Göta Canal: the waterway across Sweden

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From Lake Vänern in the west to the Baltic coast, the Göta Canal makes its way through Sweden – there is plenty to discover along its 190 kilometres, whether from the water or from the shore. Tourists come from near and far to spend their days off here – preferably on a river cruise or on their own boat. Here you can find out everything you need to know about travelling along this impressive waterway.

Göta Canal
Waterway through southern Sweden

The Göta Canal is the longest canal in southern Sweden and runs from Lake Vänern to the Baltic Sea. It passes several other lakes along the way. The waterway is open to shipping between May 3 and September 30, with the main season running from June 14 to August 15.

Length190.5 km (of which 103.2 km lakes)

Why holiday on the Göta Canal?

At almost 190 kilometres long, the Göta Canal is Sweden’s longest waterway and runs almost right across the entire southern part of the country – from Lake Vänern in the west to the Baltic Sea. It is considered the largest Swedish construction project ever and was built between 1810 and 1832 by digging 87 kilometres of canal – this alone makes a trip to the canal worth the visit.

Whether on the water in a passenger ship, your own boat or canoe, or on a bike along the Göta Canal, there is hardly a better way to get to know the extraordinary and varied nature and culture of southern Sweden. What’s more, the Göta Canal connects several lakes, including the two largest ones in Sweden, and passes a number of interesting places worth seeing – perfect for a longer tour through the Scandinavian country!

Göta Canal: Holidays
The Göta Canal leads through beautiful Swedish natural landscapes.

Göta Canal: Location and course

As the name suggests, the Göta Canal is located in Götaland, the southernmost part of Sweden. It runs for a total of 190 kilometres through the historic provinces of Östergötland and Västergotland, connecting the various lakes in the region with the Baltic Sea.

The Göta Canal begins at Sjötorp on Lake Vänern, Sweden’s largest lake, and ends at Mem Castle near Norrköping on the Swedish Baltic coast. It also flows through the lakes Asplången, Roxen, Boren, Vättern and Viken. The Vänern is connected to Gothenburg and the Kattegat via the Göta älv and the Trollhätte Canal – together with these two waterways, the Göta Canal spans a distance of 390 kilometres, connecting the east and west coasts.

Travelling on the Göta Canal

Boat trip and cruise on the Göta Canal

When the Göta Canal is open for ships in the summer months, many travellers come to experience a river cruise or day trip on the waterway. The Göta Canal shipping company offers river cruises, including from Gothenburg to Stockholm on the well-known and historic MS Juno. You can experience the beauty of Götaland from the comfort of the boat and take part in interesting shore excursions in the harbours in between.

But you can also experience the Göta Canal on a smaller boat or on your own boat. You can travel the entire canal or parts of it at your own pace and discover the fantastic Swedish landscape from the water. In the high season from June to August, the tour along the entire Göta Canal takes about a week. You can stay overnight in the marinas.

Göta Canal: Ship cruise
There are many large and small ships travelling along the Göta Canal in summer.

Even the smallest boats can navigate the Göta Canal. Canoeing and kayaking are also popular on Sweden’s longest waterway, so there are various canoe hire companies along the banks. Of course, you can also discover the canal from your own canoe. Paddling is free of charge, but shorter sections are recommended as the canoes have to be carried past the locks.

Experiencing the Göta Canal by car and motorhome

If you want to see a lot of southern Sweden but prefer to have solid ground under your feet (or wheels), you can take a road trip along the Göta Canal. Whether you’re travelling by car, camper van or motorhome, there are plenty of places to stay and camp along the canal. As you don’t need to book in advance on many pitches, you can enjoy the tour at your own pace and take breaks and detours as you wish.

The tour between Gothenburg and Stockholm is a particularly good option here too – in addition to the impressive lakes and beautiful nature along the canal, you can also experience Sweden’s two largest cities. Alternatively, there are of course also sections and day trips – perhaps by bike or on foot, as there are also great hiking trails along the Göta Canal.

Göta Canal: Motorhome and Car
You can also experience the fascination of the Göta Canal by motorhome or car.

Travelling along the Göta Canal by bike

Cycling is very popular in Sweden – the country is rather flat and there are well-developed and well-maintained cycle paths everywhere. You can also cycle along the Göta Canal in a dreamlike idyll, as there are almost 90 kilometres of traffic-free cycle paths for young and old alike.

You could cycle along large sections of the canal – if you don’t want to cycle around the lakes, there are often ferries that shorten the trip. Of course, it is also possible to stay overnight at a campsite, for example, and do various day trips. If you can’t take your own bike with you to Sweden, there are several options for hiring a bike locally – whether for long or short distances.

Göta Canal: Bicycle
There are well-developed cycle paths along the Göta Canal.

Cities and sights along the Göta Canal

Locks & lock stairs on the Göta Canal

The Göta Canal has a total of 58 locks distributed over its 190 kilometres. They are not only necessary to ensure that ships can continue their journey (a ship with a length of 30 metres fits into a lock), but are also popular excursion destinations and photo opportunities.

Bergs Slussar, the lock staircase in the village of Berg, which is located around 10 kilometres north of the city of Linköping on Lake Roxen, is particularly well known. The impressive structure consists of three individual locks – two double locks and the famous staircase, which has a total of seven steps. This means that a difference in height of almost 19 metres is covered between Lake Roxen and Berg harbour.

Göta Canal: Lock staircase
Carl Johan’s lock staircase is perhaps the most famous lock on the Göta Canal.

Sweden’s largest lakes: Vänern & Vättern

The Göta Canal connects the two largest lakes in the country: Lake Vänern and Lake Vättern, which lies slightly further south-east. Here you will find pure Swedish nature and culture – you can spend hours on the water or in the nature reserves on the shore, take leisurely walks in the coastal towns, explore exciting historical buildings or simply relax on one of the many beaches.

Vänern is particularly impressive – at over 5500 square kilometres, it is the third largest lake in Europe and the biggest on in the European Union. The Göta älv or Trollhätte Canal also flows from this small inland sea in the direction of Gothenburg and Kattegat, providing a link to the Swedish west coast.

Accommodation on the Göta Canal

Camping by the Göta Canal

If you want to combine an (active) holiday in nature with suitable accommodation, camping is a particularly popular option in Sweden (more information here: Camping in Sweden). There are also a number of campsites along the Göta Canal, which are located in the middle of nature and often by the water. They are also often inexpensive, but still offer some services. For families or travellers on a road trip in particular, it is therefore a good idea to stay overnight at a campsite.

But in Sweden and along the Göta Canal there is another way of camping. The Swedish Everyman’s Right allows wild camping, so you can camp for free in the wilderness as long as you are far enough away from houses and respect nature. If, for example, you are going on a multi-day cycling or hiking tour along the canal and don’t need a lot of comfort or services, wild camping can be an exciting alternative.

Hotels on the Göta Canal

Those who prefer the comfort of a hotel need not worry, as there are several cosy and inviting hotels in the towns on the banks of the Göta Canal, some of which are located right on the water. This means you can enjoy a relaxed holiday and take day trips into the picturesque countryside.

Travelling to the Göta Canal

If you are planning a river cruise, for example, and are not reliant on a car, you can easily travel by plane without any problems. Depending on the starting point, Sweden’s two largest airports, Stockholm-Arlanda and Gothenburg, are of course ideal. From there, you can easily continue your journey by public transport.

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