Society in the city park (Trädårdgföreningen) and eat at the Rosenkaféet. In one of the society’s oldest buildings dating back to 1874, I had the most delicious fika there and relaxed outside in the garden until the rain came, then I headed indoors to the café decorated in very traditional Swedish décor. This café has free and fast wifi, too. Afterwards, you need to roam the rose garden and visit the gorgeous Palm House which is a definite must-see when you visit Gothenburg. Location: Slussgatan 1

If you’re out and about and need a terrific coffee with a sweet bun, head on over to Da Matteo which is right in the heart of a district where I loved shopping the most. Location:Magasinsgatan 17A

Photographer: Holly Becker

Where to shop for good design

At the top of my list is the incredible home and décor store called Artilleriet, along with their adjacent kitchen shop under the same name but known as “The Kitchen”. After my first visit, I returned a few days later to enjoy it again. Housed in a former military artillery, the historical bones of the space alone are drool-worthy, but the buyers/owners have a great eye and together, created a welcoming cocoon of beauty, a curious selection of objects and furnishings that beckon you to buy them (and I did!). The shop felt like John Derian, Merci Paris, Abigail Ahearn, Liberty London and Astier de Villatte curated it. It was that good! You won’t find a typical Scandinavian vibe here with clean lines and light wood and minimalism is not what they are about – think maximalist, high end, bespoke, moody, edgy and a bit glam. To get a good sense of what they offer, be sure to check out their website and view this video, too. Location: Magasinsgatan 19

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Photographer: Holly Becker

If you love flowers and gardening, don’t miss Floramora & Krukatös. In fact, the locals highly regard it as the best florist in the city. You can reach this shop conveniently by walking up the stairs in the back of Da Matteo, because it is immediately outside in the courtyard. Inside (and outside during warmer months) are flowers, plants and hundreds of different types of pots and décor objects to mix in to your urban jungle. Location: Kaserntorget 8 

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Photographer: Holly Becker

Another great shop to see is Afroart, an expertly curated fair trade interiors and fashion shop that I first discovered in Stockholm a decade ago. They work with artisans in developing countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. I was happy to see their shop in Gothenburg, the only one outside of their two shops in Stockholm. It’s also right around the corner from Artilleriet. This shop has so many great things, so original and hard to find elsewhere. Location: S Larmgatan 2 

Another fabulous shop, Grandpa, has clean, modern Scandinavian clothes and lifestyle accessories for both men and women with a heavy southern California influence. Founded in Stockholm, Grandpa is filled with trendy clothes, books, shoes, home goods and fashion accessories. They’ve recently added their own private label, Low Key, with paper goods and ceramic pots. Definitely a must-see and since it’s directly across from Da Matteo and Artilleriet, you have no excuses to miss it. Location: Vallgatan 3

Terrass at the shop Grandpa

Photographer: TINA STAFREN

If you love colorful clothes for children, you have to check out Sweden’s greatest clothing line for kids (in my opinion), Mini Rodini, founded in 2006 by illustrator Cassandra Rhodin. Mini Rodini has a shop nearby to Grandpa where I bought my son a winter coat and knitted hat. Most kids love wearing clothes by this brand. I believe the appeal is the over-the-top colors and patterns, that the prints are mostly large-scale with lots of funny animals, and it’s just quirky and different. Location: Vallgatan 22

Norrgavel is must-see shopping destination for the home if you love traditional environmentally-friendly Swedish furniture and design. Founded in 1991 by Architect Nirvan Richter with careful attention to craftsmanship and quality, his influences include the American Shaker movement and the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi or things that are asymmetric, unfeigned and natural. If natural and pure design speaks to you, Norrgavel needs to be on your shopping list. Location: Magasinsgatan 22

Do you love wallpaper and paint? Venture into one of Sweden’s gems for both, Engelska Tapetmagasinet, for an explosion of print and pattern. They not only stock Swedish products like Boråstapeter and Sandberg, but also wallpaper from abroad like Cole & Son, Liberty London, Abigail Borg, Farrow & Ball, William Morris, Jessica Zoob, Studio Ditte, Sian Zeng, Designers Guild and so many more. The shop blew my mind with its hundreds of rolls on display in multiple rooms, all meant to be explored and enjoyed. Just beautiful! Location: Västra Hamngatan 18

Designtorget is a Swedish chain store with just under 12 stores in the country, all stocked with contemporary Scandinavian treasures for home décor lovers who gravitate towards clean lines and products that are stylish and on-trend. Location: Vallgatan 14

Lagerhaus is another chain home store in Sweden, and I like it very much. It has everything from kitchen products to books, décor objects for every room, lighting and more and the prices are good, too. Location: Östra Hamngatan 46-48

