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Gothenburg

Sweden's second city, Gothenburg doesn't always get the attention it deserves. Some tourists are wary of the giant shipyard – the largest Nordic port – but there's a great deal to see beyond the freight ships and ferries. Laid out by Dutch architects in the 1600s, Gothenburg city center is often compared to Amsterdam.

To make matters even better, this city is a much cheaper alternative to pricey Stockholm. Hotels in Gothenburg tend to cut back their rates on the weekends due largely to the timing of the package tours that arrive from Stockholm. Gothenburg may not have nearly as many attractions as Stockholm, but the quality of sites near the center can easily occupy two or three days of exploring. Heritage homes, 17th-century fortresses and interesting museums are on virtually every corner.

Ten percent of the city center is arrayed in parks and gardens. Castle Park (Slottsskogen) is the city's largest at 110 hectares. It features an aviary, animal park and several landscaped pools. The botanical gardens are also impressive, with a network of meandering paths, a bamboo garden and rhododendron valley that's unlike anything else in Sweden when it blooms in the spring.

The local museums are also first rate, and many of them are within walking distance of hotels in Gothenburg. Gothenburg Art Museum is the consistent favorite, with a great selection of Scandinavian art from the 1800s on. The Museum of Arts and Crafts, with its applied-arts exhibits and smattering of 1000 year-old artifacts, is also worthwhile.

Most visitors come on a package tour from Stockholm, but there's much to be said for an independent visit. Landvetter Airport is 25 kilometers outside the city and operates dozens of daily flights to Stockholm.