Just off of Sweden's eastern coast is Gotland, the largest island in the country, at about 180 km in length and just over 50km in width. Sitting in the Baltic Sea, this is a unique destination for its own history, ranging from the time of the Vikings to being the site of battles during the Finnish war at the turn of the 19th century. The main town of Gotland, Visby, is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its status as a well-preserved medieval town. It has a rich cultural heritage - as well as its artefacts from the Viking Age and museums, Gotland has a total of 92 preserved medieval churches, much more than any other part of Sweden! It’s Gotland’s position as a historical landmark which makes it such an interesting destination.
As well as its history, Gotland is also well renowned for its natural beauty, from jagged limestone cliffs to Caribbean-esque white sandy beaches, like Tofta Beach and Ljugarn Beach. Another feature of these islands are raukar, sea stacks which have been sculpted by wind and water erosion, as well as winding hiking trails that take you through Gotland's idyllic countryside dotted with villages and Viking burial mounds. We have previously mentioned Gotland as a fun day trip to take from Stockholm, but if you have a couple of days spare, this itinerary is for you.
Know Before You Go
If you want to reach Gotland by air, the only option for most people is Visby Airport on the island’s west coast. Traffic to this airport always increases during the summer, especially during Almedalen Week, when representatives from major political Swedish parties hold talks in a park in Visby, and Medeltidsveckan, or Middle Ages week. Alternatively, you can take a ferry from Nynäshamn (which is an hour away from Stockholm by train), Oskarshamn, or Västervik, each of them taking 3 hours or less, and this is cheaper than flying.
There is a bus network on the island, though this mainly connects the larger towns. Visby is very walkable and bicycle friendly, with options available for renting bikes. If you want to buy tickets visit www.gotlandbiljett.se/en/home, at the counter at Visby bus station or use Gotlands kollektivtrafik app.
Renting a car is probably the best way to get around Gotland. To rent a car in Sweden, you must be at least 18 years old and have held your license for at least two years. Drivers under the age of 25 may incur a young driver surcharge. Seatbelts are mandatory, and cars travel on the right-hand side.
In Gotland, the summers are comfortable, though can be cloudy, with the warmest time being between early June and early September. The winters are long and very cold, the coldest period between late November to late March,
The national currency of Sweden is the Swedish Krona, or Krowns. Sweden can be a bit pricey, and cash is used less in Sweden, and you will be able to get away with using your credit or debit card, but as always, we recommend carrying some just in case.
Day 1: Visby and Gotland’s North Coast
Any trip to Gotland will start at the main port town of Visby. Built on a former Viking settlement, Visby’s current form was built from the 12th century to the 14th century. As the best-preserved town of its type in Northern Europe, Visby became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. Visby itself is also within driving or cycling distance from other notable attractions on Gotland’s northern coast, so the town will make an excellent hub for the first day of your new adventure! If you want to learn more about the town, you can go on a witch trial walk or go on a sightseeing bus tour.
Where to Eat
While there is all sorts to eat from on at Visby, a good pick is Gamla Masters as they serve Swedish and Scandinavian dishes, and there are options depending on your dietary requirements. There are also several microbreweries on the island worth checking out, Like Visby’s Hop Shed Brew Pub.
Visby City Walls
The first thing you’re likely to see as you approach the main town of Gotland is the Visby City Walls. These were built in the 13th century, with additional structures constructed in the following century, with the oldest part of these walls being the Kruttornet, or the Gunpowder Tower. Built in the 12th century, this makes it the oldest non-religious building in the Nordic countries - its name comes from the fact it was used as a storage space for gunpowder during the wars with Denmark in the 14th century.
These walls are mostly intact, having been restored by architects to keep its old appearance. When you arrive at Visby, a walk around the walls is a good way of getting yourself acquainted with the place, as these walls are a 3.5km long ring which encircles the town. You can’t climb the walls themselves, but some of the towers are accessible.
Founded in 1875 by the Gotland's Antiquity Society, the Gotland Museum is the best place to learn about Gotland’s history. From Viking silver hoards and unique picture stones to natural history collections, this establishment functions to document the story of the island.
The main museum is open between 10m and 6pm between May and September, while it’s quieter during the off-season, opening at 11am and closing at 4pm between October and April. There are also other properties which are owned by the Gotland Museum, like the Kajsartornet, a tower on the wall which now serves as a prison museum.
