Gothenburg, with its relaxed vibe, cool neighborhoods, plentiful restaurants and easy access to nature, ticks all the boxes for a great European destination for a city break.
But as travel trends continue to move towards minimizing the environmental impact and carbon footprint of travel, more and more people are reassessing the impact of their short vacations. Fortunately, the one thread that runs through this Swedish town, whether you’re bar-hopping or exploring the island, is a commitment to sustainability.
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Gothenburg is one of the most sustainable cities in the world
In 2021, Lonely Planet recognized Gothenburg as the most sustainable city stay, noting that 97% of the city’s public transport runs on renewable energy, 95% of hotels are eco-certified and the city is developing the Gothenburg Green City Zone, a zero-emission transport system for much of the city centre. In 2020, the city was named European Capital of Smart Tourism, alongside Malaga, in recognition of its eco-friendly yet forward-thinking approach to tourism.
The climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused many of us to rethink our approach to travel and its impact on our communities, and Gothenburg is unique in having already laid the foundations for a sustainable tourism practice. With its green credentials firmly in place, travelers can easily opt for more sustainable experiences when exploring the city.
For example, I only took public transport around town, including to and from Landvetter Airport. Even a trip to the beautiful archipelago off the town was accessible with local transport. But more than just getting around, greener choices are made easy in Gothenburg, whether it’s eating, sleeping and exploring.
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Eat fresh from the sea and the surrounding area
With an extensive coastline and easy access to some of the continent’s most amazing wilderness spots, it’s no surprise that the Swedish city takes fresh food seriously. But many restaurants are looking to go even further than just buying local and instead get involved in growing and harvesting their own ingredients.
At VRÅ, a Japanese-Nordic fusion restaurant, chef Sofia B Olsson discovered that instead of importing French oysters, the same variety had become invasive in Sweden and could be harvested locally, solving two problems at once. She began a partnership with a second-generation diver to obtain the oysters, making them popular at a number of other restaurants – a demand that ended up creating around 10 jobs. While the seafood comes from the nearby coast, much of the produce comes from even closer – the rooftop garden, which is also powered by compost made from kitchen scraps. Even the seats are made from broken shells from restaurant waste, and from these seats customers can enjoy not only sushi, but also dishes that combine Japanese and Nordic influences, such as an ice cream sorbet. sea buckthorn with white chocolate miso and bee pollen.
There’s also Human, where the philosophy is more than hinted at in the name – the restaurant is designed not only to be kind to the environment, but also to its guests and neighbors. Chef Martin Moses chose the location, on a residential street near Skansen Kronan Fortress, to encourage visitors to wander off the beaten track and into a more comfortable side of town, distributing visitors to a new place . There, the focus is on getting to know the people behind everything that goes into the restaurant — be it the chairs or the ingredients.
Of course, no visit to Sweden is complete without a few fika (coffee and pastry). Enter the Da Matteo coffee chain, where the coffee is roasted locally in an eco-friendly roaster.
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When it comes to staying the night in Gothenburg, 95% of all hotel rooms in the city are eco-certified, making it “one of the greenest hotel cities in the world”. Hotel Eggers, where I stayed, is Sweden’s third oldest hotel still in operation. The hotel has existed since 1868, when the railway entered the area. The hotel is entirely powered by electricity generated by its own wind turbine, which is also used in its partner hotels.
With the majority of hotel rooms certified, it won’t be difficult to make this a travel criteria for your trip, but check hotels for certifications like the Nordic Swan or Green Key ecolabel. The same standards apply to a number of new hotels opening in the city, such as the Scandic Göteborg Central. The LEED platinum and Nordic Swan eco-labeled building has 451 rooms and a huge rooftop terrace with views of the river.
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Where to shop
With Scandinavia being famous for its fashion, a wonderful way to shop sustainably is to look for second-hand clothes. Stadsmissionen is a chain of charity shops, as well as Myrorna, both of which encourage shoppers to participate in a circular economy.
If you want to buy local brands, check out Nudie Jeans, where buying pants comes with a lifetime repair policy. And don’t worry if you pick up some souvenir jeans – you won’t have to go back to Gothenburg, because you can get them repaired in places in North America, Asia, Europe and even Australia. Icebug is another local brand, creating running shoes and aiming to extend the life of their product by helping with repairs. Their goal is to reduce the impact of shoe manufacturing on the environment. According to the company, they became the first “climate positive” outdoor footwear brand in 2019. The following year, they began offsetting carbon emissions by 200%, also covering their historical emissions from the start in 2001.
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Get out of the city center
Gothenburg may be the epitome of a relaxed city, but there are still plenty of places to hang out to enjoy things at an even slower pace of life. A number of unique attractions are accessible by public transport, such as the Vättlefjäll nature reserve. Using buses, trams and even ferries, I was able to see incredible sights with little effort and without a car.
One stop is Gunnebo House, an 18th-century estate just a 45-minute bus ride from town. There you will find the beautiful house, which will allow visitors to take a tour and stroll through the beautiful gardens. Stop at the restaurant, Kaffehus och Krog, which sits in the middle of a vegetable garden. Here you can enjoy organic food and pastries made with seasonal produce from the garden as well as ingredients from local producers.
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A bit of island hopping
Right next to the city is a whole archipelago of islands that can easily be explored. With their fancy houses, these islands are easily accessible. I took tram 11 from central station, winding through the city center and through more residential areas before arriving at the Saltholmen ferry service. From there, the same ticket can be used to board a ferry that will take you to the islands in just around 30 minutes. .
I spent the night on the island of Vrångö, the southernmost island of the archipelago. The rugged landscape is loved by locals for its rocky coastlines and beautiful beaches. The car-free island, home to a nature reserve, is easily explored on foot. I spent the night at Kajkaten, a small collection of boathouse-style lodges, which also has a floating sauna. Unsurprisingly, given the proximity to the sea, I was also able to feast on fresh fish from the Fiskeboa Vrångö restaurant.
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How to get to Gothenburg?
If you are traveling to Sweden, Gothenburg is well connected by train to cities like Malmö, Helsingborg and Stockholm. Sweden is accessible by train from Germany, Denmark and Norway. If you land at Landvetter Airport, the Flygbuss airport coach – which runs on HVO renewable diesel – will take you to the city center in 20 minutes.
From there, get yourself a public transport pass, which will cover trams, buses and boats – more than enough to easily explore the city. A 72-hour pass for Gothenburg and some surrounding areas costs 230 SEK (22 USD).
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Alex Butler explored Gothenburg at the invitation of Gothenburg & Co.