A Day Trip To Gothenburg from Oslo: Buses, Churches, and a Semla

Gothenburg from a hilltop

With just 24 hours left in Scandinavia, I wanted to go on one last adventure before going back home to Seattle on March 6. With time running out, I decided to book a last-minute day trip — not just to another city, but also a whole new country.

I woke up early and prepared my bag, heading to the bus station to begin the adventure. I found pretty cheap bus tickets to Gothenburg the night before on Nettbuss’ website. It cost me $40 to get there and back with the current exchange rate and my timetable was the following:

8:00: Leave Oslo
11:20: Arrive in Gothenburg
17:43: Leave Gothenburg
21:20: Arrive in Oslo

This gave me about 6 hours to walk around and explore the beautiful city of Gothenburg for my last day on my Scandinavian adventure. With only a little over 3 hours each way, I figured it was like a day trip to Portland. So, why not?

The cobblestone streets of Gothenburg

The large double-decker bus pulled into the lot a few minutes before 8:00 and everyone lined up to get in. The ride there was uneventful, with snow falling and an IKEA seemingly every few miles once we crossed the border into Sweden.

We arrived in Gothenburg on time. I stepped out of the bus and stretched my cramped legs, ready to explore an entirely new city in a brand new country. It was a place where I had to get used to a new exchange rate (much more favorable here, which was a nice break), a new language, and new customs. Just for six hours.

Taking a walk through one of Gothenburg’s many parks

I walked through the beautiful bus terminal and train station and stepped outside into the frigid snowy air. The station is located centrally to everything, with bus stops everywhere and a large plaza right in front of it.

Not knowing pretty much anything about Gothenburg, I decided to simply choose a direction and walk to see what I could find. This is one of my favorite ways to explore cities as you purposely get lost and find gems you might not have come across otherwise.

A gothic church in Gothenburg

This city was incredible — exactly what I was looking for out of a northern European city. There were beautiful buildings, history, things build in the 1600s and before, sprawling avenues and parks, and best of all, semlas.

Now, if you’re not familiar with Sweden or its culture, let me fill you in on something I learned going on this trip. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, or March 5th in this case, is known as Fettisdagen — or “Fat Tuesday”. Because it’s the day before Lent, it’s become a tradition to eat semlor (the plural of semla). And I just happened to be in Sweden on this incredible day.

A window-full of semlor (the plural of semla)

Knowing this before I got there, my number one mission was to find a place to have a semla and a cup of coffee. I also wanted to find some authentic Swedish food and, since the exchange rate was a lot nicer on my wallet here than in Norway, I wasn’t as afraid of the prices.

Because I arrived right before lunchtime, I figured I’d do lunch first and then a semla for dessert. However, 20 minutes after arriving, I walked in front of a bakery whose windows were full of semlor and I couldn’t help myself but go in. After all…it counts as a second breakfast, right?

Oh, delicious semla

I ordered my semla and a latte and found myself a table at the poshest restaurant I’d been in on that trip. My mouth was watering and I couldn’t wait to dig into this delicacy and participate in this incredible tradition.

I cut into my semla and took the first bite. To say it was wonderful would be an understatement. It was perfectly fluffy and sweet with a hint of cardamom and that light finish from the cream. It was incredible — everything people said it was.

P.S. I just Googled a recipe and came upon this one. I’m definitely looking forward to trying it out someday soon!

After starting my morning with a dose of sugar and caffeine, I decided to walk it off in the cobblestone streets surrounding me. I picked another direction and walked, coming upon churches and incredible European buildings. My heart skipped a beat every time I looked up. I was falling in love with every step I took.

When exploring a new city, one of my other favorite things to do is find a high place where I can get a good view of it. As I walked, I found a small park with a hill. It wasn’t a large hill, but I figured it could give me some sort of vantage point to pick my next direction. I stood upon it and looked around, seeing a golden grown topping a cylinder roof in the distance. I had to investigate.

When in a new city: find the nearest hill and climb up it for a great view

I set off in that direction, walking through the cobblestone alleyways and small streets. Eventually, I came upon a much larger hill. On top sat a fortress I could tell was built hundreds of years ago.

