10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Gotland
Gotland is the summer vacation island of southeast Sweden. Indeed, it could rightfully stake a claim as the Long Island of the Baltic. Every year, thousands of holidaymakers flock here to enjoy the unspoilt landscape; pristine beaches; and festivals such as Medieval Week, which takes place each August. Tourists arrive either by sea or air at Visby, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the island's only sizeable town, where roughly half the population of Gotland resides. The rest of the island is sparsely populated, although numbers do rocket during the summer season. Historically, Gotland generally attracted the more sedate visitor. Lately, however, a younger crowd has started to populate the shores, particularly during July and August. Regular flights from major Swedish cities have added to the seasonal influx; from Stockholm it's a mere 35-minute plane journey, or you could choose to take a three-hour ferry ride.
See also: Where to Stay in Gotland
Visitors traveling to Gotland by ferry arrive at the quaint medieval town of Visby ringed by 13th-century walls. In summertime, expect rose-draped cottages; turrets, towers, and spires; leafy bowers; serpentine cobblestone streets; and cute shops. Settle in at one of the many cafés and eateries and soak up the medieval surroundings. A speciality in Gotland is saffranspannkaka, a saffron pancake smothered with red berries and dollops of cream. It's utterly delicious. Other popular things to do in Visby include strolling around town to see the many medieval sights and a walking tour along the 3.5-kilometer-long medieval city walls. See St. Mary's Cathedral (Visby Domkyrka) and St. Nicholas' Church to admire some architectural features from the 13th century, and visit the Gotlands Museum for a dose of island history.
2 Visby's Town Walls
Visby's spectacular town walls are about 3.5 kilometers long and were built of limestone in the latter part of the 13th century. Dotting the walls are 44 towers standing 15-20 meters high. Near the north-end stands the Maiden's Tower (Jungfrutornet), where legend has it that the daughter of a Visby goldsmith was walled up alive for betraying the town to the Danes out of love for the Danish King, Valdemar Atterdag. From here, the walls run east to the line of cliffs, turn south at the town's main gate (Norderport), follow the edge of the cliffs to Söderport (South Gate), and finally veer west to end at the ruins of Visborg Castle overlooking the harbor. Regular walking tours in English are available; check with the Tourist Office.
3 Gotlands Museum
A must-see for visitors wishing to get to grips with the history and culture of Gotland, the museum was founded in 1875. Permanent exhibitions include not only antiquities and artifacts dating back some 8,000 years from the Stone Age to Viking times, but also natural history and art. Highlights include fossils unique to the shores of the Baltic, the world's biggest hoard of Viking silver, and priceless runic stones.
Address: Strandgatan 14, Visby, Gotland
4 Botanic Garden (Botaniska Trädgården)
On the northwest side of Visby, a short stroll from the town walls and the sea, lies the beautiful 150-year-old Botanic Garden (Botaniska Trädgården). History mingles with nature at the garden's south end, where the ivy-cloaked ruins of the Romanesque St. Olof's Church (ca. 1200) stand. The garden is full of rose beds for which Visby, "the town of roses and ruins," is renowned (rose blooms adorn many of the town's buildings throughout the summer). Apple, fig, walnut, mulberry, and magnolia trees thrive here in Visby's relatively mild climate, as well as magnificent giant redwoods and Chinese sequoia. The garden's busy summer program includes outdoor jazz (a Swedish favorite), farmers markets, classical recitals, guided tours, and children's activities. Entry is free.
Address: Strandgatan, 621 55, Visby
5 St. Nicholas' Church
From Visby's Church of the Holy Ghost, a side street runs past the remains of the little 15th-century chapel of St. Gertrude to the ruins of St. Nicholas's Church, the largest in Visby. Once part of a Dominican monastery, the church was built around 1230, and the Lübeckers destroyed it in 1525. Two beautiful rose windows adorn the gable end. This hauntingly beautiful church now makes an evocative setting for music and theater performances.
