Gota Canal


Steaming Through Sweden

A century-old canal ship puts a new spin on Scandinavian cruising.

By Barry Vaudrin

Hans Christian Andersen did it. So did the king of Sweden and the wife of a U.S. senator. Crisscrossed Sweden, that is, with the 137-year-old Göta Canal Steamship Company (Göta is pronounced “yeuta”). In fact, for more than 137 years, the company has been cruising the canals, locks, and lakes that cut across Sweden, providing a classic and cultural experience for passengers who embark on the journey between Gothenburg and Stockholm.

The company’s prized vessel is M/S Juno, which first launched in 1874 and remains the world’s oldest passenger vessel with sleeping accommodations still in operation. Launched in 1912, M/S Wilhelm Tham is the next oldest vessel in the company’s fleet of three boats, followed by M/S Diana, which was built in the Finnboda shipyard not far from Stockholm in 1931.

As I boarded Diana in Gothenburg, I was greeted at the pier on a red carpet, which set the tone for this iconic Swedish travel experience. With 28 cabins on three decks and a passenger capacity of about 50, it was clear this journey would be an intimate and exclusive experience.

The history of the steamship company is fascinating, and equally amazing are the locks and the canal that stretch across Sweden for nearly 400 miles. The first lock was built in 1800 with very primitive technology and hard labor. It transformed Sweden’s commerce, allowing for more cost-effective transport of goods and materials from east to west and back. Wooden log fenders line the sides of Diana, protecting the riveted hull, as it occasionally glances against the lock. Passengers will experience an up-close appreciation for the rich history that envelops each quaint town along the journey.

From the comfort of Diana’s wicker chairs, teak decks, gentle humming motor, and sounds of the water trickling by; all of these elements will calm the senses and offer a relaxing, enchanting experience, exactly as it has happened for the past 80 years. With the absence of television, Internet, and modern-day electronics, the main focus is relaxation. Instead, the onboard community, the dining, and the culture of the locks and canals are the featured entertainment.