Okay, just one more “chain” store… But honestly, Swedes do chains so well. Have you heard of IKEA? J Anyway, Granit is yet another Swedish chain with a focus mostly on very clever and stylish storage for every room of the home and decorative objects too. My favorite products are their things for kitchen storage and also their office supplies and string lights are just great. Location: Vallgatan 19

One of my favorite interiors shops in the city, filled with a solid mix of bohemian modern finds blending the best of contemporary Nordic cool with laid-back LA vibes, is Rum21. It’s laid out into little rooms complete with a kitchen and bath. I loved the living room best, I could have ordered everything in that space. If you also adore beautiful, lived-in rooms that beckon you to sit down with a cup of tea and a book, this is your happy place for all things interior. Location: Kyrkogatan 20-22

Photographer: Holly Becker

Market 29 is a charming shop with so many beautiful things that speak to those who love a nature-inspired, casual, laid-back interior style that is warm and tactile, but also that hits all of the current trends in design. I love their Atollo lamps (so iconic!), Contrast tableware, Vera bowls, grooming products, ethnic-inspired rugs and all of their soft, squishy cushions. Location: Haga Nygata 29

Two great hotels

If you can afford it and want to sleep in a 5-star design hotel, spoil yourself (you only live once!) at the Upper House hotel located in Gothenburg’s highest building, Gothia Towers, which overlooks Liseberg theme park. The rooms are huge with sweeping city views and the bathrooms have deep soaking tubs generously stocked with Molton Brown products. Don’t miss the swimming pool with the transparent bottom that actually comes out of the building – you feel as though you will free fall as you’re swimming, it’s really spectacular. There is also a hamam and steam bath. Make sure you eat at their restaurant, Heaven 23, for lunch and have a Michelin-star dining experience at the Upper House Dining. The views and the food are equally amazing. Location: Mässans gata 24

For a more affordable sleep over option, the Radisson Blu Riverside Hotel is one of those hotels that you expect to be a bit generic because it’s part of an international chain, but this one took me by surprise with its gorgeous architecture, exceptional views of the harbor, a massive lounge and breakfast room with delicious food, and it is less than a 5-minute walk to the ferry that conveniently brings you across the harbor to the heart of the city in 10 minutes. The spa on the top floor as impressive with a gym, sauna, two pools and an outdoor hot tub along with an area for spa treatments. Location: Lindholmspiren 4

Outside of the city, and worth the trip

See Lindome

Well, not really Lindome but a very special building there called the “Spinneriet”, which is a wonderful working concept for modern independent makers. During the week, photographers, jewelers, artists, designers, bloggers and others are busy in their spaces busy at work. Part of the week, the building with its 22 tenants, opens to the public and fills quickly with shoppers looking to buy from these makers – especially on the weekends. It was a real highlight to make it to Spinneriet because I was able to visit Fine Little Day, whom I’ve followed online for over a decade. Her shop is a must-see if you stop by Spinneriet. I also found a few other great spaces to shop there, like 4 VÅN Studio, medvetenmini, and Östlingh & Schedin. Definitely check this building out, it’s open public on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays only. Location: Spinnmästarevägen 2, Lindome 

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Photographer: Holly Becker

Outside of the Spinneret is a lovely café called Lilla Spinneriet with indoor and outdoor seating and a menu filled with delicious things to eat – it’s near the entrance to Spinneriet so you can’t miss it and there is plenty of free parking. Location: Spinnmästarevägen 2, Lindome 

See Kvänum

If you’d like to see the countryside outside of Gothenburg, venture even further into the romantic countryside with its rolling hills and lush natural scenery. We stayed in the country’s youngest art nouveau castle called Bjertop Slott (Castle) in Kvänum - and it was such a grand experience! I particularly loved the grounds, the overall atmosphere and the different lounge spaces and dining rooms on the ground floor. It was designed in 1914, so it’s relatively young, and was built not for Swedish royalty but simply for a very affluent family. Dining there was such an experience with delicious food, I highly recommend spending a night in this castle during your journey in the countryside, and if you love to golf, then you are in luck because you can do that at Bjertop Slott too. Location: SE-535 91 Kvänum

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Photographer: Holly Becker

See Lidköping

Visiting Lidköping is, in my opinion, something you simply have to do when in this part of the country. I loved touring the inspiring Rörstrand Museum, which opened here in 2008 after Finnish company, Fiskars, bought Iittala group which included Rörstrand – so the former factory is now a museum. This is one of Europe’s oldest porcelain factories and seeing the different things produced over the course of three centuries on display was a beautiful way to spend a morning. With free admission, a charming café with sweets and lunch, and a terrific museum shop (with great sales) stocked with Rörstrand products and things from Iittala, Fiskars and Arabia, you can easily spend 2-3 hours here. Location: S-531 99 Lidköping, Sweden

