Let's face it: Every visitor to Sweden heads to Stockholm -- and rightly so. But as any Gothenburger will tell you, they've got something to show you, too. Indeed, the city has one of Europe's largest student populations, and a general joie de vivre permeates the atmosphere. Prices are mercifully cheaper than in Stockholm, and the informal, relaxed mood is immediately catching. Locals think Stockholmers are a bit snobbish to strangers, as aloof as the late Greta Garbo. But in Gothenburg (pronounced Yo-te-bor-ee in Swedish), visitors are welcomed into local life and embraced with enthusiasm.

Regrettably, the whirlwind group tours that cover Gothenburg don't give visitors enough time to take in the town. The Göta River runs through the city, and boat trips here can be just as delightful as those in Stockholm; you can even go island hopping. Gothenburg also still suffers from its early-20th-century reputation of being a dull industrial center. Those days are long gone; what awaits you now is a sprawling, youthful metropolis filled with some of the brightest and best-looking people in Europe, a city in the process of escaping from its past.

Gothenburg, which received its city charter from Gustavus Adolphus II in 1621, has always been proud of its links to the sea, and of the shipbuilding industry that flourished here during the early 20th century. Now, alas, shipbuilding is in deep decline, so the city has shifted its economic base toward tourism and conventions. But Gothenburg, the "gateway to northern Europe," remains the country's chief port and second largest city. Canals, parks, and flower gardens enhance its appeal, as do a large number of museums (featuring everything from the world's only stuffed blue whale to modern art) and the largest amusement park in northern Europe. Gothenburg also is a convenient center for excursions to a spectacularly pristine archipelago that's the home of fishing villages, wildlife refuges, and several lovely vacation resorts.

The port of Gothenburg contains a shipyard, Cityvarvet, which today limits itself only to the repair of ships, not their construction. The city also is the home of Volvo, the car manufacturer (whose plant is about a 15-min. drive from the city center). Despite this heavy industry, Gothenburg's environmental programs have made it a European leader in developing new products and procedures for dealing with waste. Today, Gothenburg is an attractive interface between high-tech savvy and old-world charm. It's not surprising that locals refer to it as "the biggest small town in Sweden."