Visby, Gotland, a Swedish treasure
Whether you’re looking for history, nature, culture, good food or just want to relax on the beach, the town of Visby, on the island of Gotland, has it all. Located in the Baltic Sea, this fairy-tale town is a national treasure. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, characterised as having “outstanding universal value.”
This well-preserved medieval Hanseatic town dates back to the 12th century and contains a number of remarkable church ruins from the period such as the St Clemens, St Nicolai and Drottens ruins, or the St Karin church ruin with its high arches. In the winter, visitors can go ice-skating inside the walls of the St Karin ruins. Visby boasts a number of historic churches as well, including the Sankta Maria Cathedral built at the end of the 12th century.
Visby also has a well-preserved 3.5 kilometre long medieval ring wall with many of its original towers from the 1200s still intact. The wall encircles the centre of Visby and was originally built for protection against both foreign enemies and Swedish assailants from the countryside.
Along the streets of the town are more than 200 buildings and homes dating back to between the 12th and 14th centuries. The Gotland Museum’s Fornsalen (Hall of Antiquities) contains a number of archaeological finds dating back to Viking times. A visit here will help put the town’s long and fascinating history into perspective.
Every summer, Visby celebrates Medieval Week (Medeltidsveckan) with its lively market including music and theatre. All in all, there are some 500 events. It’s the biggest medieval festival in northern Europe and a lively event where people dress up in costumes and recreate life in medieval days. It’s a lively experience for visitors of all ages.
Gotland is an island in the Baltic Sea approximately 90 km off the eastern coast of Sweden. It has been inhabited for a long time, probably dating back to the Stone Age. Today there are more than 40,000 ancient sites to be found on Gotland, and the main town, Visby, with its medieval walls, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photo: Jerker Andersson/imagebank.sweden.se
PRACTICAL INFORMATION BEFORE YOUR TRIP TO VISBY
From saffron pancakes to truffles
While Visby is at its liveliest in the spring and summer months, there is plenty to do at any time of the year, not least visiting its many excellent restaurants, bars and cosy cafés. As in the rest of Sweden, “fika” is a popular pastime. Gotland has its own brews of coffee and tea that are served with delicious homemade goods, such as the island’s traditional saffron pancake with berries and cream.
The lime-rich soil of Gotland and a favourable climate contribute to plenty of fresh, local produce. If you happen to be in Visby in the early spring, asparagus will be on the menu in all forms. Visby even dedicates an entire week to honour this delicate spring vegetable.
Truffles grow on the island as well and if you’re a fan, you won’t want to miss the late autumn months, when truffles appear on restaurant menus and in shops. If you happen to be on Gotland in November, there are also tastings, truffle hunts and lectures arranged by the island’s truffle academy.
An abundance of lamb on Gotland means you’ll find lamb dishes served in many restaurants, along with tasty local sausages, venison and more. Smoked salmon, flounder and herring are also popular. There are plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans too.
Home-grown brews and treats
You might want to wash the food down with beers like Wisby Pils and Sleepy Bulldog from the local Visby brewery. There’s also a vineyard on the island (Gute Vingård) if you want to try some local wine distilled from Gotland grapes and a local rum, Träkumla Rom, produced from sugar beets that are cultivated on the island.
If you enjoy spicing up your own cooking, don’t miss Krusmyntagården, which has all kinds of spices and herbs, and beautifully packaged gifts to take home. Kränku Te & Kaffe sells tea, coffee and sweets in a charming, old-fashioned shop. Try their own tea blend called “Andre Kåppen” (Second Cup) the name hinting that you’ll want another cup. Lilla Bjers Gårdsbutik sells freshly harvested and ecologically grown farm goods as well as carefully selected ecological products like olive oil and chocolate.
Beaches and scenery
With its 800 kilometres of coastline, Gotland offers plenty of picturesque spots for relaxing and bathing. There are four beaches within just five kilometres of central Visby and a beach promenade makes it easy to cycle there. If you feel like going a little further afield, head for the popular Tofta Beach, located 20 kilometres south of Visby. It is accessible by road or on a designated bike path.
Gotland has more than 100 nature reserves including Brucebo just north of Visby and Ekstakusten to the south. The island’s scenery ranges from dramatic rock formations and barren landscapes to lush vegetation and sunny meadows. And as always in Visby, there is the presence of the mesmerising sea.
Beach on Gotland
Gotland offers sandy beaches with sand dunes.
Photo: Destination Gotland
Almedalen Week - 'Almedalsveckan'
Swedish political parties, journalists, influential people and mere mortals gather in Visby to discuss politics and attend seminars, speeches and other political activities as well as some festive events. The Almedalen Week is always carried out in week 27-28. In 2020 the event is from June 28 to July 5th.
Every year in week 32, the Middle Ages return to Gotland and the once powerful Hanseatic city of Visby. Up to 40.000 visitors celebrates the festival Medeltidsveckan with theatre, markets, crafts, tower games, music performances, lectures and other events.