Last updated on May 5, 2023 by Wandering our World
If you’re planning a trip to Sweden and want to get a real taste of Swedish life, culture, history, and food, you’ll most likely want to visit one of the country’s big cities, like Gothenburg or Stockholm.
However you may be surprised to hear that they’re actually very different cities…
Stockholm is the Swedish capital, and it’s also the largest city in Sweden, renowned for its extraordinary Old Town, historic architecture, artistic underground metro stations, and massive collection of museums.
Gothenburg, meanwhile, is Sweden’s second-biggest city. It’s known for being a warm and welcoming place with Amsterdam-style canals, a large student population, and a vibrant live entertainment scene.
There’s always been a bit of a rivalry between these two cities, with locals in both locations proclaiming that their city is best. But which one is truly the better Swedish city for most people to visit?
Well, that’s what this guide is going to show you!
Below, we’ll put these two Swedish giants side-by-side in several key areas, from their nightlife and activities to their average costs and atmosphere, all so you can make the right holiday decision. Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Day Trips?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Has The Best Food?
- Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
- Which Is Better For Couples?
- Which Is Better For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Gothenburg vs Stockholm
Gothenburg: A Quick Overview
Gothenburg is the second-largest city in the whole of Sweden, and it sits on the west coast, around 250 miles southwest of Stockholm, as the crow flies.
It’s the fifth-biggest city in all of the Nordic nations, with a main city population just under 600,000 and around 1.1 million people in the full metropolitan area.
This city was officially founded King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1621. Interestingly, Gothenburg was mostly designed by Dutch engineers, as they were best-equipped to cope with the marshy lands, and the city was designed in a similar style to other Dutch-designed urban areas, like Jakarta in Indonesia and Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
It was constructed in a highly strategic and significant location, offering a gateway from Sweden out into the North Sea and, further on, the Atlantic Ocean.
Thanks to this, Gothenburg’s port became hugely important, providing key trade and migration links with Europe and the US, and as the city’s importance grew, it began to expand, with more infrastructure and big businesses.
These days, Gothenburg is known as one of the liveliest cities in all of Sweden, hosting many festivals and big events.
It’s also a big student city, with the University of Gothenburg being one of the biggest in the entire Nordic region, as well as an increasingly popular tourist hotspot, with some excellent attractions, including Scandinavia’s largest amusement park.
Stockholm: A Quick Overview
The capital city of Sweden, Stockholm is also the nation’s largest city. It’s located over on the east coast, in the southeast part of the country, beside the Baltic Sea.
Around a million people live in the main city of Stockholm, with over 2.4 million in the metropolitan area, making it often feel a lot more hectic and crowded compared to Gothenburg.
Stockholm was founded several centuries earlier than Gothenburg, in 1252, although the foundations of the city had already been laid by the Vikings a couple of hundred years earlier.
Like Gothenburg, Stockholm was placed in a key location to have access to the sea and strong trade links with other cities and nations, and this helped the city prosper and grow.
These days, Stockholm is responsible for a whopping ⅓ of Sweden’s entire economic output, and it’s the main cultural and political center for the country.
Sweden’s Royal Family lives just outside the city in Drottningholm Palace, while the Swedish government meets in Parliament House, right in the center of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (Old Town).
As the biggest city in all of Scandinavia, Stockholm is one of the region’s most-visited and orientated locations.
It ranks among the top cities in the world in terms of number of museums, and is also famed for its beautifully-preserved historic buildings and artistic metro stations, among other interesting landmarks and attractions.
Which Is Best For Activities?
When it comes to activities and attractions, Stockholm and Gothenburg are the two top places to be in Sweden. They can both boast of fun-filled theme parks, fabulous museums, cultural tours, and more.
But they also have some key differences as we’ll show you below, with Stockholm offering more for history lovers and Gothenburg having more modern vibes.
Gothenburg: The Activities
When it comes to sightseeing, Gothenburg may not be able to keep up with Stockholm in terms of historic homes and fancy palaces.
But it’s still got a few key landmarks worth checking out, like the cute wooden houses of the Haga district, the Neoclassical Gotaplatsen square, the Skansen Kronan 17th century fort, or the unusual Feskekörka “Fish Church” market.
Visitors also won’t want to miss out on a trip to Liseburg, the biggest theme park in all of Scandinavia, with pretty gardens and some thrilling coasters to get your heart racing.
Or, if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, Gothenburg has great museums, like the National Museum of World Culture or massive Universeum science center.
Gothenburg’s laid-back vibes make it a great place for more relaxing activities, too, like sipping hot drinks and enjoyed baked treats at the many independent cafes all over the city.
Or why not admire the flowers at the beautiful Gothenburg Botanical Garden, walk beside the canals, or roam the streets in search of hidden shops and colorful street art.
