Journey on the Göta Canal

With more people wanting to stay within Sweden due to Coronavirus this year, you can still get your travel-bug fix by experiencing a trip on the Göta Canal. Full of historic sites, delicious ice cream shops and gorgeous scenery, it truly is a wonderful way to spend a few days relaxing and unwinding – whilst ensuring social distancing.

Experiencing the Göta Canal

For my family and I, we wanted to get away for a little bit before the routine of school and work took over. We also desperately missed being on the water and figured this was the next best thing. We were right!

There are multiple ways to experience the Göta Canal: hopping on board a boat cruise, cycling along the paths which line the entire canal, or renting your own vessel to transit the waterway yourself.

Off we go!

We chartered a small motorboat from Göta Kanal Charter for one week. Equipped with all the kitchenware and bedding you need, it was just a matter of bringing our own clothes and food. They were extremely friendly and helpful, and besides giving us a detailed orientation on the boat when we arrived, they were always available by phone if we needed assistance during the week.

Prepare to be amazed

You can’t help but be amazed as you transit one of Sweden’s biggest engineering feats. Built in the early 19th century by over 58,000 workers, the Göta canal consists of 58 locks spanning 190 km and rising up to 91.8 metres above sea level. Originally it was a way to connect Gothenburg (via the Trollhätte kanal) on the west to Söderköping on the Baltic Sea. Today, it is a tourist destination for more than 2 million people.

One of the many cute cottages along the Göta Canal

The first evening we went down to Mem just to practice transiting a lock. Whether you’re going up or down in a lock, it isn’t very difficult to ensure your boat is secure and tied up properly but you do need to work together. After a few locks, our family had it down like a Formula One team and we were becoming pros at our role, a very satisfying feeling indeed.

The next morning we set off on our journey heading west. Within minutes, all the stress and to-do lists from moving and adjusting to a new country instantly melted away as we motored along the countryside.

Sommarstuga on Lake Vättern

Life slows down to five knots as you take pleasure in waving to cyclists, watching clouds swirl by overhead, listening to the call of farm animals nearby and observing families fishing and swimming as they enjoy their summer at one of the many iconic red-roofed sommarstugor.

It takes roughly 7 days to go from end to end (Söderköping to Sjötorp, or vice versa) but no day is the same.

There is no real rush, and every lock will teach you to be patient as you raise or lower yourself into the next lock. There is a simplicity to this method of travelling that one cannot experience elsewhere; you are forced to slow down and take things as they come, yet the scenery is constantly changing.

Some of the highlights of our trip

Visiting Cloetta, the chocolate and candy factory, near Malfors. Just a short walk away from where we docked our boat, we treated ourselves to some sweet treats at the leading Nordic confectionery company. 

Happy crew next to Vastena Castle!

Mooring up next to a 16th-century castle for the night will be an experience we will never forget! Visiting Vastena Castle on Lake Vättern means taking a little detour from the scripted canal route, but we were determined to see this monumental site for ourselves and we were not disappointed. As I lay in my bunk that night, I could see the enormous castle wall against the moonlit sky and felt a sense of awe and wonder. If only walls could talk…

Crossing Lake Vättern was a passage that we had to plan for. It is the second-largest lake by surface area in Sweden after Lake Vänern and the sixth largest lake in Europe, so we needed to make sure that our 4+ hour crossing would be as smooth as possible. 

The charming Göta Canal Hotel in Borensberg

We were closely watching the weather and wind forecast and in the end, we found the best weather window for transiting was between 4 am-8 am on our fourth day. It was an early start, but we were awarded a beautiful sunrise and less rolly conditions than were reported by some other boaters who had waited to cross a few hours later.

After crossing Lake Vättern, we spent a day at Karlsborg visiting Karlsborg Fortress. Built in 1819 over 250 acres of land, it is one of northern Europe’s largest buildings. We purchased the treasure map for the kids and it took us all over the fortress grounds as we went in search of the next puzzle.

We walked for miles and it was the perfect way to get a sense of how grand and expansive the place was. Once the treasure map was completed, each participant received a prize. I won’t say anymore to not spoil it but let’s just say I was thoroughly impressed with the quality and thought that went into this activity.

The lock – keepers

Meeting all the lock-keepers during the week was a personal highlight for me. The majority of them were young adults and this was their summer job, operating the locks and ensuring everyone’s safety. What a fantastic summer job it must be, to work outside and meet people from all over the world!

In the lock with another boat

We were very lucky and had excellent weather during our week. There are countless opportunities to jump into the water and cool off, numerous mini golf places to practice your putting and most importantly, an ice cream shop is never far away.

If you’re looking for that special holiday within Sweden, don’t put off visiting the Göta Canal – you won’t regret it!


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Bonnie Thornington on Github
Bonnie Thornington

Hej! My name is Bonnie and I’m a Chinese-Canadian who has lived/visited over 60 countries, most recently travelling with my family on our 42-foot sailboat for the past year from Canada down to the Bahamas. I love music, yoga, swimming in oceans and lakes and will try anything at least once. I am excited to be moving to Lund and look forward to immersing myself in Swedish culture – especially fika and lagom! Hope you enjoy my posts as I recount my experiences of relocating and settling into Swedish life during a pandemic!

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