From Swedish craft beer and natural wines to Gothenburg's most infamous (and delicious) sandwich, here's how to navigate the city's booming restaurant scene. 
Credit: Courtesy of Norda

As the second largest city in Sweden, Gothenburg may trail Stockholm in population and trend pieces but it's no less obsessed with design (see: the soon-to-be-reopened Röhsska Museum), crime fiction, underground music—this is the home of melodic death-metal (At the Gates, In Flames) and progressive electro-pop (The Knife, Little Dragon), after all—and, of course, food. Yes, you don't need a reservation at Noma to feel complete. Not when its neighbors up north have access to some of Scandinavia's freshest seafood, along with six Michelin-starred restaurants that showcase their own top-notch ingredients and refined techniques. Read on to find out how to make the most of a four-day visit to this up-and-coming culinary capital.

Who: Anyone who appreciates Scandinavian culture, but wants to look beyond light, misleading reads about lagom and hygee living. (A recent Guardian column helped put those two in perspective, once and for all.)

Where: Hiding in plain sight at the coastal halfway point between Copenhagen and Oslo, deep in the industrial heart of Western Sweden, with charming waterways that reflect its Dutch roots and present a less-touristed alternative to Amsterdam's iconic canals.

When: Unlike Sweden's frigid Lapland province—the home of reindeer for a reason—Gothenburg is downright pleasant in the dead of winter. Which explains why it hosts the country's biggest holiday market and enough holly, jolly hoopla to earn the title Christmas City. Start booking next December's getaway plan now.

Why: Now's a great time to see Gothenburg, as it transcends its rough port town rep with bold new businesses and resurgent neighborhoods like Haga, Victoriapassagen, and the increasingly trendy area west of Linnégatan street.

How to Get There: Hopes are high for the return of direct flights to Gothenburg in the near future. (They were taken off the table a while ago.) Until then, American travelers can expect at least one layover. Play your cards right with KLM and you can keep your airtime low and add a stopover in Amsterdam or Paris along the way.

Hotel Pigalle
Gothenburg's Hotel Pigalle.
| Credit: Courtesy of Hotel Pigalle

Courtesy of Hotel Pigalle

Where to Stay: A glass bottom pool and gorgeous views have earned Upper House the top spot in Tripadvisor's user ratings, but it lacks the truly unique touches of its boutique competitor, Hotel Pigalle (Södra Hamngatan 2a, 411 06; +46 31 80 25 21). Some would say it's funky to a fault—an eerie cross between Moulin Rouge, the dimly lit set designs of Sleep No More, and Disney's Haunted Mansion ride—but there's more to the place than creaky doors that open on their own and an elevator that giggles and whispers inappropriate things like "I find myself very attracted to you." Artfully rendered deluxe rooms will transport Francophiles back to the turn of the 20th century, and a rooftop bar/restaurant (Atelier) bewitches hopeful romantics with serious breakfast spreads, a roaring open fire, and dynamic four-course dinners. We'll take that over a sweaty gym or standard issue spa any day.

Getting Around: Unlimited tram, bus and boat rides are all included with three-day Västtrafik passes that cost 190 SEK (about $20 USD) each. They can be purchased from the tourist center at Kungsportsplatsen, convenience stores (Pressbyrån, 7-Eleven), or any of the official ticket outlets listed here. As for how you get from Point A to Point B, go ahead and delete Uber now. Gothenburg is a supremely walkable city, and public transportation is efficient and easy. Simply tap the card reader as soon as you step onboard and listen for your stop. Don't worry about deciphering maps, either; Västtrafik has a well-reviewed app and travel planner online, although we found Google Maps to be just as accurate if you're already used to its UI.

Where to Eat and Drink

Alkemisten (Gustaf Dalénsgatan 14, 417 05): Revelatory light roasts (from Norway's Coffea Circulor) take center stage alongside clean eats like raw cheesecake, bliss balls mixed with matcha or mango, lemon and rose hip, and a weekends-only wrap studded with sweet potato, lentils, millet and pomegranate. Not sure what to order? Ask your barista; they'll narrow your single origin selection down to something you'll actually remember a few days from now.

Brewers Bar (Tredje Långgatan 8, 413 03; +46 31 14 77 88): Swedish craft beer has really caught on in recent years, but not many local brewers have a proper taproom to ply their wares. You're better off sampling a few different phenomenal IPAs or sours from the 14 taps at this pretension-free spot instead. Co-owner Pelle Frost is actually behind the gypsy collabs of All In Brewing, so he knows a thing or two about who's pushing everyone's palate these days.

Hagabions Cafe (Linnégatan 21, 413 04; +46 31 42 63 32): Global vegetarian plates change daily here, taking cues from such completely unrelated countries as Indonesia (tempeh rendang), Italy (arancini filled with forest mushrooms and beetroot), and Morocco (vegetable tagine with homemade harissa and white beans). Or you can stick with slabs of fried goat cheese and fig bread if you're looking for something lighter to pair with fresh pours of Stigbergets. Also of note if you speak Swedish: there's an independent movie theater next door, which means you can make a night of your visit to this multi-use complex.