Jackpot. I knew there would be a great view at the top of this one.

I climbed the stairs, working off my semla from before. At the top, I discovered the Skansen Kronan, a fortress built in the 17th century. It was beautiful — and beyond that, the view was amazing.

The Skansen Kronan up close

While I took in the view, I felt my phone vibrate. With my phone on airplane mode, it didn’t do that too often outside of WiFi. I took a look and saw my reminder to find WiFi in order to check in for my flight.

So I went down the hill on the opposite side — I found another church I wanted to see closer up — and found an Espresso House where I quickly checked in.

My next mission was to find somewhere to eat. This was challenging for the following reasons:

a) I wanted something authentic but I couldn’t read the Swedish menus and anything that had a menu in English probably wasn’t that authentic
b) It was my one and only meal in Sweden so I wanted to make sure it was good

I searched for a while, choosing streets that looked like they might have some good options. I found myself in Haga, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Gothenburg. It’s full of shops and cafes and I figured it’d be the perfect place to find some authentic Swedish food.

Lunch: potato pancakes, bacon, delicious lingonberry sauce, and some free vegetables to go with it

After a while of searching, I came upon a restaurant located in the Saluhallen Briggen market hall called Ma ‘Delihouse. I couldn’t read the menu and couldn’t even tell what the food was in the case, so I decided to ask for their recommendations.

$10 later, I had a salad, a plate of potato pancakes and bacon, and the opportunity for cake & coffee (which I didn’t have because I was stuffed after lunch). Yep, the prices in Sweden were so much better than Norway. Was that the best restaurant to eat my only Swedish meal? I’m not sure. But it was pretty tasty.

Another large church in Gothenburg — under construction but still beautiful

A few more churches and cobblestone roads later, I could feel my feet getting tired and I was beginning to get cold. It had been snowing the whole day and a breeze was starting to pick up, bringing in colder air. Things started closing and I decided to head to the bus terminal a little early, around 4:30, to rest before my bus at 5:43. I bought a few chocolate bars in the terminal and sat down to rest my feet.

I got on the bus and witnessed a screaming fight between one of the passengers and the driver over a bag of food the passenger brought on (and wasn’t supposed to). Besides that, we left without much of a hitch and hit the road. I said goodbye to Gothenburg and the time I enjoyed in Sweden, even if it was short.

Snow coming down in Gothenburg

About halfway through the drive, we came to a total stop in the middle of the freeway. I craned my neck to see what was going on and noticed a long line of red brake lights ahead of us. It was around 7:30 and we were in the middle of nowhere. It had been snowing all day and there was a light dusting of snow settling on the road, but conditions weren’t too bad overall.

The bus driver got on his intercom to explain the situation. The problem? He explained it in Norwegian. Without an English translation to follow.

Half an hour later, we still weren’t moving. There had been a number of police cars and ambulances who passed us in the meantime and no cars driving on the other side of the freeway either, so I knew something had to be wrong up ahead.

A view of Gothenburg from a hilltop

Then, we started moving again. We inched ahead and turned the corner to see the outdoor nightclub of flashing lights up ahead. Finally, we passed the problem; it looked like a semi-truck had spun out on the road and was blocking our entire side of the freeway. They had opened up the other side of the freeway to let us drive around the accident.

30 minutes later, we arrived at the border. We didn’t pass any sort of customs going into Sweden, but entering Norway was a different story. We parked in a building and five customs officers and a dog boarded to search the passengers. They checked our passports and asked questions about where we were headed and where we were. It went smoothly, I just thought it was odd we didn’t get anything going in but got it coming back out of Sweden.

Streets in the Haga neighborhood

We arrived in Oslo a little over an hour after the scheduled arrival time, but at least we got back safe. I headed home in the subway — experiencing some of the loudest and most obnoxious hiccups I’ve ever gotten along the way — and packed my bags. In the morning, it was time to leave my solo trip to Scandinavia and, although I was tired, I knew I made the right choice going to Sweden on the last day.

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