A landscape image of Sweden's largest island Gotland showing the seaside
Uncovering Islands: Explore the medieval island in Sweden
Written by Ornella Bressan
On 22 May 2024

Looking closely on the world map, our home is covered with islands filled with people, cultures waiting to be discovered, and food ready to be eaten. One of them and one of them is right next to Sweden.

Sweden’s biggest island is home to one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the capital city Visby, for its Viking-era buildings dating back to the 13th centuries. 

Visby

Most people reach the island by ferry from Stockholm to Visby, but you can also fly directly there from Stockholm, Oslo or Helsinki.  

Seventy-three year old local from Rute, Luella Godman, highly recommends visiting the island during the warmer months between end of May to end of August. 

Before retiring, Luella used to organise horse riding trails for her guests and guide them through Gotland’s countryside. 

Luella and her horse Macguire 

She says that one of the main attractions of the island is the annual Medieval week event that takes over Visby in August. 

She says: “I’ve been to the medieval week several times. It attracts many people that do live performances and dress up and–actually, when you go there and if you haven’t got the medieval clothes on you feel kind of funny.

“So there really are a lot of people that are dressed up in their medieval costumes and going for it in a serious manner. There’s a lot to do and see, from acrobatics to theatre, practising archery, and even watching a jousting tournament.”  

Outside of Visby, Luella told us most of Gotland is made up of tiny villages, making it an ideal getaway to disconnect from the busy city life and reconnect with nature. 

A fun fact about the island is that no matter where you are located it won’t take you more than 30 minutes by car to reach the beach. 

To maximise your experience on the island, you should divide your time evenly between the North and South, spending three days in each.

For the North, Luella says: “There’s a free ferry that takes you to Fårö, which is where film director Ingmar Bergman lived, and it is similar to North of Gotland but there are a lot more stone walls, sheep, and it’s where the most famous beaches are.” 

Meanwhile, for the South, she recommends going to Tofta Strand to enjoy the white sandy beach, adding: “From Visby there’s a nice road that goes around the Ekstakusten, [a coastline],and you get a beautiful view of two islands, Lilla Karlsö and Stora Karlsö.” 

Here’s what we found out about the historical island:

FOOD

Gotland’s typical dish is the sweet Saffranspannkaka that Luella describes as ‘a rice pudding made with saffron, almonds and served with whipped cream and a special berry jam’, called salmbar, which is grown on the island. 

Saffranspannkaka | Credit: Sotasaker

Another dish to look out for is anything that has to do with lamb as the island has its own ‘Gotland-made’ meat.

When it comes to places to eat outside of Visby, there is one place in Rute called Stenungsbageri you should try. It’s a stone oven bakery that serves delicious pastries in the morning and stone oven baked pizza in the evening. 

There’s also Sjökrogen, a restaurant at the harbour in Valleviken that offers barbecue buffets and live music performances during the in-season of the island. 

Or also Djupvik, a modern restaurant in Klintehamn, south of the capital, that offers a hypnotising view of the sea with a modern Swedish-based menu.  

Djupvik restaurant | Credit: Djupvik

ACTIVITIES

Get transported back in time by walking along the medieval city walls surrounding Visby or by visiting one of the 92 medieval churches scattered around the island. 

Luella says: “In Sweden there’s the Right of Public Access so you’re allowed to camp just about anywhere in the island as long as it’s not in somebody’s yard.”

To enjoy the best landscapes, you can drive around the island with a car or even with a bike since the land is relatively flat, so it’s not uncommon to see visitors explore the island just with bikes. 

You can also see migrating birds during summer by hiking around Furillen island that is around 15 minutes away from Valleviken.  

Last but not least, you can get to know the history of Gotland by going to the Bunge Open-air Museum in Fårösund, which is 56 km north of Visby, and visit the farms that show how locals between the 17th and 19th centuries used to live. 

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