Bruce Elder is charmed by the canals, moats and cobblestones of a port city shaking off the winter.
The average temperature in Gothenburg in January is minus 1 degree. So it's not surprising that by the end of April, when spring finally arrives in the city, everyone rushes into the wan but warm Scandinavian sunshine, strips off everything apart from their modesty and tries to soak up as much sunshine as is humanly possible.
To be in Gothenburg in spring is a bit like being in a beech forest inside the Arctic Circle at the end of winter. Everything leaps into bloom and strains for sunshine. The city experiences a dramatic and beautiful metamorphosis, with daffodils and tulips adding colour to gardens that have been grey and lifeless for eight months.
April to September is the perfect period in which to visit this most beautiful of Scandinavian port cities. Founded in 1621 by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, Gothenburg is located at the mouth of the Gota River. It is therefore a city of water. A canal, edged for most of its length by parklands and historic buildings, passes in a large semi-circle through the centre of the city and the riverside waterfront has fine seafood restaurants, maritime museums and expansive views of the vessels that ply these waters. It is the largest port in Scandinavia and, as the headquarters of Volvo Cars, it is a vital export centre for Sweden.
The city's central area is flat and full of interesting attractions, all within easy walking distance. A sensible starting point is a Goteborg Pass (24 hours costs 245 krona - $37 - for adults, 170 krona for children; 48 hours costs 390 krona for adults, 270 krona for children). This pass covers unlimited rides on public transport and visitor entrance to most of the city's museums and parks.
Gothenburg expects everyone to sleep in. It slides into the day and refuses to bustle with early morning activity. So where does the early riser go to have breakfast? Head for the Centralstationen (the main railway station). It's immaculately clean and has an interesting range of charming, sophisticated cafes and the breakfasts here - typically continental with strong coffee and pastries (yes, you can get a Danish pastry in Sweden) and smorgas (open sandwiches) - are excellent.
Take a leisurely walk in the elegantly planned Tradgardsforeningen (Horticultural Park). This is a 19th-century park beside the main canal in the centre of the city. Among its special features are spectacular displays of daffodils and tulips in early spring, fine rose gardens in late spring and a huge palm hothouse built in 1878 and with extensive varieties of exotic tropical plants. When in bloom the rose gardens are said to produce 2500 roses from 1900 species. Admission is 20 krona but free for those with a Goteborg Pass.
The Tradgardsforeningen is open daily in the summer, 7am-6pm; the palm house is open daily, 10am-4pm.
A ride on the Paddanrundturen (the Paddan Tour) is a tourist activity but it is also the best way to get your bearings and to experience the appeal of the city. Starting from a wharf at the south-western end of the Tradgardsforeningen, it is a guided and lazy tour of the city's waterways (the canal, the moat and the river) on a large, flat boat that circumnavigates the old city centre. The perfect time to make the journey is 11.40am because, if the weather is good, office workers gather canalside for an early lunch. They lie in the sun and, as the Paddan passes, you can observe the obvious joy of people who see so little warm sunshine.
The Paddan Tour runs regularly 10.30am-6pm in summer and 11.30am-3pm from September to the end of October. Tickets cost 140 krona but the journey is free for those with a Goteborg Pass.
Alight from the Paddan, walk west along the edge of the canal and you will reach Gothenburg's justifiably famous Feskekorka, or fish market. It is located in a church that dates from 1874. Lunch at the highly regarded Restaurant Gabriel or, if you feel like going native, buy a seafood salad and join the locals dangling their feet over the canal bank and enjoying fresh prawns.
Restaurant Gabriel, upstairs in the Feskekorka, is open Tuesday-Thursday, 11am-5pm; Friday, 11am-6pm; and Saturday, 11am-1.30pm.
Walk back across the canal and head south through Kungsparken to the Haga, a historic area of the city characterised by cobblestone streets and gracious three-storey timber buildings. The area developed its distinctive style because it was beyond the city's moat and originally inhabited by the poor, and timber was the cheapest building material. Stone was the only material allowed inside the city. Today Haga has become a fashionable area noted for its cafes and restaurants.
If you are feeling a little homesick have coffee at Cafe Husaren (Haga Nygata 28). One of the many cafes in the Haga district, it is famous throughout the city for its huge cinnamon rolls - about 30 centimetres in diameter and guaranteed to humble the most shameless cinnamon-roll fan. Cafe Husaren serves excellent coffee. If you get chatting to the owners you'll find they have relatives in Fairfield, south-west Sydney, and visit Australia regularly.
Swedes love a drink in the evening and as you walk back towards the city you will find bars and cafes alive with after-work drinkers. A perfect place to stop is the beer garden and cafe outside the Stora Teatern. It is known simply as the World Grill (Grill del Mundo) and is located at Storan Kungsparken 1.
Ask anyone in Gothenburg which is the city's best fish restaurant and the reply will be Sjomagasinet at Klippans Kulturreservat, in a timber East India Company warehouse dating from 1775. It has had a Michelin star since 1999, impeccable service and a reputation for high-quality shellfish and fresh fish. The degustation menu - five courses including poached cod and prawns and pan-fried turbot with lobster bearnaise sauce - is 795 krona a person, without drinks. The only minor problem is that Klippans Kulturreservat is located about five kilometres downriver from the city centre. Catch the Alv Snabben harbour ferry (it leaves near the famous "Lipstick" building), which crisscrosses the Gota River, eventually terminating at Klippan. There is a timetable at the wharf and travel is free with the Goteborg Pass.
Online restaurant bookings can be made at sjomagasinet.se.
Bruce Elder travelled courtesy of Scandinavian Airlines and MyPlanet.
Scandinavian Airlines flies to Gothenburg for about $2375, using Thai Airways to Bangkok (9hr 30min) and then SAS to Copenhagen (11hr 30min) and Gothenburg (45 min). Fare is low-season return from Melbourne and Sydney. Finnair flies to Gothenburg for about $2155 (non-seasonal), flying with Qantas or Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, then Finnair to Helsinki and Gothenburg.