The Göta Canal in Sweden, like the Canal du Midi, was for centuries a dream before it became reality. The connection between the vast Lake Vänern and the Baltic would only be of value for trade if navigation were possible between the lake and the Göta river downstream of the Trollhätte falls. Thus efforts were concentrated initially on by-passing these falls. Engineer Nordewall designed and implemented from 1790 a remarkable project, which is not unlike that imagined by Leonardo da Vinci to by-pass the Adda rapids at Paderno: a canal dug in the rock beside the falls, with two flights of locks (here 5 and 3 chambers). The success of this canal, inaugurated in August 1800, encouraged the Count Baltzar von Platen to take off the shelf the plan drawn up in 1781-84 for a canal right across Sweden from east to west, and submit it once again to the approval of King Gustav IV.

Von Platen had been informed of the similar project for the Caledonian Canal, then being built by engineers Jessop and Telford. At von Platen’s invitation, Telford spent six weeks during the summer of 1808 working on detailed layout of the canal and siting of the locks, with more and shallower locks than proposed in the earlier project. Their dimensions, 32 m by 7 m, are slightly smaller than those of the Scottish canal.

Work started in 1810 under Samuel Bagge, with troops made available by the government as navvies. The canal was opened on September 24, 1822, one month earlier than the Caledonian. Sadly, von Platen did not live to see completion of his project. (He died in 1819.)

Begun of course before the steamboat era, the Göta proved too small to be commercially successful, especially after railways added their competition and tolls through the Sound were ended in 1857. However, visitors today can still pass through in passenger ships that run a summer service. The cruise across Sweden, taking three days, is a well-established tourist product.

The whole line is 558km long from Gothenburg to Stockholm, of which 97km is man-made. After the Göta river and the Trollhätte Canal comes Lake Vänern; then the Göta Canal proper from Sjötorp on the far side of Lake Vänern through Lakes Vättern and Roxen to Mem on the Baltic, whence ships pass through an archipelago into a fjord. From here the 3.2km Södertälje Canal (opened 1819) leads into Lake Mälaren, and so to Stockholm.

There are 65 locks in all, and a summit-level 93m above sea level. The 7-rise staircase at Berg can be compared with the 8-rise at Banavie on the Caledonian, and the earlier 8-rise (now 6-rise) at Fonsérannes (Béziers) on the Canal du Midi.