Stockholm gets all the attention from travelers, thanks to its chic cafes and trendy restaurant scene. But those in the know are heading out west to Sweden's second-largest city, Gothenburg, that's equal parts university town and seaside retreat. Known as the Gateway to the West Coast, it's the perfect starting point for sailing trips past thousands of islands and fishing villages along the coastline leading up to the Norwegian border. While Scandinavians make their way here during the summer holidays -- renting homes along the coast -- the city itself is a mecca of culture for travelers from all over. Most times of the year, you can spend a few days roaming in the city before heading to one of the nearby destinations. We set off exploring the city center by foot and tram to find out where the locals eat, play, and party -- while still living on a budget.Café Culture
Once a working-class neighborhood somewhat on the rougher side, Majorna is slowly becoming gentrified. More cafes, restaurants, and shops are popping up in the residential area, which takes on a slightly alternative vibe. The cozy three-level Kafe Marmelad is a popular spot for coffee, especially on the terrace during summer and fall, and serves its own house blend (Fair Trade, of course) and freshly baked bread and pastries. Sister restaurant to the café, Syster Marmelad , is just across the street and offers a menu of vegetarian fare that draws the lunch crowd -- as well as a gin and tonic menu come nightfall that gets inventive with cocktail blends.
Dining, Drinks, and Nightlight
The street called Rosenlundsgatan is home to one of the town's landmarks, Feskekôrkan, a fish and seafood market hall set in a church-like building on the canal. Local favorites include Pan American grill Barbicu, serving a mix of grilled meat and raw Swedish fish and veggies, and Boulebar, named for the French ball game, which you you can play while dining on French-style country cuisine.
Over on Linné, known as the "avenue of the locals" you'll find a young (and quite hipster) crowd. Hagabions Café has a sprawling terrace that fills up quick and serves a menu of vegetarian fare that changes daily, as well as a great selection of craft brews on tap. Nearby, Tacos & Tequila draws just as fashionable of a crowd with its inventive take on Mexican cuisine, with dishes like crispy pork belly tacos with coriander aioli and scallop ceviche with poblano chili, mango, coriander, and popcorn.
For a nightcap, keep on walking over to Levantine and take a seat on the garden where you can play a round of boule, backgammon, or chess. For those who want to keep on dancing, stop in the two-level club Pustervik, known for live music gracing the downstairs stage and DJs rocking out with funk and soul upstairs.
When to Visit
Sweden is the third largest exporter of music in the world, known for producing big-name artists and hit songs, and one of the best ways to see the country's musical culture at its best is during the annual Way Out West festival in August in Slottsskogen park. This year, the festival was meat- and dairy-free, bringing in some of the city's best food trucks, such as Clásico, serving up Argentinian cuisine, and the Mexican-focused Hola Ceviche. More generally, spring can sometimes be rainy, though May through September are generally warm enough for visiting the islands. Peak season is July and August, while winters from mid-October through March are best reserved for adventurists who welcome the challenge of the cold (and don't mind that many tourist attractions are closed).
Where to Stay
The 38-room boutique Hotel Pigalle is inspired by 1920s Paris and looks like a scene from Moulin Rouge -- over the top wallpaper, velvet bedframes, blood-red curtains. Set in the center of town, rooms start at a reasonable $150 per night with breakfast. Even if you're not staying here, make a point to head to the Bar Amuse Bouche for a glass of wine and take in the eclectic décor that mixes vintage Paris with country lodge chic. Just next to Central Station, the Clarion Hotel Post is another accessible option that feels more upscale and historic, with rooms from $160 per night. It's set in an old post office with a rooftop pool, and even the Norda Bar here still reflects the building's original architecture from 1925, with the bar located between pillars that used to house the cash desks. The bar is the spot to come to on Friday nights for happy hour.