Feel festivity levels soar with a winter break in Gothenburg, just a short (two-hour) flight from London.

By mid-November, central Gothenburg transforms into the Christmas City, mixing a warm sense of tradition with contemporary Swedish design. This winter is Gothenburg’s 13th Christmas city event, full of beautiful Christmas lights and modern, as well as traditional, Christmas markets. Don’t forget to experience the three kilometre Lane of Lights along the main city boulevard to the amusement park, Liseberg, and a visit its magical Christmas world.

Beyond Sweden’s second city awaits the majestic winter wilderness of the Bohuslän west coast and Västergötland countryside, all easily accessible from Gothenburg (just a 90-minute drive north of the city). Relax in cosy, candle-lit accommodation, tuck into a traditional “julbord” Swedish Christmas buffet, wander around rustic Christmas markets and wrap up warm to experience some adventurous wintry outdoor activities, such as stand-up paddle boarding along the coast.

Here’s a list of top 10 wintry must-dos in Gothenburg and West Sweden:

1Visit Sweden’s largest Christmas market at Liseberg

One of Sweden’s most traditional festive highlights is Liseberg Amusement Park’s Christmas market.

Located in the heart of Gothenburg, it’s decorated with five million twinkling lights, 700 Christmas trees, and features 70 rustic market stalls, selling everything from arts and crafts to seasonal foods such as traditional Swedish marinated herring, marzipan pigs, roasted reindeer served by Sámi reindeer herders from Lapland, kitted out in traditional costume.

There is also an ice-skating rink (which will open at the beginning of December) where you can enjoy a fantastic ice skating show. Kids will enjoy a wide range of children’s rides. Liseberg market is open from 18th November at weekends, and every day except Monday from Thursday 1 to Thursday 29 December. The market is closed on 24th and 25th December but open again from 26 to 30 December.

2Explore Gothenburg’s contemporary and traditional Christmas markets, too

If you’re looking for unique jewellery, ceramics and alternative arts & crafts, then there are many smaller, more contemporary markets in Gothenburg, such as:

  • the market at Kvarnbyn, Mölndal (26 – 27 November)
  • HDK, School of Design and Crafts (4 – 6 December)
  • Röda Sten Art Centre, a former boiler house (9 – 11 December)

Elsewhere in Gothenburg, there are several more traditional markets – in Haga Old Town, you’ll find home-made and locally-produced gifts (open Saturday and Sunday from 26 November – 18 December) whilst, in the historic setting of Kronhuset, you’ll find traditional handicrafts (open 26 November – 22 December).

Get a flavour of Christmas in the countryside too, by visiting one of the many traditional markets held in picturesque towns across the region. Highlights include the Christmas market at Gunnebo House & Gardens, one of Sweden’s finest 18th century estates, about ten minutes south of Gothenburg in Mölndal, which offers handicraft stalls and organic cuisine (26 – 27 November, 3 – 4 December) as well as Tjolöholm Castle, 40 km south of Gothenburg, with more than 100 exhibitors (open 11 – 13 November and 16 – 20 November).

3Winter paddling and stand-up paddling in Bohuslän

Paddling around West Sweden’s archipelago in the winter is an exhilarating experience. It’s deserted, peaceful and simply breathtaking. Birds and seals are braver when the waters are quieter, too – you may even be lucky enough to witness a curious seal swim right up to your kayak!

There’s also stunning light to enjoy during the winter in Scandinavia. The sun hovers just above the horizon and arctic birds such as razorbills, black guillemot and auks sweep through the skies – a sight that is never seen during the summer. If it’s been snowing during the night, kayaking between the snow-capped rocky islands is a wonderful start to the day.

There’s no need to worry about the cold either, as a dry suit and all the relevant kit is provided. Skärgårdsidyllen (follow the link above for contact info) offers a wintry package which includes a four-hour beginners paddling excursion, a tasty packed-lunch and use of dry suits and thermals

Or why not try something new this winter and put your core to the ultimate test, by going on a stand-up paddle boarding adventure with Skärgårdsidyllen. Once you’ve learnt the basics of SUP on land, you’ll head out to the archipelago’s calm waters in a group with an instructor, to explore the stunning snowy islands from a different perspective. After an hour’s paddling, the group will stop at a deserted island for a short walk, followed by a warm cup of tea/coffee and a tasty bun – the Swedish fika tradition. A winter SUP experience includes all equipment, dry suits and thermals.

