Within a couple of hours of landing in Gothenburg, west Sweden, I am having lunch at street food truck Jinx with a local named Jonte, who particularly recommends the steamed buns with tofu. Over the course of a long weekend, I also make hallongrottor (jam cookies) at the home of Scottish ex-pat Rob, and go to a yoga class with Maria, who is also a Swede.
But I am not a regular visitor to Sweden – in fact it’s my first trip – nor am I unusually talented at making new friends and persuading them to let me in on the secrets of local life. Rather, I have been introduced to a variety of Gothenburg residents via Meet the Locals, an initiative recently launched by the West Sweden Tourist Board.
With its sharing economy ethos, the project has already been compared to the early days of Airbnb, when the appeal of staying in a stranger’s home lay not only in cut-price accommodation, but also the opportunity to meet someone who might offer insight into the local area. So far, there are 20 “locals” to connect with in the Gothenburg area, and more are expected to sign up soon.
Activities range from jogging in the Änggårdsbergen nature reserve with Johan, to experiencing the fika tradition of coffee and cake in the nearby town of Alingsås (with enthusiast Gunilla, who’ll share the history of the custom, as well as the best spots in town to do it).
Less formal than a tour guide but more decorous than the average Tinder date, it feels more akin to an exchange programme, with those we meet eager to demonstrate the best of their city (and many experiences are free). The only requirement of locals is that they are individuals, rather than businesses (visitors simply look online to see what’s on offer and the tourist board puts them in touch).
I go with a friend – although the scheme is perfect for solo travellers eager not to spend an entire trip alone – and on our first night we meet up with Erik, a keen musician and live music fan. We’re in luck: it’s Gothenburg’s Culture Night, and there are plenty of bands to choose from. Erik is happy to tailor his live music suggestions to visitors’ tastes (and also offers to take people on a bike ride along the scenic Göta Älv river).
After dinner at Porter Pelle, a restaurant and bar on the waterfront where a folk band is playing, we head to the Sockerbruket Arena for more music. Erik proves to be great company, the chat’s easy, and it’s a fun evening.
In the morning we take the train to the town of Norsesund, half an hour away, where we meet Anna and her dog. The plan is to walk around Lillelången lake, but rain drives us inside and we bake cinnamon buns at her nearby home – a former sanatorium where she lives in a modern collective with seven other families.
We’re joined by her young daughter for a lunch of homemade split pea soup, followed by pancakes (a Thursday tradition in Sweden) and learn about life in the house: chores are shared between residents and one apartment functions as a kindergarten. When the rain clears, we pick raspberries from her allotment and check out her “floating sauna” tethered on the lake.
The amount of time spent with any one local varies depending on what you plan to do together, but their insider knowledge of the region is key to experiencing the city but avoiding tourist hotspots.
After lunch with Jonte, for example, he takes us to Kafé Höga Nord, a coffee shop and record store in a secluded courtyard. (While there, we spot the Forssén & Öberg champagne bar, to which we return by ourselves in the evening.) We also wander past Studio HPKSM, a snug restaurant and night spot that he heartily recommends (we are not disappointed – the basement bar’s ice cold slushis prove delicious).
It’s also Jonte who escorts us to one of my favourite discoveries of our visit: Klädoteket, a “fashion library” which aims to combat excessive clothing consumption by allowing customers to rent (or buy) a range of vintage items, as well as new garments from small-scale Swedish designers. My friend borrows a silk skirt and a bracelet, while I pick up a chiffon top for the evening, before falling in love with a pair of high-waisted trousers that I can’t bear to return and end up buying. Still, the option to borrow clothes seems ideal for visitors restricted to a hand-luggage wardrobe, or for when you’ve spilt lingonberry jam down your intended outfit.
On our final day, as an antidote to all the pastry, prinsesstårta (Swedish layer cake) and pepparkakor (ginger snaps) we have eaten, we meet with Maria, a regular at the Hagabadet spa and gym – a place I would have been unlikely to venture into without someone who knows the ropes – for a hot yoga class, followed by a vegetarian buffet of seasonal salads, rye breads and juice shots.
Maria kindly tells the instructor, Isabelle, that we’re foreigners, and listening to her commands in Swedish is surprisingly hypnotic, but I’m largely dependent on following the rest of the class. Afterwards Maria points us in the direction of the Haga neighbourhood’s independent shops and cafes, along historic cobbled streets.
We leave Gothenburg with suitcases full of Swedish recipes and sweet treats, a little insight into how people in the city live, and an extensive wish-list for a return visit.
• The trip was provided by Visit Sweden . Meet the Locals trips can be booked at vastsverige.coms, with some activities free and many less than £10 a head. Ryanair flies to Gothenburg from Stansted and (from 30 March 2018) Edinburgh