Västra Götaland

Second city in a big new county    

At the heart of western Sweden, the county of Västra Götaland is especially proud of its capital, the second largest city in the country after Stockholm: Göteborg, better known outside the country as Gothenburg.

Sweden's second city is much appreciated by visitors for its combination of big city amenities and small-town charm. Gothenburg offers a number of fine restaurants (seafood a speciality), a vibrant street life, excellent shopping – including Nordstan, Sweden's largest indoor shopping centre – and museums galore... most within easy walking distance of the centre. Cultural attractions include the Art Museum, known for its Nordic collection; the Röhsska Museum of Design and Decorative Arts (the only one of its kind in Sweden: a must-see for lovers of Scandinavian design), and Gothenburg Opera House. Liseberg amusement park is said to be Northern Europe's largest, and the most visited attraction in Scandinavia. Liseberg Garden, opened in 2008, is an imaginatively landscaped area of 20,000 square metres (5 acres) complementing the park's famous flower displays.

From Gothenburg in the south the magnificent archipelago of the Bohuslän coast stretches north to the Svinesund bridge just above Strömstad. With its irresistible combination of sculptural granite rock formations, picturesque fishing villages, superb boating, swimming, and fishing (and some of the best lobsters and oysters in the world), the area is one of Sweden's most popular summer destinations.

A network of excellent cycling paths runs through magnificent countryside. The path connecting Gothenburg with the Norwegian border is part of the North Sea Cycle Route from Scotland through England, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

Marstrand, one of the best known towns on the coast, is renowned for its boating and its history as a playground for royals since the 19th century; but its greatest attraction is probably the beautiful wooden architecture of the town. Marstrand hosts the annual Swedish Match Cup, attracting virtually the entire international match race sailing elite and more than 150,000 spectators.

Millions of visitors are drawn to the county by its extraordinary system of lakes, rivers and canals, forming a waterway of over 600 km from Gothenburg on the west coast to Söderköping on the Baltic Sea via the river Göta and the Trollhättan canal, through the large lakes Vänern and Vättern.

Canal cruises
The historic Göta canal between Sjötorp on Lake Vänern and Mem on the east coast is a particular favourite. One of Sweden's largest-ever civil engineering projects, it is 190 km long, of which 87 kilometres (including a total of 58 locks) are man-made, the lakes through which it passes making up the remainder. Authentic 19th century canal boats offer stylish cruises of up to six days between Göteborg and Stockholm or Motala and Söderköping.

Similar cruises on the Dalsland canal – strictly speaking, a 240 km system of lakes and rivers of which 10 km is manmade – carry passengers through the magnificent landscape of "Sweden's lake province". The canal is considered one of the most beautiful waterways in Europe.

Dalsland is known as a Mecca for kayakers and canoeists, who take part in a 55 km Dalsland Canoe Marathon every August. Another popular way to experience the magnificent countryside of Dalsland is on a railway inspection trolley, travelling on disused railway lines straight into the wilderness.

Cinema buffs will want to make a stop at the small city of Trollhättan, on the Göta river, already a major tourist destination for its dramatic surroundings and complex system of canal locks. Since the early nineties, it has also become the centre of Sweden's film industry, with over 100 major titles to its credit. The ultimate goal is to establish the region as the foremost film production region in northern Europe.

Västra Götaland is one of the most populous counties in Sweden, comprising no fewer than 49 municipalities. It is also quite new, having been formed as recently as 1998, when Älvsborg, Gothenburg and Bohus, and Skaraborg counties were merged.

Gothenburg archipelago

Photo: Leif Öster Photo: Lisa Nestorson, Photo: Mikael Almse,
Bergs lock, Göta Canal Trollhättan Cable car over Trollhattan Borås zoo