Gotland is Sweden's largest island, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Some 60,000 people live here all year. Together with some minor islands it forms the Gotland province, Gotland Municipality and Gotland County.
With a peculiar dialect, a glorious history and a scenery very different from mainland Sweden, the island has a spirit of independence.
- 1 Visby — the only city, around 20,000 inhabitants, crowded during summers. Is on UNESCO's World Heritage list as an "outstanding example of a Northern European walled Hanseatic town which has in a unique way preserved its townscape and its extremely valuable buildings, which in form and function clearly reflect this significant human settlement".
Regions and minor islands
- 1 Northern Gotland includes the towns Slite and Fårösund as well as limestone quarry lagoons and the Lummelunda cave.
- 2 Central Gotland includes the towns Roma, Ljugarn and Klintehamn, and mainly consists of farmlands and forests with many churches and medieval ruins.
- 3 Southern Gotland includes the town Hemse and Burgsvik and has beautiful beaches with the most famous rauks.
- 4 Fårö — A smaller island just off the northern coast of the main island. Known for its high concentration of rauks and sand beaches.
- 5 Gotska Sandön — A national park island 40 km (25 mi) north of Gotland.
- 6 Karlsöarna — Stora Karlsö is one of the world's oldest nature preserves, second only to Yellowstone National Park. The islands are definitely worth a day's visit. Situated outside of Klintehamn.
Gotland is said to be the homeland of the legendary Goths, who migrated through Central Europe sacked the Roman Empire during the 5th century AD. Medieval Gotland language has many similarities with the Gothic language, though there are no first-hand historical records that the Goths really came from Gotland. In its early history, Gotland was an independent kingdom and still today, the older generations do not regard themselves as Swedes - they are nothing but Gotlanders.
The island's early history is commemorated through picture stones (bildstenar).
Gotland was a central location of the Viking Age of the 8th to 11th centuries. While the true Vikings (pirates or mercenaries) were not from Gotland, many people on the island were sailing merchants; farmaðr. During the Hanseatic period in the Middle Ages, Visby and Gotland was an important stop on the trade routes on the Baltic Sea. The island lost its role after a Danish war in the 14th century. One of the best-known events of the island's history was Danish king Valdemar Atterdag's ransom for Visby, where he demanded large amounts of gold and silver to spare the city from being burnt down. The written records are unreliable, though.
As the Hanseatic League lost importance, the Danes took control over the island for 300 years, ending Gotland's golden age. The Dano-Swedish wars of the 16th and 17th centuries gave the Swedish Empire the dominant power of the Baltic Sea, and annexed Gotland. The island was a poor backwater until the late 19th century, as cement manufacturing, tourism and military presence gave the island a renaissance.
The island holds many medieval memories; old farmlands and more than 90 churches, all with different architecture.
Some of the residents still speak Gutnish (Swedish: Gutamål), the autochthonous language on Gotland and Fårö. Most speak Swedish or Gotlandic (gotländska), Swedish dialects with different degrees of influence from Gutnish. Characteristic are the many diphthongs (e.g rauk). Everybody understands standard Swedish, and virtually everyone but the oldest speaks English.
- 1 Visby Airport (VBY IATA) (just north of Visby). The easiest way to get to the city centre is by taxi. There is a special reduced price for travelling the airport-city centre. Approx. 10 minutes.
There are flights all year to Visby from Stockholm, Gothenburg and Linköping. During summer, there's also flights from Oslo and Ängelholm. A flight from Stockholm takes about 25 minutes, from Gothenburg about 50 minutes.
Destination Gotland runs ferries from Nynäshamn and Oskarshamn to Visby all year. You can also bring your car. This is the cheapest way to get to the island (i.e. price for a passenger with bike oscillates around 500 kr). The ferry takes about three hours. The harbour is in the very centre of Visby. From spring 2024 they are also going to cruise Stockholm–Mariehamn–Visby.
Gotland is a natural destination for boating on the Baltic Sea. Safe natural harbours are few if any, but there is an adequate number of guest harbours spread along the coasts, the most busy in Visby centre.
Several international cruise lines call at Gotland.
The easiest way to see the island is by car. There are several car rentals in Visby.
There are also bus services from Visby to all parts of the island, but be sure to bring a timetable before you leave Visby, since many bus stops are served only a few times per day. See Kollektivtrafiken[dead link] and Resrobot (a search engine for all public transport inside Sweden). There is Ridango Gotland mobile app to search timetables and buy tickets.
