Why you should visit Gotland, Sweden’s holiday island

It’s summer and that means many Swedes will head off to the country’s largest island and one of its most popular holiday destinations, the island of Gotland in the Batic Sea.

The medieval town of Visby is a highlight of Gotland, Sweden
Pic: Roger W (CC)

South of Stockholm, between Sweden and Lativa, it’s a pretty place with sandy beaches, rural scenery and a lively vibe in summer, when it attracts young Swedes from all over the country on holiday.

Is Gotland worth visiting?

Yes, it most certainly is. Swedes flock here in the summer – and for good reason. Its main settlement is the medieval UNESCO-protected town of Visby, with its fascinating Viking-era history, and some great cafés and restaurants.

The rest of the island has plenty to explore too, from underground caves to sandy beaches, pretty countryside and forests to freshwater lagoons for swimming.

What does Gotland mean?

Gotland means literally Homeland of the Goths, who settled here and in several neighbouring islands as far back as the Stone Age.

The island became a major trading centre in the sixth century under the Vikings, then became wealthier still in the twelth century when Visby became one of the most important citites of the Hanseatic League.

The limestone rock stacks of Långhammars are a great reason to visit Gotland
Pic: Rauks (CC)

How big is Gotland?

At 180km long and 52km wide, Gotland is Sweden’s largest island.

It’s pretty flat, so a great way to explore it is by bike. Once out of Visby, there are plenty of small winding rural roads and tracks that are perfect for cycling – and if you’re feeling particularly energetic, you can tackle the Gotslandleden, a 500km cycle path that circumnavigates the entire island from Fårö in the north to the southern tip.

What should I visit in Gotland?

The picturesque town of Visby is one of Scandinavia’s best-preserved medieval settlements, with a warren of cobbled alleyways, timbered buildings and pastel cottages.

It’s well worth doing the 3.5km walk round the well-preserved Ringmuren, the thirteenth-century towns walls and ramparts that surround the town centre.

The beautiful town of Visby is one of Gotland's highlights
Marie Sahlén (CC)

And to really get an idea of the island’s wealth in Viking times, drop in to the Gotlands Fornsal Museum, and marvel at the world’s largest hoard of Viking silver, found in a field in Gotland in 1999.

More natural highlights include the vast Lummelundagrottan cave, with its stalactites and stalagmites; the limestone rock stacks of Långhammars, off the island of Fårö at Gotland’s northern tip.

Also worth trying is Den Blå Lagunen (the Blue Lagoon), a former stone quarry, which offers a lovely lake with crystal clear water for swimming.

How many days do I need in Gotland?

You can easily see Gotland’s sights in three days – one day for Visby; one for the caves and the northern island of Fårö; and one to explore the south of island.

But, part of the joy of visiting Gotland is to take things slowly, meander around the country lanes by bike, chill out on the beaches and stroll through orchards and woods – so if you can spare a week, you’ll really appreciate the relaxed vibe of the island.

There are plenty of beaches and hikes on the lovely island of Gotland
Pic: Tīna Jegermane (CC)

What is the best time to visit Gotland?

Summer, of course, has the best weather and the warmest water for swimming, but it’s also the busiest time of the year.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the influx of young Swedes gives the island a youthful, buzzing vibe and makes it a fun place to hang out.

You may want to avoid week 29 (late July) though, known as “Stockholm Week”, when Visby is overrun by wealthy kids from the capital who party hard all week.

The beach clubs Kallis and the Tofta Resort are the epicentre of the action, with rich kids overspending and even pouring champagne onto the floor (yes, really).

The second week of August is busy too, when Medieval Week brings music, street stalls, dancing, jousting, fire-juggling, processions and plenty of dressing up in Medieval clothing to the island.

If you’d rather see the island at a quieter time, May and September can still see decent weather and are altogether more peaceful; accommodation is cheaper then too.

How do I get to Gotland?

There are two ways of getting to Gotland: by plane or by ferry. It’s a 30–40 minute flight from Stockholm to the island’s airport, 4km south of Visby: both SAS and Norwegian fly the route.

Pic: mandisse (CC)

However, most people arrive by ferry, which docks in the centre of Visby and is operated year-round by Destination Gotland.

There are two ferry routes, both of which take 3–3hr 30min: one leaves from Nynäshamn, south of Stockholm, and one from Oskarshamn, in Småland on the east coast.

Where can I stay on Gotland?

There are plenty of accommodation options on Gotland, from converted manors in the country to beachside cabins and town-centre hostels.

Camping is hugely popular – on the outskirts of Visby, but right by the beach, the Visby Stranby campsite has glamorous glamping tents, sea-view cabins and cottages to rent, plus grassy pitches for tents and camper vans.

Or try the Liste Gård guest house, a converted barn in the middle of the countryside surrounded by beautiful gardens with a huge hot tub and bikes to rent.

There are some great places to stay on Gotland
Liste Gård guest house

If you want to be in the heart of the action, the Boende Visby has comfortable apartments with their own cooking facilities above a restaurant on a cobbled street in the old town.

Alternatively, you might find it cheaper to book a package (paketresa) with Destination Gotland, which includes accommodation (from camping to cottages or luxury hotels) plus ferry.

See also:
The best Swedish islands: our top 12
Camping in Sweden: the ultimate guide
The best places to visit in Sweden

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