Gay Days in Gothenburg
Myself and another LGBT journalists were graciously invited by Visit Sweden to attend their West Pride festival, and see how just how different gay life is for the Scandinavians in the welcoming city of Gothenburg.
Travelling to Gothenburg
It’s 8:30 in the morning, and after two days of less-than-fortuitous encounters with trains, tubes and buses, I am well and truly sick of London transport and ready to get the hell out of this city… At least for a little bit.
Sat at Gatwick Airport after clearing security, I get a few moments to sit and watch the mêlée of stag and hen dos downing glasses of wine before scurrying off to catch their flights to Ibiza, Prague, etc.
Classy as ever England, let’s go see how the Swedish do things.
My flight was delayed, but then this is Gatwick so it’s no big surprise, but before long I am jetting out on Norwegian Airlines to the second largest city in Sweden.
First impressions of Gothenburg
Despite it sounding like Batman’s second home, the city of Gothenburg is bright, open and friendly. Rainbow flags greeted us as we walked out of the airport, flying high and proud upon almost every available flagpole across the city. The best word to describe the city would be ‘welcoming.’ Welcoming to gays, to tourists, and gay tourists alike.
Sweden’s second-biggest city is a peculiarly perfect mixture of artistic venues, universities and trendy hipster locations, all quaintly positioned along Sweden’s Western coast. It’s the home of the Volvo (and you’ll see them everywhere) and is at the heart of a thriving internationally important music culture, producing music acts from Ace of Base (my first ever CD) to the slightly heavier The Knife. Swedish music is hugely gay-friendly, with the Swedish version of pop music making Justin Bieber look positively Goth. Schlager music, as it is known, can be thought of as the songs and acts too cheesy for Eurovision, and it was playing in every gay club, bar and open-air venue that we came across.
Touring the city
Gothenburg is a city that is easily explored by foot. From our cozy retro-chic hotel (Bellora Hotel) on Kungsportsavenyen (yes that’s what the street names look like over there), the longest we ever had to walk was 15 minutes, and that’s only because we stopped for coffee on the way. (Important side note: the Swedish people have a lovely tradition known as fika. If you go on any arranged tours or excursions you’ll likely see several of these scheduled throughout your day. A fika is pretty much just a coffee break, however it is very much tradition to take several fikas everyday. You cannot fika alone, so it is the act of sharing a short break, a hot drink and something sweet with a friend, family member, colleague, or random passer-by. Indulge your sweet tooth and enjoy this Swedish tradition as often as possible).
Travel cards are available, and are a good investment if you’re planning on taking tours and visiting several museums as it allows for free entry to almost all of them alongside your bus and tram travel, but if you just want to wander around it’s easy enough to walk.
When the city was first founded in the 17th century, it was laid out largely by Dutch planners and is still home to several canals. These can be explored by canoe, paddleboat, or by boat tour which comes with plenty of terrible Dad joke-style puns, the core of true Gothenburg humour.
The most famous boulevard is called Avenyn, which is lively and lined with numerous great shops and restaurants (yes, they do have a lot of H&M stores there). For something a little more hipster, head to Haga, known as the ‘old town’ of Gothenburg which was once the city’s working class area and is now awash with vegan cafés and vintage record stores.
We spent our last day touring the islands of Gothenburg’s archipelago, which can be reach easily by tram and ferry, just 20 minutes from the city centre. There are several islands you can visit, easily hopping on and off the ferry, and explore on foot.
There are a few quaint B&Bs on each if you feel like staying the night, or simply stopping off for some lunch or a cheeky glass of wine. We were lucky enough to soak up some sunshine while enjoying a delicious seafood lunch at the LGBT-friendly Pensionat Skaret Guest House, who had proudly raised their rainbow flag in honour of the West Pride weekend celebrations.
Those involved in West Pride work all year round to provide support to the LGBT community. West Pride is more of a celebration of their ongoing work, and the success they’ve had strengthening their community, rather than celebrity performances and parades of underwear models (unfortunately). The parade and events are all free and open to all members of the public, and that is one of the things that most surprised and impressed me about Gothenburg, the solidarity. As I said, rainbow flags were everywhere across the city, not just on theatres and hanging outside of clubs, but at the airport, fire stations, churches and small rural B&Bs. Even the traffic lights were changed to show two men and two women holding hands. The spirit of gay pride could be felt in every corner of this city.
The feeling of community was wonderful, and felt all the more important as Sunday’s West Pride parade fell on the day after the Orlando mass shooting. With the whole world reeling from this attack on the LGBT community, the people of Gothenburg stood united.
The parade was the first that I’d attended in which I was actually allowed to march. I was surrounded not just by activists, community organisers and gay club owners, I was walking next to straight families pushing buggies while their young children waved rainbow flags, proud parents, and welcoming religious groups. It was exactly as the name suggested, a celebration of pride in who we are as individuals and who we are as a community.
West Pride ran hundreds of programs throughout the celebration, everything from the now-famous lesbian breakfast to museum exhibitions on LGBT history. Granted I wouldn’t have been averse to some underwear-clad floats, but the welcoming feeling of support and acceptance would more than make up for it.
Gay Places to go in Gothenburg
While the upside to Gothenburg’s quaint size is its sense of community and its supreme walkability, the downside is the limited options when it comes to going out gaying. For the biggest gay nights, there are parties that take place either once a month or even once every two months. Wish You Were Queer is probably the biggest gay party, set once a month on a docked boat called Rio Rio (which rumour has it may be closing down soon, so keep an eye out for a new venue likely coming soon).
Jazzhuset was another incredible venue we visited, located within in an art deco-style apartment building, it felt a bit like we were crashing someone’s house party. There were stand up comedians performing who were apparently hilarious, I missed most of the jokes as they were obviously in Swedish, before the dancefloor was eventually consumed by the biggest crowd of dancing lesbians I’ve ever seen in one place. Bee Bar refers to itself as a “straight-friendly” bar, situated in the city centre it is an ideal place to grab some gay food or gay drinks whatever the time of day and sit and watch the gay world go by.
The only real gay club that exists in Gothenburg all year round is the infamous Greta’s (confusingly pronounced Giriatas by the Swedes), and it is the city’s biggest and longest-running gay club. It is here that a real love of cheesy pop is absolutely crucial. Do not expect dance remixes or house music to be playing in this two-storey mansion of gayness. If you’re a Eurovision fan you’ll be right at home here. With drag acts regularly flown in from London and the compulsory hot bartenders, Greta’s is the perfect setting for a great gay night in Gothenburg.
Check our listings for up-to-date information.
The men of Gothenburg
Now I don’t like to perpetuate stereotypes, but bugger me the Swedes are frickin beautiful! Think Aleksander Skarsgards just everywhere. Reason enough to book a flight immediately.
For more on gay Gothenburg, please visit www.goteborg.com/en
For further information on gay and lesbian Sweden, visit www.visitswedenlgbt.com
Travel is such a huge part of modern life, and having grown up overseas and lived as a digital nomad no one gets that more than me.
As the world gets smaller we’re constantly looking for new and exciting places to visit that are safe and welcoming to the LGBT+ community.