Gotland is the large Swedish island in the Baltic, where you get the feeling you have left Sweden and are in some other place altogether. There is a suggestion of continental Europe in the capital of Visby, with its heavy encircling medieval wall and with the numerous outdoor cafés in summer – the narrow streets and the centuries old pastel colored houses with roses climbing their walls add to the sensation. Just walking about on the cobbled streets and squares of Visby is a delight, and if you want to add some interesting sight-seeing, that too is easily done.
There are a number of imposing church ruins from medieval times, of which the gothic splendor of St. Catherine’s and the Dominican St. Nicolai take pride of place. The one church that is still in use is St. Mary’s, the cathedral from 1225. It was once the church of the German merchants, and recently its old murals have been restored. The modern stained glass windows are an artwork uniting tradition and creative innovation – don’t miss them!
On a rainy day in Visby the exhibitions of Fornsalen (the Gotland Museum) will take you through Gotland’s varied history from the Stone Age up to the present. There is a hall with the unique Picture stones that were put up as commemorative monuments from the 4th to the 7th centuries, decorated with mythological and seafaring scenes ,and there is the Spillinge treasure hoard, the largest Viking treasure in the world. And don’t forget the basic exhibition called Gotlandium – 430 millions of years are covered, starting with the warm and shallow prehistoric sea, populated with all those organisms the fossilized shells of which are found on beaches of Gotland.
What you see in Fornsalen will surely inspire you to tour the island. There are countless archaeological sites, medieval churches and natural wonders to visit, and if you have a car and a week’s time, this list of the most spectacular places from north to south should help you make a choice. Now, you leave the continental feeling behind and begin time travelling instead.
Gotland has a smaller companion island, Fårö, to the north (roadferry connection). Sudersand beach rivals anything in the Mediterranean area (cold water, though), there is the largest area of the strange, eroded pillars called “raukar” in the Digerhuvud reservation and the traditional white-chalked farms in the stark and windswept landscape will make you want to live here forever.
Bathing in the Blue Lagoon, the ancient limestone quarry of Ar now filled with water, is a special experience, popular among tourists and inhabitants alike, as the water is warmer than in the sea. Gotland once had a large number of quarries along the northeast coast, many of them filled with water toady. Nearby are the quarries of Lillträsk and Nyrasju, just as pleasant but with fewer amenities. Remember, the bottom is very steep so this is for good swimmers only!
The Lummelunda caves with their stalactites and stalagmites take you back to the beginning of Gotland from the inside. There is the usual guided tour to follow, but you can also sign up for a three hour Adventure tour, boating, crawling through narrow passages and wading through water. Children can enjoy a special cave that is less dramatic while their parents rough it out.
The 17th century castle of Roma and the ruins of the Cistercian monastery are situated on a spot that since times immemorial was an important meeting point for trade, religious ceremonies and festivities.
In summer there are theatre performances in the ruins, guided tours, local craft production like glass blowing can be tried out and art exhibitions enjoyed.
Off the west coast of Gotland are two national park islands, Stora and Lilla Karlsö (Big and Little Karslö) On Lilla Karlsö, you’ll find caves and ”raukar”, lots of birds and if you’re lucky you’ll see some seals. What you absolutely will see are the special Gotlandic free roaming sheep with their curved horns, the oldest breed of sheep in Sweden, said to look axactly as the Bronze Age ancestors. During the summer you take the ferryboat from Djupvik, a traditional site with fishermen’s shacks from the 19th century. You can even stay overnight in a hostel on Lilla Karlsö, but you have to bring your own food. The larger island Stora Karlsö is a place of stunning beauty with endless sandy beaches, windswept dunes, deep pine forests and sky meeting sea at the horizon. Here, you can either stay overnight in your own tent in the camping area, in a cabin or in a larger building with many beds. Your walks will show you a fantastic, sandy dune landscape with trees sculpted by the relentless wind and vestiges of the sheep farming that was once the livelihood of the inhabitants.
The reconstruction of a Viking Village in Tofta offers an opportunity for the entire family to try out different Viking activities, like games, making Viking jewellery, bake, use bow and arrow or perhaps try out the craft of the blacksmith. The modern village of Tofta also lies near one of the best beaches on Gotland, and is only 18 km south of Visby – a perfect place to stay with all of Gotland in reach.
On the southern tip of Gotland is the ”rauk” called ”the Old man of Hoburg”, Hoburgsgubben – iconic symbol of the island. Nearby is the southernmost lighthouse of Gotland, sometimes open in summer to let you climb up and get an amazing view from 21 meters above ground.
But perhaps really the best way of enjoying Gotland is to stop somewhere by the sea, walk along a beach in the wind and look for fossilized sea creatures, shop for a picnic in the next village and find a beautiful sheltered spot to enjoy it in peace….