Gotland is Sweden's largest island, but still only about 120 km from north to south and 50 km across, and with relatively short distances between different sites of interest. Most roads are paved and the hills are few. Therefore, cycling is an alternative to driving. Bikes can be brought from mainland on the ferry, or rented at arrival to the island (or later, if you go to a suitable location). Gotlandsleden is a marked (red square signs with white bicycle) bicycle route that takes you all around the island and includes Fårö. You can get free map (enough for cycling) from tourist information center in Visby Donners square. The map you can buy in a ferry (by Norstedts) is pretty useless to cycle Gotlandsleden, because it contains errors.
- TaxiKurir Gotland, ☏ . Smart phone app offers address based routing and calculates price according to them.
There are over 90 medieval churches on the island. While old churches in mainland Sweden have typically been expanded or renovated several times having few original pieces, most of Gotland's churches haven't been modernised since the 15th century.
Fantastic rock formations (Raukar) are found along the island's coast. These natural sculptures are made out of lime stone and created as surrounding "softer" minerals have been eroded by the sea. The most famous are probably the biggest, Jungfrun, near Lickershamn, Hunden ("the dog") at Gamle hamn, and Hoburgsgubben, said to resemble a human face, near Gotland's southern tip. The largest rauk field is the Bjärge one on Fårö.
Archaeological sites include a Viking age burial field at the Gamle hamn rauk field on Fårö, and the Stavgard 10th century village ruin where the master house was 60 metres long, with a modern replica of the village.
- From Visby going south towards Klintehamn and Burgsvik. Nice coastal roads.
- From Visby going north towards Fårösund.
Gotland is a fine destination for cyclists and popular with groups or families traveling by bicycle and staying in hostels or campgrounds.
- The politicians' week, (Almedalsveckan) takes place in the Almedalen park in Visby during early July. All political parties and organizations meet for debates and seminars, most of it open to the public. Big media coverage.
- The Bergman Week is an event on Fårö in late June or early July celebrating the famous Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, who spent many summers on Gotland.
- Stockholmsveckan is a week of wild parties in Visby during mid-July.
- Medieval Week (Medeltidsveckan), a large feast during a whole week in the beginning of August every year. Visitors dress in medieval clothes while visiting the medieval market or the jousting tournament. The feast is concentrated to Visby, but arrangements are held on all of Gotland. 2023 will be the 40th anniversary. Visby is crowded during this week.
- See also: Nordic cuisine
Some typical dishes from Gotland are:
- Many types of lamb. A speciality is sheep's head (lambskalle), but it is quite difficult to find it in restaurants.
- Dessert: Saffron pancake (Saffranspannkaka) with whipped cream and dewberry jam (locally called "salmbär").
If traveling by bike or car, buy ice cream, strawberries, and fish on the road (marked places) - you will please your day and support local people.
Visby and the resort towns have many restaurants. These tend to be crowded at summer.
Nightlife is concentrated to Visby, and most intense in summer.
- Gotlandsdricke - local alcoholic brew. Quite difficult to get in bars and restaurants – you have to know a Gotlander to get to taste it.
- Local beer: Wisby pils or Wisby Klosteröl.
There are some camping places, and you can sleep in countryside as well. A quite basic, but non-expensive camping is just north of Visby, near Nyhamn (arrow sign pointing to Kinnerstugan on the main road) - tent costs 60 kr, shower 10 kr.
Gotland is, like Sweden in general, a safe destination. Visby is crowded during summer, with elevated risk of pickpockets and drunk brawls.
The Baltic Sea can occasionally get stormy, and perilous for small boats.
As of the 2020s, Gotland has high military presence. Photographing military bases in detail might be prohibited, and it is advisable not to share pictures or other information concerning military activity.
- Fårö is a small island just north of Gotland, known by its Swedish feeling. Free ferries go there and back frequently from Fårösund.
- Nynäshamn located some 60 km (37 mi) south of Stockholm, it is one of the ports connected by ferry with Visby.
- Oskarshamn in Småland, the second port connected with Visby by ferries.
- Stockholm (Bromma Airport) is only 25 minutes away by plane.
- The Archipelago Sea in south-west Finland is two days away with a sailing yacht (150 nautical miles), over the Baltic Sea.
- Estonia; Sõru in Emmaste on Hiiumaa is 110 nautical miles away (Hiiumaa is Dagö in Swedish, because of the one-day voyage from Gotland).