On the northwestern tip of Gotland is a smaller island which is worth exploring for a couple of hours. Though Fårö is less than 50 square miles in area size, it is a popular summer resort and has two notable attractions: the Langhammars Sea Stack Field, which is a beach full of raukar, and the Bergman centre, a museum dedicated to the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. The island itself is a six-minute ferry ride away on the Fåröfärjan, which is free of charge and operates between Fårösund on Gotland and Broa on Fårö. Click here to view the timetable.
There are several events held on the island throughout the year. There is an annual Bergman festival at the centre, and there is also Fårönatta, or Fårö Night. Taking place on the third weekend of September, all the restaurants and bars stay open all night while craft stands are set up on the streets.
If you want to see for yourself how peasants on Gotland used to live, then check out the Bungemuseet. An hour’s drive away from Visby, just outside the town of Fårösund, this is one of the largest open-air museums in Sweden and the biggest on Gotland.
Founded in 1907 to preserve the remaining historical buildings that were getting cleared, the Bungemuseet is spread over 7 hectares and has over 70 historical buildings spanning the past three centuries, the oldest building being a 17th-century farm. The museum is open from May until September, with seasonal opening hours, which you can look up here. Regular pricing is 120 krona, but children under 18 are allowed free entry.
On the northwest coast of Gotland, outside of the town of Ar, is the Blue Lagoon. A popular swimming spot on the island, this small lake is actually a flooded quarry that has the deep blue colour expected of tropical waters, but be careful: the banks of the lagoon are steep, and it’s very deep, so it may not be the best idea to go with kids.
Also, depending on when you visit, there are a couple of things you should consider - during the summer, it can get very busy, especially on a boiling hot day, while it can get cold throughout the rest of the year, so weigh up your options before you decide to go for a dip.
Visby Botanical Garden
Visby has a few different gardens, but one worth seeing for yourself is the Vsiby Botanical Gardens. Founded in 1855, these botanical gardens are made up of both local and imported plants like the Empress Tree and rhododendron plants.
Though they may not be as big as other botanical gardens, this makes it easy to navigate and, with its plenty of benches, makes for a pleasant resting stop while exploring the rest of Visby. It is also free for entry, and there is also the nearby ruin of St. Olof Church, which makes the Visby Botanical Gardens all the more picturesque.
Kneippbyn Theme Park
If you want to do something for the kids, there are playgrounds around Visby, but you might also want to check out the Kneippbyn Theme Park. Themed around the fictional character created by Astrid Lindgren, this theme park is the home of Pippi Longstocking, a character from a series of Swedish children’s books originally published in 1945. Since then, the books have been translated into over 50 languages and were ranked 91 out of the top 100 children's novels by the School Library Journal in 2012.
There are two sections to the Kneippbyn Theme Park - Sommarland (Summerland) and Vattenland (Waterland), with the former having roller coaster rides, while the latter is a water park. There’s enough here to tire out your small humans, and who knows, maybe when you settle in for the night, you could introduce them to Pippi Longstocking as well.
Right in the middle of the town of Visby is the Visby Cathedral. Also known as Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the first building of the cathedral was built during the 13th century, but then later got rebuilt until there was the building that you see today. This square cathedral is an interesting mixture of designs, as it was predominantly influenced by the German traders who called Gotland home, but constructed with a Swedish twist.
It is also the only church to have survived the Reformation. While other churches were abandoned, the Visby Cathedral became the parish of the town. Though the exterior remains largely unchanged, with the exception of repairs due to damages like a fire in 1611, the same cannot be said of the original interior, which has regularly seen changes throughout history.
Gotland Defense Museum
While the Gotland Museum has different properties dotted around the island dedicated to varying facets of life on the island, the Gotland Defense Museum technically is not part of them but is actually a part of the National Defense History Museum's network. However, it still documents an important aspect of Gotland’s history - and that was its defence. Gotland’s position in the Baltic Sea made it a point of strategic interest, especially during the Cold War and Second World War.
Located to the north of Visby in the town of Tingstäde, this museum is split into two sections, the Army division and the Navy and Air Force division, and catalogues the military history of Gotland from the days of antiquity to the present day. The two divisions are only a couple of kilometres apart, so you can easily explore both within a couple of hours.
One of the major attractions on Gotland is the Lummelunda Cave, otherwise known as Lummelundagrottan or Rövarkulan in Swedish, the latter translating into The Robbers' Den. Just north of Visby on Gotland, the main explored part of the cave is almost 4.5 km long, making it one of the longest caves in Sweden, with more sections being explored all the time.