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Photographer: Holly Becker

Also in Lidköping, right around the corner from the Rörstrand Museum, we toured the Lidköpings porcelain factory, home of Creative Designer Anna Elzer Oscarsson from AEO Studio and her beautiful vases and tableware. Location: Fabriksgatan 4, Lidköping

Porclain in Lidköping, Anna Elzer Oscarson

If you want delicious food in a restaurant that was once someone’s apartment, you will adore the charm of Mellbygatans! This place is so nice inside, the website doesn’t do it justice – trust me – it’s really stylish in a casual kind of way and the food is amazing, really, really great fish plates and salads. Location: Mellbygatan 10, Lidköping

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Photographer: Holly Becker

 

For another castle experience, you must visit Läckö Slott (Castle) because it is truly otherworldly to roam around and view this castle from the middle ages firsthand. It’s the best I’ve ever visited because it was the most authentic experience I’ve had since this castle doesn’t have cheesy attractions and gift shops. On the shores of Sweden’s largest lake, this medieval castle was like stepping back in time. During our tour, I couldn’t stop admiring the architecture and the massive mythical and battle-themed paintings, the angels flying all over the ceiling in the King’s Room, and the overall color schemes as we entered each room. The foundation was laid in 1298 and after the reformation in 1527, it became the home of King Gustav Vasa (the former King of Sweden) and his German queen, Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg, who was only alive for 4 years as Queen until her death when, at 21-years-old and pregnant, she died from a fatal fall. The only reason I made the connection that there was a German living in the castle was when I viewed her prayer room, off of the master bedroom, that had German scriptures hand-painted all over the ceiling.

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Photographer: Holly Becker

After King Gustav Vasa, Baron Hogenskild Bielke occupied Läckö Slott and then it was passed to Count Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie who is responsible for most of the decoration in the castle on display today. 

In addition to touring the gorgeous interior spaces, we visited the castle flower and vegetable gardens built along the lake in multiple layers framed by walls of stone and plants. The Head Gardener, Simone Irvine, showed us around, allowing us to taste the wonderful vegetables that were ready to be plucked for our dinner that evening in the nearby restaurant at Hotel Naturum where we were presented with the most fantastic dinner. The organic garden was inspiring to see but also to meet Simone, who has worked at Läckö Slott for twenty-five years, was very impressive. I admire his obvious love for gardening so much! 

Although you cannot sleep in Läckö Slott, you need not worry… Next door is the gorgeous Hotel Naturum Vänerskärgården Victoriahuset with large, welcoming rooms and delicious dining. For me, it was the views and the architecture of the building itself that stole my heart. I stood on my balcony breathing in the fresh air overlooking lake Vänern, the third largest lake in Europe. I could have spent a week in this hotel, it was so relaxing and cozy! Location: S-531 99 Lidköping, Sweden

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Photographer: Holly Becker

See Borås

Located an hour outside of Gothenburg, Borås is best known for its history in textile manufacturing and so the Textile Fashion Center in Borås is a creative hub for culture, design, business and innovation. Known as, “Europe’s Leading Science Park For Textile and Fashion”, this energetic, forward-thinking complex houses an impressive Textil Museet (Textile Museum), which is a historical walk through time to “experience” the textile industry in Sweden. You can also find the Smart Textile Showroom which showcases the various technological advances being made in the world of textile design which allow materials to be more interactive with the world around them but also to help those wearing them – for instance, fabric that can cool down someone in extreme heat. Also in this mecca of textile design, you can take courses in textile and fashion from high school training all the way up to university level. Location: Skaraborgsvägen 3 a Borås

Adjacent to the Textile Fashion Center, you will find Pumphuset, where you can drink, dine or catch a live band. I loved their massive selection of craft beers and the food was delicious! Location: Viskastrandsgatan, 506 30 Borås

Photographer: Holly Becker

While in Borås, you must see all of the street art! This actually took me by surprise, as I normally associate large, gritty European cities as the hot spots for fascinating street art (Berlin, for instance). The juxtaposition of this clean, quaint little city with street art of all sizes, colors and themes was absolutely worth the trip to Borås alone. I highly suggest taking a guided tour for the “No Limits Street Art” tour -- you can get great exercise, see the city by foot and learn all about the art that you will see, literally, at every turn. My favorite was the mural by Dutch artist TelmoMiel called, “The Adventures of Nils Holgersson”.

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Photographer: Holly Becker