In addition, this Swedish city is also famed for its festivals and live events.
So, when planning your trip, you might like to take a look at the city’s events’ calendar and try to time your visit to coincide with a special occasion, like the Gothenburg Film Festival, Gothenburg Book Fair, or the International Science Festival.
Stockholm: The Activities
Over in Stockholm, travelers can spend their days exploring the city and visiting a plethora of landmarks and famous buildings, especially around the Gamla Stan area.
There, you’ll find the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Swedish King and Queen, as well as old merchant houses and the impressive Stock Exchange Building lining the sides of the Stortorget square.
Stockholm also happens to be one of the museum capitals of the world. The list of museums simply goes on and on here, covering all sorts of topics.
Music lovers will enjoy the ABBA Museum, which charts the success of Sweden’s most famous pop group, while history buffs can head to the Vasa Museum to see the world’s only preserved 17th century ship.
Just like Gothenburg, Stockholm has its own amusement park: Gröna Lund. This park isn’t as big or impressive as Liseberg, but it’s still a fabulous family attraction with more than 100 years of history.
The city’s subway tunnels are also worth checking out, and there are some arty and trendy districts with galleries, craft bars, and more, like SoFo and Vasastan.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Stockholm is famously set across a series of islands, with a huge surrounding archipelago to explore.
Many visitors take boat tours of the nearby islands, and there are several beaches for sunbathing and swimming, as well as great walking paths, playgrounds, and hiking trails.
Overall, Stockholm has more things to see and do and definitely has the edge in terms of beautiful buildings and cultural experiences.
With that said, the more laid-back and less touristic feel of Gothenburg may appeal to those seeking a less hectic trip.
Which Is Better For Day Trips?
There’s lots to love and so much to see in both Gothenburg and Stockholm, but travelers might enjoy a temporary change of pace and may like to spend a day away from these cities to see other parts of Sweden. So, which city offers the best day trip opportunities?
Well, given its location on the west coast, Gothenburg is best-suited for seeing what this part of Sweden has to offer.
Unfortunately, there isn’t actually too much of note here in terms of cultural cities and urban hubs. However, there are some great beaches and lakes you can reach by bus, ideal for calming strolls or swimming, if you’re bold enough to enter the frosty Scandi waters.
For something a little more exciting, you could choose to cross over the borders into either Norway or Denmark, and it’s possible to get to both countries’ capitals – Oslo and Copenhagen – in less than four hours on the train.
This might be too long of a journey for a simple day trip, but you could always spend a night or two in either city and give yourself time to see the sights.
Over in Stockholm, there are several super day trip destinations much closer to the big city.
Drottningholm Palace, for instance, is only a short ride away, and this is the home of Sweden’s Royal Family, so it’s definitely worth checking out, with intriguing guided tours and astonishingly beautiful gardens.
There are also some gorgeous towns and cities just an hour away, like Uppsala, home of Sweden’s oldest university building, which houses a stunning collection of ancient artifacts, or Sigtuna, the oldest town in Sweden, right beside the majestic Lake Malaren.
There are also pleasant beaches within easy reach of the capital, like on the island of Sandhamn.
Overall, for day trips, Stockholm just about edges it, as it has many locations that are worth visiting in the surrounding area, and many of them are very quick and convenient to get to.
Gothenburg can be great for international adventures to Norway or Denmark, but it’s not the most practical starting point for day tripping.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
If you like to party or enjoy hitting up the local clubs and pubs of the cities you visit to mingle with locals and sample some locally-brewed beers or other traditional drinks, you’ll want to know how the nightlife experiences compare between Gothenburg and Stockholm.
As a student city with a major university and tens of thousands of young people, it’s no surprise that Gothenburg has a pretty raucous nightlife scene.
Kungsportsavenyen, also known simply as Avenyn, is one of the top spots to party, with wine lounges, cocktail bars, and more, while Andra Långgatan is where you can find thumping clubs and live music until the early hours.
Over in Stockholm, the nightlife is less-oriented around young people and rowdy clubs. Instead, this city has a big number of bars of all kinds, from colorful cocktail bars to trendy hipster lounges with the latest craft beers on tap.
Head to Södermalm or Östermalm for the best evening entertainment and the widest selection of venues.
Overall, in terms of sheer excitement and dynamism, Gothenburg’s nightlife scene wins this round, but Stockholm is still a pretty lively and pleasant place to be in the evenings, especially for those seeking a more mature experience.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
Want to do some shopping during your stay in Gothenburg or Stockholm?
Well, as the home of big retail brands like IKEA and H&M, Sweden is no stranger to retail therapy, and there are plenty of fun spots to shop until you drop in both of these big cities.
In Gothenburg, Avenyn is the main shopping street, boasting big brands, trendy bookshops, and interesting indie stores along the smaller side streets.