6 St. Mary's Cathedral
To the west along St. Hansgatan you'll find St. Mary's Cathedral (Sankta Maria Domkyrka), the only one of Visby's old churches still in use. Built by German merchants and consecrated in 1225, it was much altered in later centuries (restored 1899-1907 and again in 1945). It has a massive square tower on the west front and two smaller towers at the east end. The south chapel commemorates Burgomaster Swerting, who was executed in 1350. The church contains a fine carved pulpit of walnut and ebony from Lübeck (1684) and a 13th-century font of red Gotland marble.
Address: Västra Kyrkogatan, 621 56 Visby, Gotland
7 Högklint Nature Reserve
About 10 kilometers from Visby, Högklint nature reserve is a wonderful spot to soak up breathtaking views of Visby, the beautiful blue Baltic Sea, and the rocky west coast from Gotland's highest sea cliffs. You can follow a short hike along the rugged cliffs to a path that winds down to some shallow sea caves and the pebbly beach below. If you continue south, you'll end up at Ygne, a small fishing village. Climbers like to scale the knobby rock formations jutting along the coast. Sunset is a particularly beautiful time to visit, but take extra care walking along the steep cliffs as there are no guardrails. Many visitors like to rent a bike in Visby and cycle out here with a picnic, although biking up the hills can be a challenge.
8 Editor's Pick Fårö
Farö's scenery is different from the rest of Gotland, even though it only takes seven minutes by ferry to cross the strait. The landscape is more barren, and the sand on the beautiful bare beaches seems even finer. While you're visiting, be sure to see the incredible Langhammars Sea Stacks and Helgumannen fishing village. Tiny fields and buildings dot the landscape, and many structures unique to the island are roofed with sedge, a tradition that has been abandoned elsewhere. Farö's most famous resident was Swedish Film Director Ingmar Bergman, who died at his home on the island in 2007. A free ferry runs to Farö continuously during the summer and half-hourly at other times of the year.
9 Kneippbyn Amusement Park
If you're traveling with younger children this colorful amusement park is worth a visit, especially if the kids are fans of Pippi Longstocking. Among other attractions, the park is home to a replica of Pippi's Villekulla Cottage; a rollercoaster; go-karts; trampolines; and a gigantic water park suitable for all ages, with plenty of fun slides and pools. You can also stay here at the Kneippbyn Resort Visby. Accommodation ranges from tents and hotel rooms to holiday cottages, and plenty of other facilities are on-site, including a café, restaurants, shops, tennis courts, and mini-golf. On summer evenings, concerts and activities are staged here for all ages. Regular shuttle buses take visitors to and from Visby several times daily during peak season.
Address: Kneippbyn 15, 622 61, Visby
10 Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon (Bla Lagunen), on the island's north coast, is a popular spot for a cool dip during the summer months. Fringed with white sand and filled with clear blue water that shimmers in hues of turquoise in the sunlight, the lagoon was once a limestone quarry. It tends to trap the heat, so it's usually a pleasant temperature for a swim in the warmer months. You can also explore the area's walking paths. There are restrooms on-site.
Where to Stay in Gotland for Sightseeing
We recommend these delightful hotels near the top attractions in Visby, Gotland's gateway town:
- Clarion Hotel Wisby: mid-range pricing, steps from the marina, spa with heated pool and sauna, mix of old and new.
- Hotel St. Clemens: charming 3-star hotel, family run, old town location, two beautiful gardens, medieval church ruins.
- Scandic Visby: affordable rates, near ferry terminal, wonderful free breakfast, outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, complimentary use of bikes.
- Hotell Slottsbacken: good-value boutique hotel, stylish decor, comfortable beds, complimentary tea and cookies.
More Exciting Destinations in Sweden
Sweden is full of exciting things to see and do. Less than a 40-minute flight from Gotland, you can see all the top sights in the country's capital, Stockholm, and explore the surrounding countryside on fun day trips. From Stockholm, the picturesque university city of Uppsala is only 70 kilometers away. On the western side of the country, laid-back Gothenburg has a more temperate climate than Stockholm and is a top spot for foodies, while to the south of Gothenburg, both Helsingborg and Malmo lie only a short hop from neighboring Denmark, across the Oresund strait.