I had heard so many stories about Gotland that it quickly became one of the first places I wanted to visit when I first started coming to Sweden.
“It’s nothing like the rest of Sweden, it’s got a unique climate and unique nature, like nothing else in Europe.” Were the sort of things people told me about this small island off the east coast of Sweden.
In each article of the Staycation series, we explore different locations in Sweden where you can travel to, for a holiday style getaway without leaving the country. In this edition we took to Gotland for a cultural and adventurous getaway and this is our report.
With its total area of 3,183.7 km2, one would think that spending 2 weeks traveling and getting to know the different areas of Gotland would be too much time, but it wasn’t. There is so much to see and each and every corner of it is so different from anything else you have ever seen, especially if you visit it during the summer months when the nights are endless and the night sky has that other-wordly looking shine.
Visby is the island’s main city and arrival port. It is a medieval walled town with a lot of history due to its importance back in the days as a strategical trading facility. Many merchants made Visby their pit stop when coming from afar before reaching Sweden and other key points in Scandinavia. Nowadays Visby is known as the city of roses due to the many alleys and courtyards so beautifully adorned with these flowers.
During the summer Visby is so full of life that it feels like everyday there are street parties almost around every corner, all the restaurants and bars with their outdoor sitting areas filled with people soaking up sun-rays. The best way to go around Visby is by foot or by bike.
During my visit I went to the Gotlands Bryggeri (Gotland’s brewery) and took a tour around to see how they make their ales and stouts, as well as to hear the many stories about how they came to be. It’s a small brewery, but I enjoy their brews so much and every year they have a special summer edition beer that you can hardly find anywhere else but at Visby brewery and at selected pubs in Visby. We had the chance to try it fresh from its cask… Oh yes, the brewery tour includes a beer tasting!
The best way to take yourself around Visby is by bike and I do recommend you to go around its medieval walls, then into the city and across its botanical garden and ending up by the sea having a picnic and a swim, before going in to your hotel to get ready for the night, as the bars and clubs light up the streets for party-goers all week long during the summer days.
Don’t forget to check Visby’s many medieval cathedral ruins and visit the medieval Gallows of Galgberget before leaving the city.
Slite is another place of interest on Gotland. It is a very small village, but with a great deal of fantastic nature to see if you appreciate hikes and bike tours. In Slite you’ll find windmills surrounded by flower beds and green hills overlooking the bay’s beaches and playground areas.
Around Slite’s seashores you will find Asunden, a natural reserve of oversized rauks. These are column-like landformations in whimsical shapes, sometimes as tall as 5m. They are fantastic to see and to photograph too. Me and my husband visited Asunden and took the chance to practice our little hobby of light painting photography after dark. The rauks have already a mystical feel to themselves and they definitely rendered our photographs even more magical.
Gotland is also famous for its sandy beaches, with fine golden sand where holiday makers can plant their umbrellas and towels and plunge into the sea as if they were in the Medieterranian or the Caribbean. It does get very windy by the sea, but that would never stop a Swede! Beaches we can recommend are Ljugarn, Sudersand on Fårö, offering 5 km of fine sand, Tofta also known as THE party beach and Sandviken.
Driving across Gotland’s stunning landscapes you will find how much life peacefully grows and thrives there. You’ll see fields with growing corn, cattle, stunning landscapes of sea colliding with land. And you should drive around and make it all the way to Fårö, which is a small island off the north side of Gotland. Both are practically attached, but they’re independent territories. Fårö has its own kind of beauty and mysticism. I recommend you to visit Ingmar Bergman’s museum and learn a thing or two you didn’t know about the legendary film maker’s surreal world. Take the chance to also visit Fårö’s farmers market and try their delicious cheese and honey.
We stayed at the bed & breakfast adjacent to Crêperie Tati at the famous Kutens Bensin in Fårö, it is a very amusing place. I find that the right word to describe it. The accommodation has a mashup of decorations from different eras and dates, surreal on their own, an astral dream all together. The crêperie has delicious crepes, talleres and other treats, as well as teas and coffees. They use locally sourced ingredients. Then you have Kutens Bensin, a very cool restaurant and bar surrounded by a garden of rusting old cars and fridges. This place is a celebration to all things odd and you’re going to love it!
You should then travel to Stora Karlsö, yes, another island within the island of Gotland. It is the biggest bird mountain in the Baltic Sea area and it offers an unforgettable nature experience. You should take the last ferry there and book yourself for a night’s stay at Stora Karlsö’s lighthouse. You will be greeted by the island’s staff together with the few other guests, no more than 15 people are allowed to stay on the island per night. It literally feels like arriving into Jurassic Park, with all the precautions and the seriousness you’re adviced with. This island is a jewel through-and-through. The flora and fauna that coexist there will not be found anywhere else on Gotland, let alone elsewhere in Sweden. During July a very special bird comes to nest on Stora Karlsö’s cliff’s jaded walls, the auks – penguins of the north, an endangered species. You can see their chicks hatching out of their eggs if you are brave enough to get close to the cliff’s edges. Also, its entire shoreline is made out of fossils, which you are completely forbidden to pick up to take home.
If you hike around the island during different times of the day, you get to see its true colours. Then have dinner at Stora Karlsö’s one and only restaurant for a fantastic culinary experience. Their dishes are designed with only locally sourced ingredients.
Talking about appetizing experiences, I cannot leave without mentioning an almost lost in the midst of Gotland small Mexican corner called Gothems Cantina y Casitas. This is the restaurant with the most authentic Mexican cuisine I have ever tried in the whole of Scandinavia. Their enchiladas and their margaritas made me drive there 3 times during my whole 2 week stay on the island and it was so much worth it every time. And you should take my word for it, as I am Mexican and know what I’m talking about! One of their secrets is that they source the corn locally and they do the whole nistamalisation process of it to produce their own corn tortillas and nachos, the core of every Mexican taco dish. This is the key ingredient that Cantina y Casitas exclusively has.
Gotland is marvellous and it lived up to its reputation of being a place that can not be compared with any place else you have seen or imagined in Sweden. And I would definitely go back and do it all over again any time!
If you still want to see more, here’s a short video about Gotland by Visit Sweden for you to enjoy.