Visby: One of the Best Preserved Medieval Cities in Scandinavia

by Talia Klundt / Dec 04, 2013 /
Talia Klundt's picture

After nearly five years living in Sweden, there are so many places that I have yet to visit. I have a top five list of places I tell myself I am going to see every year, but somehow it never happens, I usually end up traveling abroad instead of within Sweden. Last year while I was working for an American study abroad company, I had the opportunity to take my students to Gotland for the weekend and I jumped at the chance. Gotland is Sweden's largest island. It is located southeast of Stockholm and 90 miles off the coast of Sweden. You can take a one hour flight to Visby (the capital), or take the ferry, like we did. To take the ferry is a bit of a trek, but it is often the cheapest. First you must take the commuter train from Stockholm to Nynäshamn, which is about 90 minutes, and then you take the ferry from there, which is about three hours. If I had been going alone or with friends, I would definitely suggest flying, as to me it was not worth the hassle and time it took.

 

Visby: One of the Best Preserved Medieval Cities in Scandinavia

 

After we arrived in Visby, the first thing we did was check into our hostel. Since this was a work trip with students, we stayed in a hostel but I highly recommend staying in one of the many hotels that are scattered throughout the island, and in Visby as there is a lot of tourism, especially in the summer. I have always heard how wonderful Gotland is, the landscape, the history, the medieval ruins, the feeling that you are not in Sweden but in another time and place, and best of all the sea and the sun. Now as you can imagine, the sun is very important for us who have to put up next to total darkness in the coming months, so when I heard that Gotland gets the most sunshine out of anywhere in Sweden, I was thrilled. I packed light and was ready to enjoy the spring weather in May and maybe even spend some free time reading by the beach. My friend, who has been many times, told me to pack warm clothes and a good jacket because it could be windy and cold - but I figured how bad could it be at the end of May? The answer: FREEZING! I was shocked the second we stepped off of the boat and started walking. I could not believe the wind chill factor and the humidity that cut right to my bones. How I wish I had listened, what was I to do for the next 48 hours? I absolutely did not have the right clothes or jacket for the next few days, I was constantly cold and miserable. Sometimes I forget that the weather can be unpredictable and change here, especially on an island. My advice is, no matter what season you go, bring warm clothes just in case.

 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

 

Colorful door in Visby, island of Gotland, Sweden

 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

 

 

Once I accepted (but never got used to) the freezing weather, we joined a walking tour of Visby to learn a little bit more about it. Visby is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is probably one of the best preserved medieval cities in Scandinavia. One of the most impressive remains is the 2.1 mile long wall that encircles the town center. It is also known for its church ruins and the Cathedral. Visby dates back to 900 AD when it was an important center of merchandise. The tour is worth it if you would like to learn more about the history of Visby as well as get a good overview of all the different ruins and landmarks, otherwise you might just pass them by without knowing anything. I am glad that we took the tour, as I was able to learn a lot about Visby.

 

The Cathedral in Visby, Gotland, Sweden

The Cathedral

 

Visby is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Swedes in the summertime, and thousands of tourists come every summer. If traveling here in the summer, it is important to book your accommodations early or you might not be able to find any availability at all, especially if Sweden is having good weather. When Sweden is having good weather, there are not many other places that have such a fantastic summer feeling as being here and enjoying the archipelago, Gotland, or the Swedish countryside. This is important to keep that in mind if you are hoping to see Gotland and stay in Visby. The best recommendation for seeing the entire island is to rent a car, as then you are free and have more flexibility to go out and see the countryside. You can rent a bike or take the busses, but during off-season the busses do not run so often and they usually do not take you to all the places you might want to see, such as certain view points or secluded beaches. I hope to come back during the summer and rent a car and spend at least a week, so that I can really see all of the island! Visby was just a small piece of Gotland and that there is so much to see. For those of you planning a trip to Sweden, I highly recommend that you add a few extra days to your trip to make sure to visit Gotland, because it really is like stepping back in time to a truly magical place!

 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

 

Unique gate in Visby, on the island of Gotland, Sweden

 

Going in the off season also was limiting (without a car), the bus schedules were tight and they were not running so frequently, so I had to choose whether I would just sit and enjoy Visby, or join some of the students who traveled around. I chose to stay behind and just relax in Visby, going to the many little touristy and local shops and also just walking around taking lots of pictures. I hate to admit this, but because I was so cold I did spend a considerable amount of time sitting in cafes reading and being in my hostel room, with the heat cranked up. Two outstanding cafes that I highly recommend are Hästgatan 10 Bar & Cafe; I actually ate here twice. They have a wide variety of salads, quiches, sandwiches, and more, made with the freshest ingredients! The second is Café Amalia, they serve great salads and sandwiches, as well as have a variety of buns and sweets - try their pistachio and cinnamon twisted bun, it's to die for!! Another reason to visit during peak season is that all the bars and restaurants will be open, as it felt a bit limited when choosing a restaurant or their hours seemed to be limited as well. Two places that I would love to see and only the more reason to come back are the fantastic rock formations along the coast (think big high cliffs with rocks) called Raukar, and the island of Fårö. Fårö is a small island located off the northern part of Gotland and is connected via a ten minute ferry. Here you will also find the rock formations on the beach. The island was made quite famous as the late Ingmar Bergman (one of Sweden's most famous filmmakers) lived the rest of his life on this tiny island, and several of his movies were also shot on the island. The beaches are also said to be beautiful and unspoiled.

 

 

 

 

Talia Klundt is the Sweden Editor for Wandering Educators

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Talia Klundt