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Tegelviksslussen, Göta Canal
Göta Canal stretches over 190 kilometres.
Photo credit: Mattias Brauns/Göta Kanal

Göta Canal – Sweden's blue ribbon

Göta Canal is one of Sweden’s most popular tourist destinations. It's ideal for a memorable canal cruise across the country and biking on the car-free towpaths that run along Göta Canal is also a beautiful way to explore this iconic waterway.

Göta Canal is often referred to as Sweden’s blue ribbon. The 19th century canal connects Lake Vänern in central-west Sweden with Lake Vättern and ends – or begins, depending on how you look at it – on the east coast. In total, it stretches over 190 kilometres from the town of Sjötorp to Mem.

The canal was built by some 58,000 soldiers and is up until today one of the largest construction projects in Sweden. The first part of Göta Canal was inaugurated in 1822, however, it wasn’t fully completed until 1832. Before the railway and road traffic, it was an important transportation route for both goods and passengers.

Today, it’s one of Sweden’s most popular tourist destinations. If you haven’t visited Göta Canal yet, this year is promised to be something extra. The celebrations of the 200th anniversary started as the canal opened for the season in May and will continue with numerous events throughout the summer.

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Göta Canal, Östergötland

Göta Canal has 87 kilometres of car-free towpaths, ideal for a biking holiday.

Photo: Oskar Lürén

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Göta Canal, Östergötland

Photo: Oskar Lürén

Göta Canal

Photo: Jesper Anhede/Göta Kanal

Biking along Göta Canal

Photo: Niclas Albinsson/Göta Kanal

How to visit Göta Canal

You can visit Göta Canal in various ways and for a day or a few weeks – depending on the season, way of travel and if you want to experience the whole canal or a part of it. The classic route, to travel the entire Göta Canal by boat, takes approximately five days during pre and post-season and seven days during peak season.

  • By boat: Bring your own boat and set off for the classic way to discover Göta Canal. Practical information such as tickets, booking, locks, fuel and maximum boat size can be found on the official Göta Canal website. Boat rental can be arranged by Göta Kanal Charter.
  • Canal cruise: Let others do the work and sit back and relax on a truly Swedish canal cruise. Nine different passenger boats are currently trafficking Göta Canal and the cruise options range from a few hours to nearly a week.
  • By bike: Biking along Göta Canal is an easy yet active way to enjoy the destination. There’s a total of 87 kilometres of old towpaths with no cars in sight. Göta Canal offers cycling packages from one to five days, bicycle rental and guides for various routes. If you’re lucky, you might meet the canal sheep!
  • On foot: Hiking along Göta Canal is a great way to take in the surrounding nature at your own pace. There are several rest areas and windbreaks along the canal. Hiking packages and guides can be found on the official website of Göta Canal.

When to visit

Spring: Be among the first to visit Göta Canal as it opens in May. Restaurants are opening up for the season, the canal sheep are let out to pasture, and you can enjoy the lush nature and bright evenings of Swedish spring before the crowds.

Summer: Peak season means many visitors but also a range of events, activities and other happenings along the canal.

Autumn: Watch Sweden’s longest tree avenue shift into vibrant autumn colours and take in the destination at your own pace as most visitors have left. This is the perfect time for a hike or bike ride along the car-free towpaths.

Winter: Göta Canal is closed from October to April and a visit then is a completely different experience. Some sections are submerged or drained due to renovation, which gives you a new perspective of the canal. Enjoy a winter walk and warm up in one of the restaurants and hotels that are open all year round. On cold winter days, you can even go ice skating on Göta Canal!

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Harbour in Sjötorp, Göta Canal

Sjötorp harbour is located next to Lake Vänern, where Göta Canal starts (or ends, depending on which way you go).