For high-end fashion, you can head to Magasinsgatan, while the Arkaden mall is the top spot for Scandi design and décor. The old Haga district, meanwhile, is where you can find some quirky and artisanal boutiques.
Over in Stockholm, there are even more shopping streets and districts to discover, from the Drottninggatan, with its big Euro brands to the Mall of Scandinavia, with over 220 stores in total!
Boho-style stores line the streets of Södermalm, while the weekly Hötorget Flea Market is a must-see for bargain hunters.
Overall, it’s Stockholm that emerges as the winner here, simply due to the fact that it has more stores, more malls, and a wider range of shopping experiences.
Which Has The Best Food?
Swedish cuisine may not be as well-known or widely-loved as Italian or French, but it’s slowly emerging as a culinary force. And some of the finest examples of this country’s cooking can be enjoyed in the cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg.
As the capital, it’s no surprise that Stockholm is home to Sweden’s top-rated restaurants.
There are plenty of Michelin stars to go around in Stockholm, along with simpler and cheaper eateries where you can sample all the Swedish classics, from meatballs and fried herring to kroppkakor dumplings and falukorv sausage.
Stockholm also offers many restaurants specializing in other culinary styles from around the world.
You can find cool curry houses and burger bars in the SoFo area, for example, as well as Italian pizzerias and Middle Eastern kitchens, with a seemingly endless menu of flavors to sample.
Over in Gothenburg, the culinary scene is slowly growing, but it still lags behind Stockholm.
There are some creative Swedish restaurants here, with young chefs experimenting with ‘New Nordic’ takes on familiar recipes, and Gothenburg is also famous for its independent cafés, which can be found around every corner.
Overall, you’ll eat well in either of these two cities, but Stockholm deserves the crown as Sweden’s culinary capital, for the time being. It has the most diverse restaurants and some of the very best.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
Heading to Sweden as a family? If so, it’s important to consider which attractions and activities you can choose to keep the whole family entertained, and one of these two cities might be better-equipped to meet your family’s needs.
For kids of all ages, Gothenburg’s best day-out is Liseberg. This incredible amusement park has enough attractions to fill an entire day or two, and it’s arguably better than Stockholm’s Gröna Lund.
Kids can also enjoy admiring the animals and insects of the Universeum, which is almost like a zoo and a science museum rolled into one, as well as browsing some of the museums or playing in local parks.
In Stockholm, kids of any age can enjoy the mystical metro stations, the aforementioned Gröna Lund theme park, the Royal Armory, with its fascinating collection of antique weapons, and Junibacken – home to Sweden’s biggest kids’ bookstore, where kids can learn all about famous Swedish children’s stories and characters, like Pippi Longstocking.
There are also plenty of museums in Stockholm that cater to kids a little more effectively than those of Gothenburg, like the National Museum of Science and Technology, with its interactive MegaMind exhibit, or the Vasa, which has family trails and activities aimed at little ones.
The right choice for your family will mostly depend on the ages and tastes of your children, but most families will probably find much more to do and enjoy in Stockholm.
Which Is Better For Couples?
If you’re looking for a lovely place to spend some special moments with a partner or spouse, Gothenburg and Stockholm are both worthy of consideration, but you might find that one is just a little better-suited to your needs than the other.
For pure romance, we can’t argue against Stockholm. It’s certainly the more scenic and pretty of the two cities, with its many cobblestone streets and centuries-old buildings giving you and your partner plenty of opportunities for aimless, romantic strolls to while away the hours.
Stockholm also has huge appeal for cultural couples, thanks to its many museums that are sure to keep you busy and entertained, day after day.
Couples who love to spend time together outdoors should also appreciate Stockholm’s many parks and the prospect of boat rides across the archipelago.
But how about Gothenburg? Well, with its more dynamic nightlife scene, festivals, and live entertainment venues, this city is ideal for couples who like exciting events and staying out late.
Like Stockholm, there are also many museums here to keep you occupied in the daytime, and Gothenburg’s charming indie cafes are perfect for sipping coffee, people-watching, and spending hours chatting with your special someone.
Overall, Stockholm just about has the edge here, with its more picturesque cityscape and unbeatable sightseeing opportunities providing the perfect escape for couples of all ages.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
Backpackers have an interesting dilemma when choosing between Stockholm and Gothenburg, as both of these cities have so many interesting things to do and their own appealing advantages for the average backpacking adventure.
In Stockholm, you get the benefit of being in a major capital city, with all the bonuses that come along with that, like easier access, a larger population to mingle with, lots of other travelers and English-speakers to guide you around, and so on.
This city also has a number of cheap hostels, although its average prices for most things are more expensive than Gothenburg.
Over in Gothenburg, the biggest advantage is lower prices all around, along with some staggeringly affordable hostels with super low room rates.