Though it has been around for millennia, made up by the natural elements eroding the limestone, people have been visiting this cave for a long time, and it has been functioning as a major attraction since 1959. It’s less than 20km away, and with all the routes to the cave, you can easily cycle up there. Bring a jumper with you when you visit, though, as it is consistently cool year-round.
Where to stay
Budget - Hotell Breda Blick
These cottages in Lummelunda are a 20 minutes’ drive away from Visby, and though it is just at the edge of what we would define as budget, its quiet location, free parking and lack of other budget accommodations in Visby makes this a top pick for us.
Mid-Range - Sköna Hönor Apartments
Located in the centre of Visby, these modern, self-catering apartments offer everything needed for an accommodating stay, as well as being within walking distance of many of Visby’s attractions.
Luxury - Visby Innerstad Lägenheter & Rum
Directly by the Visby Walls, these modern studio apartments are one of the most luxurious stays to reside in while visiting the medieval town.
Day 2: South Gotland
While many of Gotland’s attractions lie in the northern half of the island in proximity to Visby, there are a few towards the southern half of the island which are worth visiting. Though there isn’t as much as the north, there are still a few attractions worth checking out. You could go sunbathe on one of the many beaches or hike through the nature reserves on the island.
Where to Eat
On the west coast is Ljugarn, which has many different restaurants ranging from Mediterranean-style cuisine to more traditional Scandinavian dishes, the most popular of these being Bruna Dorren.
Of all the rauks on Gotland, Hoburgsgubben is possibly one of the most noteworthy ones. Translating to Old Man Hoburg, this rauk sits on the southern tip of Gotland. The name comes from the fact that, from a certain angle, it is supposed to look like an old man. I’d say just use your imagination and go with it.
Some visitors have tried to help out by painting Hoburgsgubben's nose in bright colours to show where the nose of the old man is supposed to be. However, please refrain from doing this - since this stone is part of the National Antiquities Authority's Cultural Environment Register, doing this constitutes as a crime.
Närsholmen Nature Reserve
There are a few nature reserves on Gotland, and one worth checking out is the Närsholmen Nature Reserve. Established in 1986, this reserve is located on a peninsula on the southeast of the island and is a great area for hiking and birdwatching, especially during the spring and autumn when flocks of different birds can be seen on the beaches.
It is also noteworthy for being a location used by famed filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky during the filming of the last scene of his final movie. One of the notable aspects of this reserve is the När Lighthouse, which during the Second World War, helped navigate fleeing refugees across the Baltic Sea.
One of the smaller islands nearby is the Stora Karlsö. Less than a square mile in area, it is one of the more notable islands in the region as it prides itself on being the second oldest nature reserve after Yellowstone National Park in the USA. It is especially good for birdwatching because of the native colonies.
Access to the island operates on a seasonal basis, typically between May and September. To get to the island, you need to take the ferry from Klintehamn. The last ferry usually depends on the season - at peak times, between June and August, it’ll be around 4pm while the earliest it stops is at the start of the season when the last ferry leaves Klintehamn at 2pm. Ferries from Stora Karlsö stop an hour after those on Gotland.
There are loads of villages dotted throughout Southern Gotland, and though you can make a day of visiting all of them, the one you absolutely have to visit is Ljugarn. Located on the east coast of Gotland, about 45km from Visby, this is the oldest resort on the island, with its origins dating back to the start of the 19th century.
Even nowadays, it is still a popular destination to visit, especially during the summer when regular bus services are travelling from Visby. It is especially great for sea bathing, as the town sits on some picturesque beaches, and there are nearby hiking trails you can enjoy as well, like the Östkustleden, a 99-mile-long hiking trail which winds along the east coast of Gotland.
Where to Stay
Budget - Änggårde B&B, Huse
One of the best budget stays on the south half of the island is this bed and breakfast. Located in the countryside of Gotland, this will provide a lovely, quiet stay as a couple or solo traveller.
Mid Range - Ljugarnsstugor, Ljugarn
While this accommodation is also in the countryside of Gotland, these are self-catering cottages which can accommodate up to six people.
Luxury - Grå Gåsen, Burgsvik
Made famous by the Swedish TV Show Så Mycket Bättre, this hotel is one of the best places t stay on the island, with a restaurant on the property as well as a seasonal outdoor pool.