Sweden's second city has a strong sea-faring tradition and boat trips are still a great way to explore. Cathy Packe takes to the water

WHY GO NOW?

As the nights draw in, fares fall and Gothenburg's many indoor attractions come to the fore. Sweden's second city is quick and easy to reach, and is quite different from the capital, Stockholm - it feels much more of a working city, and is certainly cheaper. For more information call the Swedish Tourist Council on 00800 30 80 30 80 or see www.visit-sweden.com.

BEAM DOWN

SAS (0870 607 2772; www.scandinavian.net) flies twice a day from Heathrow to Gothenburg's Landvetter airport, with return fares starting at £131. City Airline (0870 330 8800; www.cityairline.com) flies daily to Gothenburg from Manchester, and from 27 October it will fly three times a day from Birmingham. Fares for both routes start at around £140. A bus (00 46 771 414300; www.flygbussarna.com) leaves every 15-30 minutes from outside the terminal at Landvetter, taking half-an-hour to reach the central bus station . A one-way ticket can be bought on the bus and costs SKr60 (£5). Taxis from Landvetter airport into the city cost SKr310 (£24). Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) flies from Stansted to Gothenburg's City airport; this is a half-hour ride from the city. A bus meets each flight, and drops passengers at the main bus station for SKr40 (£3); a taxi will cost SKr270 (£21). If you have time, DFDS (08705 333 111; www.dfdsseaways.co.uk) sails into the city from Newcastle, a cruise of 27 hours. Return fares start at £106 per person.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Gothenburg dates from the 17th century, and its centre is bordered to the south by a canal and by the moat that was part of the original fortifications. Another canal cuts the central district in half. The main tourist office is on Kingsportsplatsen 2 (00 46 31 612500; www.goteborg.com) and opens Monday-Friday 9am-5pm and Saturday 10am-2pm. This is a good place to buy a Gothenburg Card, which allows free entrance to most of the main attractions as well as free tickets on the harbour ferry, Paddan boats, archipelago boats and trams. The card costs SKr175 (£13) for 24 hours and SKr295 (£23) for 48 hours.

CHECK IN

Rates for luxury hotels are lower at weekends; all prices here include breakfast. The most conveniently located hotels are the ones in and around Drottningtorget, the square facing the railway terminus . The Hotel Eggers (00 46 31 806070; www.bestwestern.se) is the oldest hotel in the city. At weekends, doubles start at SKr980 (£76). Opposite is the SAS Radisson Scandinavia at 59-65 Sodra Hamngatan (00 46 31 758 5000; www.radissonsas.com) where weekend rates start at SKr1,390 (£108) for doubles, and SKr1,190 (£91) for singles. Popular for its convenient location and reasonable prices is the Mornington at 6 Kungsportsavenyn (00 46 31 767 3400; www.mornington.se) where at weekends, doubles cost SKr1,200 (£92) and singles SKr800 (£61). For a nautical feel, try out the Barken Viking , an old masted ship, now permanently moored on Gullbergskajen (00 46 31 635800) and converted into a hotel which offers crew quarters, and more luxurious officer's cabins. Cabins start at SKr1,000 (£80) at weekends.

TAKE A VIEW

Gothenburg's most striking building is the red-and-white Skanska House (00 46 31 156147) on Lilla Bommen, known locally as Utkiken - the lipstick. A viewing area is open to the public all year, and is the best place from which to get a view of the city. The Utkiken has recently changed hands and future opening hours are uncertain, but at the moment it's open Monday-Friday 11am-4pm.

TAKE A RIDE

Gothenburg's lifeblood is its harbour, the largest in Scandinavia. This is best appreciated from the harbour ferry, an hour-long round trip that zigzags across the harbour and back, leaving every half-hour from Lille Bommen , and is free if you have a Gothenburg Card. The highlight of the trip is the reconstruction of the East Indiaman at Eriksberg (00 46 31 779 3450; www.soic.se), which sailed from China to Gothenburg and sank in the harbour in 1745. When the replica is finished in summer next year, it will set sail for China in a repeat of the 18th-century journey.

TAKE A HIKE

Start your walk around the old city from the main square, Gustav Adolfs Torg , with its statue to the city's founder, King Gustaf Adolf. The square straddles the canal, and is the focal point of city life. Most of the main sights are north of the canal, so walk along Norra Hamngaten, past the Christinae church , built by Gothenburg's large German community in the 18th century, to the City Museum (00 46 31 612770; www.gbg.stadsmuseum.se), which highlights Gothenburg's Viking past, as well as its trading links. The museum is located in the headquarters of the old East India Company. It opens 10am-5pm daily except Monday, until 8pm on Wednesday; admission costs SKr40 (£3). Continuing on the quayside, you will pass the Maritime Centre at Packhuskajen 8 (00 46 31 105960; www.goteborgsmaritimacentrum.com), an extensive collection of ships: from a fire-fighting vessel via a submarine to a destroyer, all moored together and connected by gangplanks. The museum opens 10am-4pm daily in March, April, September and October, longer in summer. Entrance is SKr60 (£5).

