The Juno, Classic Gota Canal Cruise

Imagine cruising on a small ship, built in the 1890s, with fewer than 50 people, on glassy smooth water, across the idyllic, pastoral countryside of Sweden. That is the Gota Canal cruise my wife and I went on in July 2019.  We spent 4 days/3 nights on the Juno, cruising peacefully from Gothenburg to Stockholm.  For American visitors, the easiest itineraries are the ones which start and stop in Stockholm and Gothenburg, as there is airline service to both cities.  

This is a small ship cruise,  much different than a mega cruise ship.  The on ship  experience is designed to replicate the elegance and slow pace of travel in the Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century.   We spent many hours sitting on the veranda, looking at the idyllic farmlands, quaint houses, and charming villages of southern Sweden.  With a drink in hand, of course. 

Gota Canal Website  

History of the Canal

The Gota Canal was designed by the engineer Baltzar von Platen, and was completed in 1832.  The canal was built to allow ship traffic across Sweden from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, thus avoiding Denmark and tolls.  

The route follows a series of canals, rivers, and lakes across southern Sweden.  Along the way are 58 locks which must be passed. The route crosses Lakes Vanern and Vattern, the two largest lakes in Sweden.

The canal system was once an important shipping route, but cannot handle the large container ships of today, and is maintained for pleasure craft and tourists. We saw many sailboats with German or Danish flags. 

Small Ship Cruising

Three cruise ships service the Gota Canal routes, Juno, Diana, and Wilhem Tham, with varying itineraries.  The ships were originally built in the 1890s.  There were only 40-50 people on the trip, about half Swedes and half Germans. We were the only native English speakers, but the crew all spoke perfect English. The other guests were friendly and interesting.   We had three gourmet meals a day, with a set menu, and there were plenty of drinks. There are several sitting areas on the upper decks, where it is delightful to watch the scenery.

Small ship cruising is a different experience than a large casino cruise ship.  You might read a book, or study a map.  There are daily shore excursions with a guide. Our ship's travel guide had been an exchange student in Minnesota, and was very knowledgeable.    She had a short meeting with us each morning to go over the days activities. 

Bicycling Along the Tow Paths

Houses Along the Gota Canal


Our cruise route began in Gothenburg, a classic Northern European city, built on a network of canals. The city canal boat tours are a good way to see the city. We arrived by train from Copenhagen, and stayed at a hotel just across the square from the main train station. 

Many Swedes, including my relatives, emigrated to the US on steamships from Gothenburg in late 1800s/early 1900s.  Be sure to visit the Emigrant Museum, which chronicles the history of emigration from Scandinavia to America.  About one quarter of the entire population of Sweden and Norway left home to move to America during this time period.  America offered free land in the upper midwest to anyone who would work a farm.  

Summer in Scandinavia is a celebration of Life.  The weather is warm and pleasant, and it stays light out very late at night.  Many Swedes sit out in the parks in the evenings, and it is quite pleasant to stroll until midnight.  The City schedules performances in the public squares, mostly kids dancing and playing music, which repeat every hour.  

Gothenburg canals

Trollhattan Lock


The canal cruise route passes many smaller towns in Sweden, and there are stops at interesting historical sites, such as the old locks at Trollhattan, the fortress at Karlsborg, Carl Johan's staircase of locks, and the Viking trading town of Birka.


The ship encounters our first locks here. It is fascinating to watch the crew work the ropes and guide the ship thru the locks.  After the ship enters the lock, the doors close, and the water slowly seeps in, or out, as the ship rises to meet the next water level.  At Trollhatten there is a single lock, but there may be multiple locks at other locations. 

After the locks we all got off the ship for an hour to tour the small Gota Canal museum, and view the old locks which are no longer in use.  The itinerary includes plenty of stops to get off the ship. 

Inside the Lock at Trollhattan

Sunset on Lake Vanern, Sweden

Karlsborg Fortress

The Fortress was built in 1830, when the Swedes realized the government in Stockholm was vulnerable to Russian attacks. Parts of the fortress are still in use today, and photos inside were not allowed.  We toured for an hour with a local guide, then had an hour to relax by the waterfront.  The crew had a well deserved swim in Lake Vattern here.

A Swim in Lake Vattern

The Juno thru the Lock

Carl Johans Lock Staircase

It takes several hours for the ship to go thru the Carl Johans lock staircase at Berg, on Lake Roxen. We toured the Vreta Cloister here with our guide, while the ship slowly went down the staircase of locks. The Cloister is from the 1100s, and was the first nunnery in Sweden. My wife managed to swim here in Lake Roxen.

Staircase of Locks

Viking Ships at Birka

Birka Viking Village

Birka was an important trading center in the Viking era (800s AD).  Birka is on Lake Malaren, and can only be reached by boat.  Our ship stopped here for a couple of hours, and we had a guided tour.    Today there is a Viking reenactor's village, and a museum with a gift shop.  The museum had a model of the old town, and exhibits of artifacts which have been found here.  At one time hundreds of people lived here, as it was one of the major towns in Sweden.  It was curious to walk around the ancient burial mounds.  Bishop Anskar built a church here several times, as whenever he left the people would burn it down.  Eventually Scandinavia accepted Christianity, ending the Viking Age.  Birka was abandoned when the end of Lake Malaren became cut off from direct access to the sea, and a new town was built at what is now Stockholm. 

Viking Village Life

Visit the Gilded Age in Sweden


Our trip ended at Stockholm, the crew unloaded our baggage onto one of the docksides downtown.  It is a short walk or taxi ride to your hotel.   We walked 20 minutes in a downpour, but you're only young once.

Stockholm is surrounded by water, and is a charming, modern city.  The quaint old town Gamla Stan is on its own island.  I would prefer to stay in or near Gamla Stan for the historic buildings and cobbled streets.  

The island Djurgarden is a huge expanse of parks, gardens, and museums.  Here are the Skansen Museum, the Abba Museum, The Nordiska Museum, The Vasa Museum, and the amusement park Grona Lund. 

I was surprised that almost no where in Stockholm takes cash, even the 7/11 was cash free, cards only.  Except the pay toilets use 5 kroner coins.  

Dawn in The Archipelago

Stockholm from Djurgarden

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Northern Mists Photography

Robert Bergstrom
Landscape and Travel Photographer

Featuring Oregon Coast, Puget Sound, PNW, Faroe Islands, Sweden, Denmark.

Landscapes, Seascapes, Maritime themes.
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