There’s no denying the grim reality of Europe’s weather and daylight hours in December, but luckily – thanks to our ol’ mate Father Christmas and the magic he inspires in cities across the continent – it’s not all doom and gloom up here in the northern hemisphere. Christmas Markets are now a major drawcard for winter destinations and flight deals make weekend getaways very easy to justify.
Sweden’s self-proclaimed ‘Christmas City’ Gothenburg (Göteborg in Swedish) is just a short flight from London Gatwick so we jumped into all the warm clothes we own and nipped over for a festive weekend in mid-December to see the Gothenburg Christmas Markets for ourselves.
With an entire amusement park dedicated to Christmas, street market stalls serving national specialities and a ‘Christmas boat’ taking you through the heart of the city, there’s enough to leave you humming ‘jingle bells’ as you board your flight home.
So here it is, five reasons to visit Gothenburg at Christmas.
Liseberg is one of Sweden’s largest amusement parks, brought to life each Christmas by five million festive lights wound through the trees, on the rides and rollercoasters and over the ferris wheel which can be seen across the city.
Opening for extended weekends from mid-November through to the end of December, Liseberg combines the thrills of an amusement park with the atmosphere of Europe’s best Christmas markets.
Stalls offer local cheeses, salamis, sweets and hand-made crafts, and we were lucky enough to catch a performance of Swan Lake on the ice rink. When the cold gets too much there was also the biggest arcade I’ve ever seen covering three-storeys which kept us busy and warm.
The Christmas Boat
Wrap up warm for this one, because two things not usually put together are winter and an open-air boat trip. Alas, Gothenburg’s Christmas boat is a fun and different way to see the city as you wind through the canals which date back to the 17th century. Starting from the Paddan Sightseeing office in the centre of the city at Kungsportsplatsen, the boat takes you right to the heart of Liseberg Amusement Park.
The captain explains a brief history of Gothenburg including the city’s construction and defence, and for the festive build-up there’s gingerbread, mulled wine and Christmas music playing along the way to get you in the mood.
I felt right at home wandering through the streets of Gothernburg in my embarrassing reindeer jumper with giant baubles decorating the parks, Christmas trees perched on buildings and candles on display in most windows.
A highlight of the weekend was stumbling across a Christmas song performance from a local choir dressed in green and red and stood in the shape of a tree – combining more than a few of my favourite things.
There’s also the cutest decorations based on a mythical creature of folklore, called tomte (known as a nisse in Denmark and Norway, or a tonttu in Finland). Tomte looks like a little gnome who is more beard than face or body and easily recognised by his tall point hat. If you spend enough time in Sweden at Christmas you’re bound to leave with at least one to hang on your tree and another to sit at your front door.
The festive food and drink
As well as the markets within Liseberg Amusement Park, there’s also an entire street of markets along Haga Nygata in the city’s old district, Haga. We drooled at the huge twisted pastries and buns, nibbled our way through taster after taster of cheese, and even branched out to try a local treat made of chocolate and oats and rolled in coconut (the jury is still out on that one).
Other local specialities at Christmas time include:
- Glögg – a Swedish variation of mulled wine served with raisins and almonds,
- Tomte – which is essentially rice pudding
- And the best gingerbread I’ve ever eaten (so thin and crisp!)
We also got to try these and more (including herring pickled three ways… for the brave) at our accommodation for the night, Slottsskogen Hostel, where we had our own two-bed apartment and a buffet breakfast in the hostel’s communal area included.
Location, location, location
For anyone living in London, Gothenburg is a handy location for a winter weekend getaway with flights only 1h 50m from Gatwick. We bought in advance to get £60/return tickets which, compared with a night out in London or a day at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, is very affordable.
We also learnt the greatest lifehack to-date by spending Friday night at Gatwick Airport’s BLOC Hotel – two metres from the departures gate in the south terminal.
We weighed it up this way – either we could be rushed to get to the airport after work on Friday, take a more expensive flight, land at 9pm, pay an extra night accommodation in Gothenburg, and be trying to find it at 11pm in the snow… OR we could get multiple buses at 3am Saturday morning to get from our London flats to Gatwick Airport for the 6:30am flight… OR we could cruise down to Gatwick leisurely on a Friday night with a couple of drinks in hand, spend the night in a room where we could literally watch planes take-off and land from the comfort of our bed, and get from our bed to the departure gate the next morning in 25 minutes! BLOC Hotel at Gatwick Airport was a game changer and has ruined me for early starts for the rest of time, highly recommend.
Top tips for Gothenburg
- We got a Gothenburg Pass for the weekend which gives you free entry to the main sights and experiences including Liseberg and the Paddan Christmas boat. These are available from the tourist information centre at Kungsportsplatsen in the city centre.
- Because we landed Saturday morning and flew Sunday night, it was super easy to store our minimal luggage for the days at Gothenburg’s Central Station, which houses both the train and coach terminal, and is where the airport coach arrives and departs from.
- Wondering how to keep Scandinavian adventures affordable? We save most our money on food by packing snacks in our bags which we’ve bought from supermarkets in London. Buying food from restaurants or fast-food chains in Sweden quickly adds up and takes your cheap weekend getaway to a London budgeting nightmare very quickly.
Where to stay in Gothenburg
Slottsskogen Hostel, Gothenburg
‘Hostel’ in the name is misleading as we had our own two-bed apartment with a sofa and TV, kitchenette, dining table and bathroom. A great option for cost vs. personal space. And the buffet breakfast was an added bonus! See more about this epic place here.
BLOC Hotel, Gatwick Airport, London
The greatest gift you can give yourself. So convenient, 25 minutes from your bed to the departure lounge, and if you’re lucky also a bedroom view of the runway! Couldn’t rave about this enough, read my full review here or book your own stay here.
Have you been to Christmas markets somewhere epic before? Tell me about your best festive experience overseas in the comments!
Huge thanks to Slottskogen Hostel for hosting us on this trip, and thanks to Visit Gothenburg for giving us a city pass each. As always, all opinions are my own and are based on my personal experience.
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