Hoga Nord
Höga Nord
| Credit: Emma Edwards

Emma Edwards

Höga Nord (Kyrkogatan 13, 411 15; +46 73 689 89 22): If the phrase "soup and sandwich" makes you think of forgettable diner fare, then you've never been to the cafe side of this record store. Its limited, strictly vegetarian menu features open-faced epiphanies like a kale, potato, and shaved truffle combo that's about as baller as a smörrebröd gets. Add a locally brewed session ale and a bowl of blitzed cauliflower with glazed celery root, and you've got what may be the best lunch deal in town. Oh, and be sure to come back in the evening for an aperitif from Höga Nord's courtyard neighbor, Forssén Öberg, a champagne bar devoted to small producers who "don't mind getting their hands dirty."

Landvetter Airport Hotel (Flygets Hotellväg, 438 70 Landvetter, Sweden; +46 31 97 75 50): If your flight back home is grounded due to inclement weather, don't panic. Chances are your airline will cover a couple meals at the immaculate hotel across the street. Lunch should be Gothenburg's most infamous sandwich: Danish rye bread smothered in tiny shrimp, mayo, dill, boiled eggs, and lemon. It sounds and looks like overkill, but it tastes amazing. As for dinner, how about some dry-aged sirloin, glazed and braised pork, or fried cod loin with a creamy herb and mussels sauce? You're not dreaming; you're simply in Sweden, a country that still cares about customer service.

Natur (Geijersgatan 12, 411 34; +46 31 16 08 88): Natural wine nerds will adore the loud flavors at this laid-back spot from the same restaurant group as Totale and Bord 27. Three courses and a "messy wine package" will set you back about $100 USD total. Don't think twice; just pull the trigger. Turns out "Bohemian Rhapsody"—the kitchen really likes Queen and The Rolling Stones—pairs nicely with a bottle of Brutal and food so filling the server will ask you if you need a "pause" before dessert. We certainly did, although maybe we just didn't want to leave.

Norda (Drottningtorget 10, 411 03; +46 31 61 90 60): Superstar chef Marcus Samuelsson returned to his roots with the opening of Clarion Post Hotel's marquee restaurant in 2012. (Samuelsson was raised in Gothenburg and graduated from its culinary institute.) His menu was initially a head-on collision between casual American and Swedish food—elevated pub fare, essentially—but it was later rebooted to better fit the fancy-huh feel of the Art Deco room. Look out for pork belly with parsnip, apple, Brussels sprouts, black cabbage, and pork broth, and a tart dessert of gooseberry compote, chocolate mousse, mascarpone, and crumbled cardamom cookie.

Omnipollos (Plantagegatan 3a, 413 05): Sweden's answer to Mikkeller is based in Stockholm, but they recently added a raucous taproom in Gothenburg. Expect that-can't-be-right flavor combinations like a Raspberry Creme Brulee Sour, a No-Bake Coffee Dunked Coconut Snowball Imperial Stout, and and an Ice Cream Cake IPA that's literally topped with a layer of soft serve. Speaking of food, most Swedes like to eat something when they drink, so Omnipollos has fun-loving bar fare like an 80-gram lobster roll, a "monster" hot dog topped with housemade kimchi, s'mores, and several vegan options.

Restaurant Gabriel (Feskekôrka, 411 20; +46 31 13 90 51): If chef Johan Malm had his way, no one would leave Gothenburg without having one of Western Sweden's prized oysters. Priced at about $7 a piece, they're best enjoyed in winter, when they're fat and firm. Chew them slowly—rather than slurping 'em straight down your gullet—to get the full effect, then round out a midday meal with such "fish church" staples as lemon sole lacquered with mushrooms and brown butter.

Want to learn more about why Sweden's cold waterways are such a crucial source of seafood? Email to book an early morning tour of Gothenburg's fish auction, which is much more civilized (read: less tourists behaving badly) and educational than Tokyo's Tsukiji Market.

SK Mat & Människor (Johannebergsgatan 24, 412 55; +46 31 81 25 80): While it may look like the names of two different owners, SK Mat & Mämmniskor is actually a nod to its Michelin-starred chef (Stefan Karlsson) and the Swedish words for food and people. In other words, Karlsson wants his most acclaimed restaurant to leave the white tablecloths where they belong—in the '80s—and connect with customers on a deeper level. To do that, an open kitchen puts the pirate ship on full display, so you can watch Karlsson's tight-knit team prepare such delicate rotating dishes as haddock with fennel, chanterelles and poppy seeds and reindeer with smoked oil, sunchokes, roasted onions, oxtail jus and a hazelnut crisp.

| Credit: Courtesy of Stranger

Courtesy of Stranger

Stranger (Kungstorget 14, 411 10; +46 31 13 45 55): Gothenburg is very much a beer and wine city, but this speakeasy—located below the South American bistro Tranquilo—is trying to change that one twisted cocktail at a time. One recent menu revolved around five dynamic gin drinks, including a refreshing number rounded out by Galliano, Italicus, charred plum and black pepper syrup, lime, basil oil, and egg white. Not much of a gin person? They also pay tribute to industry standards from such major cities as New Orleans (Carousel Bar's Vieux Carré), London (Savoy's Hanky Panky), and New York (Death & Company's Oaxaca Old Fashioned).

