Gothenburg, Sweden

We landed at Gothenburg-Landvetter Airport, which is very pleasant but is also a six hour walk from Gothenburg proper. So we waited at the stop outside the airport entrance for one of Flygbussarna (the airport buses) to arrive. Flygbussarna take you the twenty-plus kilometres from the airport to the centre of Gothenburg for the reasonable price of 80kr (£7.83) but note that you can only pay by credit card on the bus, and the driver cannot accept cash.

The Slottsskogens Hostel on Vegagatan was our accommodation, a twin room costing 270kr (£26.43) per person per night, though this is the price once you've hired bed linen so you'll save money if you bring your own. The room was small and secure, offering a bunk bed, a small table and a small-screen television offering a dozen-or-so Swedish TV channels. Shared toilet and shower rooms are just beyond the social area which offers free internet access and a communal kitchen, all the facilities being very clean and well presented.

A short walk from the hostel, just along Vegagatan, you'll find Slottsskogen park which promises a zoo displaying native Swedish animals, seals and penguins. What we found instead was thousands of half-marathon runners pounding around the pathways of the huge park, teenagers and families lounging in the sun with barbecues or speaker systems, and a lot of trees and steep slopes. When we finally made our way to the centre of the park we found goats and horses in the childrens zoo, and a peacock plus a couple of moose in the central enclosures. Not exactly the menagerie the guide promised, but it is a very nice park regardless.

A tower of sandstone brick is capped with a clock and bell tower of green copper.
Göteborgs domkyrka (Gothenburg Cathedral)
A woman walking a dog in Kungsparken.
A man sits under the red awning of Egg & Milk, eating his breakfast.
Breakfast in the sun outside Egg & Milk

Also a five minute walk from the hostel is Egg & Milk on Övre Husargatan where it joins with Nordenskiöldsgatan. This diner sells bagels, pancakes, yoghurts and hot drinks, and their Brunch Combo (89kr for two pancakes, a bagel, yoghurt and cofee, if I remember correctly) was so popular with my travel companion that he abandoned his usual rule of never visiting the same place twice to force us to return the next day. The place was obviously popular with other people, because we had to queue for quarter of an hour on the Sunday to get served, though there was no such queue on the Monday.

If you want convenient use of the many bus and tram routes in Gothenburg you can buy a Västtrafik one-day pass for 65kr (£6.36) from any newsagent displaying the Västtrafik sign (such as Pressbyrån or the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores). This one-day pass is an RFID ticket (similar to London's Oyster card) and it's valid for 24 hours starting from when you first validate it on a bus or tram by touching it to the card reader. Västtrafik warn to keep hold of the receipt, though, as some of their older vehicles do not have card readers. And note that you cannot buy cash fares from bus or tram drivers in the Gothenburg area.

We took a tram to Vagnhallen Majorna and walked the short distance along the waterfront to Röda Sten which offers art, culture and food. Make sure to bring cash (40kr per adult) because credit card payment isn't possible. We caught the last day of the Suckade Vintern Till Våren ("Sighed the winter to the spring") art exhibition, which featured an interesting mix of photographs, drawings, audio and video installations, plus physical exhibits using fabrics, clothing, wood and even robotics. I was particularly caught by Mountains of Madness by Valdemar Lindekrantz, and we were both mesmerized by the superimposed, twitching eyes and conspiratorial looks of the old photos in Reflective Memories by Joachim Fleinert.

For dining, my travel companion was satisfied by the vegetarian restaurant Solrosen on Kaponjärgatan in the Haga district, offering a lasagne for 85kr (£8.32). I was well served by the 75kr (£7.34) margherita pizza at Papa Joe's on Sten Sturegatan, and by the numerous McDonald's dotted around the city. For liquid refreshment we liked the loud but cosy Café Publik on Andra Långgatan, where 380ml of beer can be yours for 38kr (£3.72) and a 330ml bottle of Coca-Cola for 25kr (£2.45). We also liked the marquee seating area attached to the front of Restaurang Viktoria on Viktoriagatan, overlooking the trees of Kungsparken, though the prices here were higher with 400ml of Coke costing 34kr (£3.33).

A red boathouse by the water in Rönnäng.
By the water in Rönnäng on the island of Tjörn
A red building sits on rock by the water.
View from the diving platform in Skärhamn on Tjörn
A white lighthouse with a red top sits on the rocks by the water.
A lighthouse by the water in Mollösund on Orust island

To visit the islands of Tjörn and Orust we hired a car from Hertz (£73.50 pre-booked online) who have a car lot close to Gothenburg's central train station. Our chariot turned out to be a Chevrolet Spark (the booking was for a "Ford Ka or similar"). No advice was offered at the hire lot, so here are some things to note if you're new to driving in Sweden: you must have at least sidelights and ideally headlights lit at all times while in Sweden, so find out how to configure the lights on your vehicle; and a sign saying "Avgift" means you can park for a fee, but check the maximum stay time ("tim" or "t" means hour, "minuter" or "m" means minutes) and beware parking restrictions which will only be explained in Swedish. It's also worth knowing that the Slottsskogens Hostel has parking spots at the indoor Berggren Bil garage (just around the corner from the hostel entrance) which its guests can hire for 70kr (£6.86) per day. Having travelled 301km in the hire car we had to top-up its fuel tank before returning it, which cost 156kr (£15.28), bringing the total cost of the car hire to £95.62 for the day. Dividing this cost over the pair of us it wasn't too bad, but if you can fill all four seats of the car it will become far better value.

If you're going to drive to the islands, aim to stop at Stenungsund where there is a tourist information bureau offering handy maps, though you might want to think about using GPS to assist you as the islands are sprawling lands crossed by small roads and bridges. There are various attractions on the islands, such as the Nordiska akvarellmuseet (Nordic Watercolour Museum) in Skärhamn on Tjörn, and numerous restaurants, but the greatest appeal is the serene atmosphere and picturesque vistas of the small coastal settlements dotted about both Tjörn and Orust, such as Mollösund. Don't be tempted to enjoy an alcoholic drink if you're driving, though: we were pulled into a side lane by Swedish police on the way back to Gothenburg for a random driving licence check and breathalyser test (and Sweden's legal alcohol limit is a quarter that of the British limit). The officer was very friendly, and he even helped us configure our headlights in the unfamiliar hire car.

Gothenburg is a great choice for a city break. Its clean streets wrap around green parks and waterways, and the city's healthy looking residents travel about on properly dedicated bicycle lanes. The price and small servings of alcohol lead to a relaxed and friendly environment in the evenings, and we found plenty to keep us amused during the day.

[Prices from May 2011.]