LUNCH ON THE RUN

The Palace (00 46 31 807550; www.palace.se; open 11.30am-midnight Monday and Tuesday, 11.30am-3am Wednesday-Saturday), is the large café in the centre of Gustav Adolfs Torg . At lunchtimes it serves a menu of the day, always a good-value option in Gothenburg's restaurants. Or eat at the market: the Fish Church - so-called for the ecclesiastical style of the building in which the fish market is housed - is on Rosenlundsgaten, and opens Tuesday-Thursday 9am-5pm, Friday 9am-6pm, Saturday 9am-1.30pm. At one end is a café, and at the other, upstairs in what could almost be the organ loft, is the Restaurant Gabriel; both serve excellent fish dishes.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Universeum at 50 Sodra Vagen (00 46 31 335 6450; www.universeum.se) is a science park-cum-discovery centre. Take the lift to the top of the building, then walk down through different Swedish landscapes, from the mountain top to the ocean bed; in between is a range of terrains, each with the vegetation, fish and birds appropriate to the location. Universeum opens 11am-6pm daily except Monday, with late opening on Wednesdays until 8pm, admission SKr125 (£10).

WINDOW SHOPPING

Gothenburg possesses the largest indoor shopping centre in Sweden, Nordstan . More individual shops can be found in the Haga district. Lovers of old artefacts should seek out the antiques halls at Vastra Hamngatan 6, a collection of small shops and stalls all under one roof.

AN APERITIF

Kungsportsavenyn - known locally simply as Avenyn, or the Avenue - is an elegant street, lined with bars and restaurants. Babar bar is a good place to nurse an expensive drink and watch the world go by, but there are plenty of other places to choose from, and it is worth looking out for the latest happy-hour deals.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Avenyn has a good choice of food, from burgers and pasta to the typically Swedish fare at Tvakanten (00 46 31 182115). The locals, though, are more likely to head to Linniegaten, where the prices are lower, the pace less frenetic, and the choice almost as extensive. Other good choices include the currently trendy Herr Dahl's at 14 Kungstorget (00 46 31 134555; www.herrdahls.nu; open 5-10pm Tuesday-Saturday), and Fond on Gotaplatsen (00 46 31 812580; www.fondrestaurang.com; open weekdays 11.30am-2pm, and Monday-Saturday 5-11pm) reckoned by many locals to serve the best fish in the city.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Gothenburg's Gustav Cathedral on Vastra Hamngaten (00 46 31 731 6130) is the third to be built on this site; the others were victims of fire and the ravages of war. The current building has had several restorations, but its most striking feature has been preserved: "the Trams" are closed-in areas, decorated in cream and gold, at either side of the building, looking like two elegant tramcars, but designed and used as meeting rooms. The cathedral is open 8am-6pm on weekdays, 9am-4pm Saturdays, 10am-3pm Sundays.

OUT TO BRUNCH

The brunch habit exists in the larger hotels, and the best one on offer is in the Eden restaurant at the Gothia Towers Hotel at 24 Massansgate (00 46 31 750 8800; www.gothiatowers.com). Brunch is served every Sunday from noon until 5pm, and is accompanied by live music; booking is essential and brunch costs SKr139 (£11).

A WALK IN THE PARK

The most pleasant of the city's green spaces is the Traadgardsforeningen , a 19th-century garden that has been planted alongside the city moat. It opens 7am-7pm daily. Appealing features include the butterfly house, and the palm house, modelled on the glasshouses built at London's Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition. The highlight, though, is the rose garden, which contains more than 5,000 different varieties of roses.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Gothenburg has its own archipelago, and a trip out to one of the islands is worthwhile for the new perspective it offers on the city. Take tram number 11 from the main Gustav Adolfs Torg to Saltholmen, a pleasant harbour at the end of the line, and from there take a boat. The island of Branno, which has a year-round population of some 700 people, is a half-hour ride from Saltholmen, and boats run throughout the year.

WRITE A POSTCARD

The latest Gothenburg attraction to write home about is Balder, the terrifying new roller-coaster which opened this year at Liseberg (00 46 31 400100; www.liseberg.se), the city's popular amusement park. It is currently closed but re-opens on 15 November for the Christmas season.

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