Strömmingsluckan (Slottsskogsgatan 37, 414 70; +46 31 14 07 78): Herring is fried to order at this influential food truck—one of the city's first—and piled onto a generous lunch plate with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. Try the version laced with horseradish and Dijon mustard for a little extra kick you won't find at IKEA.

Wine Mechanics
Wine Mechanics
| Credit: Kalle Sanner

Kalle Sanner

Wine Mechanics (15, Lilla Waterloogatan, 415 02; +46 31 790 43 00): Former professional soccer player Kenneth Gustavsson built upon his second life as an importer with Sweden's first "urban winery" last year. If that sounds like an oxymoron, it most certainly is; Gustavsson grabs his grapes from reputable farms in France and Germany, but ferments them right here on the outskirts of Gothenburg. The gamble has already paid off with a crisp and crowd-pleasing inaugural run of Syrah, Riesling, and Rosé. Not to mention tables that are getting harder and harder to book due to the buzz surrounding Wine Mechanics' food menu. Helmed by veteran chef Rikard Nilsson, it ranges from a ricotta gnocchi with artichoke, apple and hazelnuts to cod topped with flower sprouts, caper, and an oyster creme.

While You're Here

Sweden's drivers are civilized, its roads are well maintained, and its cars are fuel efficient and handle beautifully, so the best thing you can do towards the tail end of a Gothenburg trip is rent a Volvo and get out of Dodge for the day. Here's how to make the most of a 24-hour road trip…

Have a light early breakfast, cop a compact at 9, and head straight for Alingsås, a small town so packed with cafes (more than 30 at last count) it's been called the Capital of Fika. If you're there on a Saturday morning, you may be able to fulfill a need for knowledge and saffron buns with a 90-minute tour. (Email for more info, as they recently added winter groups for the first time.)

Now bring your blood sugar down to a reasonable level by driving 20 minutes down south to Garveriet (Garverivägen 9, 448 31 Floda, Sweden; +46 302 69 00 69). Founder Matts Johansson (co-owner of the third-wave coffee pioneer da Matteo) has big plans for this former tannery, a cafe/bakery/small grocery shop that emphasizes seasonality and sustainability. The daily lunch menu is small but deeply satisfying, enough to make you dream of the meaty, wood-fired wonders at Johansson's other ace eatery in the area: Jernbruket (Floda stationsväg 3, 448 30 Floda, Sweden; +46 73 369 61 72).

Maybe next time; what you wanna do instead is hit the highway for the scenic 90-minute drive to Lådfabriken (474 94 Hälleviksstrand, Sweden; +46 304 521 00) . While it's technically a bed and breakfast, the couple behind it (Johan Buskqvist and Marcel van der Eng) have impeccable taste, so there's a noticeable lack of stuffy antique furniture in their seaside home. A converted boat and crate factory with soaring ceilings and an industrial yet inviting feel, it's filled with quirky art and design pieces instead. (Buskqvist's past life was in prime creative positions at Adidas, Nike and Reebok.)

There's not much to do on this tiny island during the winter, so embrace seemingly endless nights with a special julbord dinner that starts with a warm mug of mulled wine and ends with a ridiculous amount of locally sourced lobster, crab, shrimp, crayfish, and oysters. Lådfabriken's morning after meal is lighter, but no less thoughtful, from a tray full of fruity homemade jam to a seedy, brick-like bread Johan and Marcel love so much they fill a fridge with fresh loaves from Norway every few months. Take your time, too; Landvetter Airport is less than 90 minutes away, and this may be the last time you taste butter as complex and creamy—take that, pasteurization!—as Sweden's. The only thing you should worry about is squeezing in a short hike on a nearby hill that peaks with a picturesque view of the coastal village below. Who needs a postcard when you can print one later from your smartphone?

Leave Room in your Suitcase For: Light roasts from the well-stocked whole bean shelves of Kaffelabbet (Landsvägsgatan 15, 413 04; +46 31 14 20 10)—we're big fans of Per Nordby, Koppi, and Morgon; interior design items and Instagram-worthy tableware from Artilleriet (Magasinsgatan 19, 411 1; +46 31 711 76 21) and its sister shop The Kitchen (Designtorget is also decent, albeit less curated); smuggle-worthy Swedish cheese from the ancient (since 1888!) Hugo Ericson OST stall in the Saluhallen food hall (Kungstorget, 411 17; +46 31 13 93 26); and all the Scandinavian craft beer you can fit in your suitcase from the city's state-owned Systembolaget stores.

Want to See More of Scandinavia?: Exeter International is a luxury travel agency that specializes in Stockholm and such nearby cities as Bergen, Oslo, Copenhagen, and Helsinki.