While Gotland is Sweden’s main holiday island, it’s capital, Visby is also a popular port of call on Baltic cruises. Gotland is the largest island in the Baltic, some 78 miles long and 35 miles wide. Most cruise passengers don’t see much more than the medieval old town of Visby, which is lovely. Beyond Visby’s gates, however, are wild orchids, strange cliff formations called raukar, Lummelunda’s stalactite caves, bird sanctuaries of the penguin-like guillemots, Sweden’s key sheep farming area, good shopping and eating, and even a vintage car museum. Gotland’s history stretches back to 5000BC, when people were first known to reside here.
Visby is surrounded by its stately medieval limestone fortifications, a testament to its wealth and power as one of the leading member cities of the Hanseatic League. Today about 2 miles of the wall remains, along with over 40 towers and gates. Within the walls are ruins of churches alongside colorful half-timber and thatched cottages, rose-lined alleys, unusual botanical garden, and a lovely history and art museum. The history museum has a fine exhibit of Viking memorabilia and medieval artwork. Visby’s cathedral, still in use though refurbished over the centuries, sports interesting gargoyles.
In summer, Gotland’s white sandy beaches beckon a visitor to jump in and enjoy the warm water. Visby’s seafront promenade is beautifully located between the sea and the medieval city wall. And if you’re lucky enough to be here during the annual medieval week festivities with knights on horseback and many decked out in costumes, you might think you took a turn back in time. No part of Sweden is said to have so many ancient monuments covering a wide range of periods. Gotland is also a cycler’s paradise, and bike rentals can be arranged. Even for a day on a Baltic cruise, however, a visit to Visby is delightful.