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15km (9 1/3 miles) north of Trollhättan, 85km (53 miles) N of Gothenburg

The famed poet Birger Sjöberg exaggerated when he called Vänersborg "Little Paris." Frankly, nature lovers like us prefer to spend little time in town itself and more hours exploring the surrounding reserves and walking trails. The town lies at the southern outlet of Lake Vänern, though, which makes it a good refueling stop for those driving along the banks of the Göta Canal.

Vänersborg grew from its roots in Brätte, a medieval trade center in the early 1600s next to Vassbotten. (Brätte was not excavated by archaeologists until 1944.) It took a great many workers in Brätte to unload the Vänern ships and reload the goods onto horse-drawn carriages. In time, it became difficult for ships to enter the bay, as the bottom was silting up. More land was needed for expansion, and Vänersborg grew up as a result of this. It was granted its town charter in 1644 and became the county seat in 1679.

When the Trollhättan Canal was built, shipping became a major source of income. Light industry, administration, and schools later would become part of Vänersborg's profile. In 1834, a fire leveled the town, turning it into a heap of smoking ash in just 14 hours. Only a handful of buildings survived. Afterward, the new city design included a wide firebreak street to avoid another catastrophe.