Photo: Oscar Luren/Göta Kanal

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Harbour in Sjötorp, Göta Canal

Photo: Oscar Luren/Göta Kanal

Göta Hotel, Borensberg

Photo: Jacob Sjöman/Göta Kanal

Autumn at Göta Canal

Photo: Hasse Schröder/Göta Kanal

Where to stay along Göta Canal

There are 21 marinas along Göta Canal, but there’s a range of accommodation alternatives for those who prefer to sleep on solid ground as well. If you’re longing for a classic canal hotel, Göta Hotell in Borensberg, Söderköpings Brunn or Kanalhotellet in Karlsborg are a few suggestions. Looking for something different? Why not stay in a giant mushroom or an old lock keeper’s house courtesy of Norrqvarn Hotell or try glamping by the Berg locks.

There are also several hostels, B&Bs and campsites along Göta Canal.

Canal cafés and craft breweries

Göta Canal is dotted with picturesque little restaurants perfect for a ‘fika’ break. Hajstorp Slusscafé and Café Visthuset are two cosy cafés working with fairtrade, organic and local produce. Smultronstället in Söderköping and Hamnpiren in Motala are safe bets for ice cream lovers.

Craft beverage enthusiasts won’t be disappointed either. Here are three gems worthy of a stop:

  • Brunneby Musteri in Borensberg: Creating cider, cordial, juice and jam sold at the onsite farm shop and restaurant.
  • Lock, hop and Barrel in Söderköping: A craft brewery offering beer and American food in a historic building.
  • Vreta Klosterbryggeri in Ljungsbro: Award-winning Belgian styled microbrewery located next to the remains of the oldest abbey in Sweden. The taproom is open during the summer months.
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Canal sheep, Ruda

There are several things to experience along Göta Canal such as farms, animals, castles and manors.

Photo: Niclas Albinsson/Göta Kanal

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Canal sheep, Ruda

Photo: Niclas Albinsson/Göta Kanal

Göta Canal, Motala

Photo: Göran Billeson/Göta Kanal

Vadstena Castle, Östergötland

Photo: Oskar Lürén

Things to do along Göta Canal

Travelling along Göta Canal is much more than boats and bikes. The blue ribbon passes by several towns, including Sjötorp, Motala, Söderköping, Linköping and Norrköping – all great starting points for cultural experiences. Here are a few suggestions for museums and outdoor experiences along or close to the canal.

Outdoor activities

  • Fishing: It’s allowed to angle in the canal if you travel by boat, except for the canal route in Motala. In Töreboda municipality, from the Gastorp bridge to the railway bridge, it’s even allowed to angle from land. Other areas require a fishing license or permit.
  • Kayaking and canoeing: Kayaks and canoes are not allowed to pass through the locks on Göta Canal. However, there are some shorter canoe-friendly sections.
  • Observe the locks: Göta Canal has 58 locks and thousands of boats pass through them during the season. The locks in Borensberg and Tåtorp are still operated manually. In Berg’s locks, there is an outdoor lock gate exhibition.
  • Artwork: There are several art installations to discover along the canal. ‘Rabbit Crossing’ in Söderköping, ‘Water Stairway’ in Sjötorp and ‘Outpost’ in Mem, to name a few.
  • Pat the canal sheep: It’s not unusual to see sheep graze on the grass along the towpaths in the summer. They’re usually found around Berg.

Museums

  • The Canal Museum in Sjötorp: Learn more about the history of Göta Canal.
  • Vadstena Castle: Explore the 16th century renaissance castle on a guided tour.
  • Swedish Air Force Museum (Flygvapenmuseum) in Linköping: Browse through Swedish military aviation development via a unique collection of aircraft.
  • Kornettogården in Vreta Kloster: A family-owned museum and café with thousands of objects from the 20th century, placed in nostalgic environments from bygone times.
  • Motala Motormuseum: Sweden’s largest motor museum with an exciting range of vehicles, taking you on a nostalgic journey.

More activities can be found on this interactive map with no less than 166 highlights along the way.

Göta Canal is called Sweden’s blue ribbon, even though it doesn’t wrap around the whole country. If you want to cross Sweden by boat, you can continue – or start – your journey on the Trollhätte Canal, which stretches from Lake Vänern to the Gothenburg archipelago.