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Sweden s city of surprises
Palmhouse at the Garden Society of Gothenburg / Picture: Gemma Nisbet

You would hardly expect to find a slice of London in Gothenburg but quite by chance we've stumbled across it. Just a short distance from the central station in the middle of a lovely park - popular with office workers snatching a little sunshine in their lunchbreak - stands the graceful Palmhouse.

Built in 1878, the iron-and-glass greenhouse was modelled on London's Crystal Palace, the iconic structure built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851.

It may be nowhere near as big as the huge English original, which burnt down in spectacular fashion in the 1930s, but The Palmhouse is at least still standing, sheltering a range of tropical and Mediterranean plants, including an extensive collection of camellias.

The grounds surrounding The Palmhouse are the horticultural gardens of the Garden Society of Gothenburg and were originally laid out in 1842. Today, it is one of the best-preserved 19th century gardens in Europe and boasts one of the biggest selections of rosebushes on the Continent.

And while it's not exactly small, the park is far from being the biggest of the city's numerous, sprawling green spaces: Gothenburg Botanical Garden, a short distance away, covers 175ha with about 16,000 plant species.

For a traditionally industrial city that continues to be a centre of maritime trade and manufacturing - Volvo is a major employer - Gothenburg is remarkably rich in parks and gardens.

One of the best known is Slottsskogen, a huge recreation area adjacent to the Botanical Garden and not far from the city centre. Despite having to contend with frequently inclement weather, the Swedes are a resolutely outdoorsy people, so even on the intermittently drizzly weekday morning when we visit Slottsskogen, there are people out and about, jogging and walking their dogs along the pathways.

The main attraction for me, however, is the small public zoo at the top of a very steep hill, where a ragtag collection of Swedish animals vie for visitors' attention against views over the city.

My favourites are the exceedingly chubby little Swedish pigs, which contentedly nose about in the lush grass. There are various other farmyard animals - cheeky goats, some sheep and chickens - as well as Gotland ponies, an old Swedish breed which come originally from an island off the east coast.

For the wide-eyed visitor keen to tick off a Swedish cliche, the star attraction is a pair of elk, dozing under a tree. A notice on the fence of their enclosure says their antlers have been removed to prevent them from injuring themselves and they look slightly ridiculous without the familiar counterbalance to their huge, gangly limbs and unexpectedly massive ears.

As it begins to rain, we leave the elk to face the weather alone and retreat to a cafe at the base of the hill, where the heavily tattooed waitress is playing death metal over the sound system. The music shouldn't come as much of a shock, for I'd heard there is a big metal scene in Gothenburg, and music, the arts and creative industries generally are strong here. But then, if nothing else, this is a city full of surprises.