This west coast city is also famous for having some of the friendliest locals in all of Sweden – even proud Stockholmers acknowledge that Gothenburg is a really welcoming place.
Overall, with its cheaper costs, adorable locals, and slightly off-the-beaten-path vibes, Gothenburg may be the better choice for keen backpackers.
However, if it’s your first time in Sweden and you’re hoping to see the most famous sights, you simply have to head to Stockholm.
Which Is Cheaper?
Finally, this comparison couldn’t possibly be complete without talking about how much you can expect to spend in these two cities and which one is the cheapest.
First, be sure to note that Sweden – and Scandinavia in general – isn’t exactly the cheapest place to travel, and hotel rates can be quite high here.
However, there is quite a big difference in terms of costs between Stockholm and Gothenburg, and it’s the latter city that has the lower prices.
When we look at average accommodation rates, for example, it’s possible to find hotels for half the price in Gothenburg compared to what you would pay in the capital.
Not only that, but public transportation is also cheaper in general in Gothenburg, along with the price tags of typical touristic attractions and activities.
Food prices are pretty similar, but, as we can see, most things are much cheaper in Gothenburg, making it the ideal choice for budget-conscious adventurers.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: At a budget price point you can get a fairly luxurious hotel in Gothenburg, and that includes the four-star Liseberg Grand Curiosa Hotel which comes with gorgeous city views, classy decor, and a fantastic location. See photos and rates!
Luxury: However the five-star Upper House certainly ‘ups’ that, with its outdoor, glass bottom pool that has panoramic city views, the hotel’s rooftop spa, their world-class service and more. See photos and rates!
Budget: Situated right in the heart of Stockholm’s medieval Gamla Stan quarter is Residence Perseus, a selection of well-decorated and budget-friendly apartments that are perfect for a city break. See photos and rates!
Luxury: The chic Lydmar Hotel is a five-star waterfront accommodation with gorgeous rooms, great service, a fantastic location and a restaurant that’s worth the trip alone. See photos and rates!
Which Is Easier To Get To?
Above we looked at how Gothenburg and Stockholm compare in terms of activities and nightlife scenes, but it’s also important to see how accessible or easy-to-get-to these two cities are.
Fortunately, both of them have nearby international airports, and they also happen to be the two biggest and busiest airports in the nation.
Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport is the largest in the country, and it’s situated about 23 miles from the city itself – travelers can hop on the Arlanda Express train to get to Stockholm’s Central Station in about 20 minutes.
This airport has lots of direct flights all over the globe, including the UK, US, Canada, most of Europe, and parts of Africa and Asia.
Gothenburg’s airport, Göteborg Landvetter Airport, is 13 miles from the center – there aren’t any train links, but you can ride a bus or taxi into the city, with average journey times of around 25 minutes.
Gothenburg also has direct flights across Europe and to New York, but doesn’t have the same quantity or variety of connections as Stockholm, making it slightly harder to access.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
So, Stockholm is easier to get to than Gothenburg, but is it easier to get around?
With so many sights to see in both of these cities, you’ll have to think carefully about how you’re going to travel from place to place and see all you want to see.
Well, Gothenburg is quite simple to navigate on foot, and a lot of the main landmarks and attractions are all in the city center, just short walks away from one another.
If you need to use public transport, the tram is the best option. It’s fast, reliable, and there are lots of different lines running across the city and even out into the suburbs, taking you anywhere you need to go.
Over in Stockholm, there’s a greater need to use public transport, as key tourist landmarks and museums are more spread out, so you might have to ride a few buses or make use of the city’s metro system to get around.
Luckily, it’s all very convenient, and the metro stations are a joy to behold, decorated with fantastic murals and lights.
Overall, Gothenburg is the easier of the two to traverse, as it’s simply so walkable, but travelers shouldn’t have any trouble making their way around Stockholm.
Gothenburg vs Stockholm: Which Is The Better Choice?
So, in this clash of Swedish cities and battle between the nation’s east and west coasts, which one comes out on top?
Well, before we announce the winner, it’s worth saying that both of these cities are beautiful, charming, and exciting places that are both fully worth visiting for their own separate reasons.
If you can see them both, try to do so. If not, the best option is probably to head to Stockholm. The capital city simply has more things to see and do for visitors of all different tastes and ages.
It’s got more history than Gothenburg and also stands out as one of the prettiest of the Nordic capitals. Plus, its food and shopping scenes are second to none.
Still, as stated above, Gothenburg is definitely worth considering, especially if you’re looking for Swedish experiences, food, and culture, but don’t want to pay the high prices of the capital.
It’s also such a friendly and fun place to be, you’re sure to leave with many fond memories, and it’s absolutely the best choice for nightlife and live entertainment.