As the holidays near in a year unlike any other, our writer jogs back her memory to the time she visited the bustling Christmas markets of Gothenburg in Sweden. By Amitha Ameen
Christmas is here! It is the season of Santa and his reindeer, of carol singing and gift giving, of evergreen conifer trees decorated with fairy lights and glittering paraphernalia. As much as I’m looking forward to scaled-down, cosy festivities with my family at home this year, I can’t help but indulge a daydream about my last Christmas— the most adventurous one yet.
Overcast skies and chilly winds welcome me to the 400-year-old city of Gothenburg, Sweden. I have always been fascinated with Scandinavia. Every aspect of the region intrigues me—Norse gods, the Northern Lights, dramatic fjords, colourful markets, and tales of Vikings. So, it is a dream come true to be here—near Christmas, no less. Not only is the city famous for its Christmas markets, but it is also the world’s most sustainable destination (according to the Global Destination Sustainability Index 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019). A comfortable flight onboard Qatar Airways’ Business Class has brought me to Göteborg Landvetter Airport, where a taxi awaits to ferry me to my home for the next three days, Scandic Rubinen.
When they say Christmas is better in Scandinavia, they do not exaggerate. On my first day I head to Liseberg, the largest amusement park in Scandinavia with 41 rides and attractions. Giant nutcrackers line both sides of the entryway. Inside, there are dreamy installations wearing twinkling lights, a giant wheel, carousels, plants dusted with snow, lots of cotton candy and chocolate, and thrilling roller coasters, including Valkyria, Europe’s longest dive coaster with a vertical drop of 50 metres! This is a winter wonderland straight out of a fairy tale. Reassuringly, the park is also doing its bit for sustainability—a wind turbine powers all of its rides. I find myself signing up for a giant swinging and spinning carousel, Loke, thankfully devoid of queues. The ride starts innocuously with a Christmas musical, but starts to swing further up with every oscillation. As the ride gains speed, I can feel all my inhibitions of being in a foreign land fading away. When I reach the top—42 metres above the ground—I see the amusement park as a bird would. This fleeting moment here is my happy place.
Next, I play a game of wheel of fortune, where the grand prize is a two-kilogram chocolate bar. But fortune is in no mood to favour me today. Nearby, a crowd gathers and bright lights come on. I make my way to the front of the gathering to see professional figure skaters dressed to the nines on an ice rink. They recreate one of my favourite stories on ice, A Christmas Saga by Charles Dickens. I’m transfixed throughout the hour-long performance. To satiate my hunger pangs, I head to the Green Room, a completely vegan restaurant that introduces me to Swedish dark beer. It quickly becomes my choice of beverage for the rest of the trip.
One afternoon I arrive at Styrsö, one of the islands in the southern Gothenburg archipelago. During summers, I am told, lots of city dwellers come here by ferry to swim or dive in the water, hike the island’s trails, or simply sit by the sea. The ferry takes all of 30 minutes from the city, and the archipelago is car-free. After arriving at Styrsö, I make a beeline for Stora Rös, the highest point on the island. The views are breathtaking from here. On a clear day, I’m told, you can see all the way up to Denmark on one side and Gothenburg city on the other. A local at the viewpoint tells me that there are 8,000 islands between where I am standing and the Norwegian border. The place reminds me of a scene from the show Vikings. Fitting, I think to myself.
The walk stirs up my appetite, and it is just in time that I reach Styrsö Skäret. It’s a cosy hotel, located a stone’s throw from the sea. The views from its dining room and terrace are nothing short of extraordinary. Fresh seafood and herbs from the kitchen garden dictate the menu of my afternoon meal. There is a popular saying in the country, “It’s always time for Swedish fika.” This is exactly what I do after a sumptuous lunch. Fika is a practice all over Sweden, where people get together for short breaks and share coffee and cookies while talking about their day.
Once back in the city, I continue my Christmas market trail. I first head to Kronhusjul, located in one of Gothenburg’s oldest buildings, Kronhuset, dating back to 1654. From the outside, the red-brick building looks like a warehouse. I walk in through the double doors to find a whole other world inside. Locals dressed in traditional costumes stand behind stalls selling Swedish goodies. Handicrafts, Christmas decorations, chocolates, and plenty of traditional Nordic goods are up for grabs. With multiple shopping bags in tow, I head to another market, Jul i Haga. Gothenburg’s oldest suburb, Haga, is charming and picturesque, with wooden houses and cobbled streets. Here, I find a good mix of new and antique shops. The streets are lined with pop-ups selling all kinds of Christmas goodies. I make a stop at Café Husaren, famous for making the largest cinnamon buns in all of Sweden. It is one of many cafes where you can stop for a fika. With a cup of hot chocolate in hand, I walk around the market and lose track of time.
It is late by the time I wean myself away from the market and catch a tram to the hotel. Trams run seamlessly throughout the city and are a convenient mode of transportation around Gothenburg. It is no secret that winter in Sweden is dark and long. So, Gothenburg pulls out all the stops to make it festive by lighting every bridge, facade, and street from the beginning of November. The entire city looks like one big storybook. As I walk from my tram station to the hotel, I hear Christmas carols and loud cheering coming from behind a building. The revelry leads me to a gathering of people bundled up in coats, shopping bags in hand, listening to carols coming out of a ‘singing Christmas tree’. It is a popular tradition in Gothenburg, where carollers dress up in Christmas colours, stand in a tree formation, and sing carols.
This year, the pandemic has forced most of Gothenburg’s Christmas markets to stay shut. But I’m sure the Scandinavian city is lit up with the spirit of Christmas, like every year. I can just close my eyes and return to my happy place.
Qatar Airways operates flights from Delhi to Gothenburg via Doha. The airport is situated 30 minutes away from the centre of the city.
Scandic Rubinen is situated in the heart of the city and offers well- furnished rooms overlooking the city streets. From INR 8,613.
Pensionat Styrsö Skäret occupies a beautiful waterfront location on the island of Styrsö and offers a classic Swedish homestay experience. Price on request.