4Try traditional Christmas food (julbord) at Herring Island, Klädesholmen

 Salt & Sill is located on Klädesholmen, also known as Herring Island, and is Sweden’s first floating hotel. Salt & Sill pickles its own local herring and people come from far and wide to this tiny island to sample the restaurant’s delicious herring and seafood dishes. Enjoy a Christmas buffet, relax next to the open fire and have a good night’s sleep with stunning sea views over Bohuslän’s archipelago. Whilst you’re there, take a scenic walk around the charming areas of Klädesholmen and Skärhamn, complete with lovely little boathouses.

5Experience a magical Santa Lucia concert

The Lucia tradition is a key event in the Swedish Christmas calendar. Witness a delightful, candle-lit Swedish national tradition: every year, towns and cities across Sweden hold Lucia concerts. Gothenburg’s different choirs bring a sense of enchantment to the packed churches. The city centre church, Domkyrkan, celebrates Lucia with four concerts on 10, 11 and 13 December. An adult ticket can be bought via ticketmaster.se from the end of October. The Oscar Fredrik church near Linné also celebrates Lucia with a free concert at 4 pm on 13 December, while their traditional Lucia and Christmas concert is held at 6 pm and 8.15 pm that evening. Tickets can be bought at ticketmaster.se.

6Christmas dinner, hot tub and a skinny dip in the sea at the Weather Islands

The Weather Islands (Väderöarna) are famous for being the sunniest, windiest and most westerly islands of Sweden. This is a stunning nature reserve with its very own archipelago of 365 islands, and is also part of the Marine National park (the Koster sea).

The Weather Islands are just a 30-minute boat ride from mainland Fjällbacka or Hamburgsund, and you’ll stay at  The Weather islands guesthouse, an old pilot house converted into a hotel. On weekends from 19 November until Christmas, the hotel (which is Taste of West Sweden accredited) is beautifully-decorated and its restaurant offers a Christmas dinner with a “touch-of-the-sea” menu. Once you’ve tucked into a delicious meal, you’ll enjoy the sauna and hot tub, both of which have stunning sea views – and, for the brave, perhaps a dip in the refreshingly cold sea.

7Swedish Christmas “fika” in Haga old town

Many cafés in Gothenburg provide the perfect pit-stop for fika, a relaxed way to take several breaks a day from the daily grind, involving coffee on its own or with cake. During Christmas time, the traditional cakes include pepparkakor (ginger bread cookies) and lussebullar (buns spiced with saffron).

Haga, with its early 19th century cobblestone streets, is the perfect area for a fika, and is also great for vintage shopping and Christmas gifts. Don’t miss the Haga Christmas Market with local choirs, food stalls and real festive spirit, open on Saturday and Sunday from 26 November to 18 December.

If you fancy trying a traditional cinnamon bun (kanelbulle), don’t miss the giant Hagabullen at Café Husaren, which you’ll find along Haga Nygata – the main street. Swedish seasonal specialties also include either alcoholic or non-alcoholic glögg (mulled wine), to which you can add almonds and/or raisins to your taste.

8Enjoy a luxury festive stay in a real castle

 Thorskogs Castle is set in a magnificent country park, 30 minutes north of Gothenburg. The castle’s lounges are beautifully and uniquely decorated, and guests are also offered world-class cuisine in the restaurant. Enjoy an unforgettable night’s stay with an open wood fire, sauna, Christmas dinner, mulled wine and an excellent night’s sleep at Thorskogs Grand Manor House. This is the perfect place to bring your loved one for a really luxurious treat. Don’t forget to take a winter walk through the deep forests right next to the castle, returning to enjoy hot chocolate or perhaps more glögg.

9Celebrate New Year with an incredible sea view

 Lådfabriken, which means “the fish box factory”, is offering a fantastic new New Year. Located in Edshulltshal, about 80 km north of Gothenburg, this quirky B&B is just 30 metres from the Skagerrak sea. It was formally a factory where fish crates and wooden boats were once produced for the local fishing industry. It now features extremely cool décor and offers four newly-renovated, individually-styled rooms, each with a private bathroom. There are plenty of activities that can be arranged, including a wintry boat tour through the archipelago, a hike on Orust island and a visit to Käringön.

10Listen to a Christmas tree choir

If you enjoy Christmas carols, you’ll love this unique choir – The singing Christmas tree. It’s a choir in the shape of a Christmas tree, singing festive songs! The choir will be based next to the statue Kopparmärra, Kungsportsplatsen, in the city centre. A smaller singing “tree” (with younger choir members) will also be performing at different points throughout the city. The choirs will perform several times a day from 1 to 23 December.

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Source: VisitSweden UK; this article was produced by the West Sweden Tourist Board in cooperation with Göteborg & Co.; photos: Göran Assner (Gothenburg) and Will Rose (Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, at Tjolöholm Castle in Kungsbacka/Gothenburg)