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Gotland

Travel Guide 2021

First and foremost, an unusually mild climate for the region and the resulting diversity of nature: imposing cliffs and grotesque limestone columns, picturesque white sandy beaches, but also forests and many lakes. In addition to this natural diversity, however, there is also a cultural diversity, which is reflected above all in the capital Visby. Visby is a protected monument and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its many buildings from the Middle Ages. In addition, there are many festivals and events, including one of the largest medieval festivals in the north. And also: the Villa Kunterbunt.

The island of Gotland

Gotland is a Swedish island in the south of the country. It is the second largest island in the whole Baltic Sea with an area of almost 3000 km² and about 57,000 inhabitants. It owes its name to the famous Germanic tribe of the Goths, who founded large empires throughout the Mediterranean during the Migration Period. Today the island belongs with some other smaller islands to the Swedish province Gotlands län. The capital of Gotland is Visby, which is also the capital and administrative seat of the province. It is also the most populous city on the island by a very clear margin.

In large parts the island consists of a limestone plateau. In the south, however, large parts stand on sandstone formations. With about 50 lakes Gotland is in this point in no way inferior to the Swedish mainland. Four of these lakes are also larger than one square kilometre. The highest point of the island is about 82 m.

Gotland’s flora and fauna are exceptionally diverse. This is especially true of the many species of orchids and birds. There are also several nature reserves on the island, including Uppstaig, which has a primeval forest character, and Torsburg Castle, which is one of the largest prehistoric ramparts in Scandinavia. One of the oldest species of sheep in Sweden is the Gutes sheep. In the past, seal hunting was very common on and from Gotland.

History and culture of Gotland

Gotland was settled 8000 years ago. The skeletal remains that indicate this are thus among the oldest finds in all of Sweden. Already before the Viking Age, but also during and far after it, the island – and especially the capital Visby – was an important trading place, where more and more merchants from other regions settled. Among them were many German merchants, who even had a significant influence on the city’s design. In the course of several conflicts and wars Gotland was alternately under the rule of Sweden and Denmark. The line of conflict was often drawn between the capital, which was dominated by trade and merchants, and the rural population of the rest of the island.
Gotland finally lost its special importance for Baltic trade with the advent of larger and heavier handfelships, for which the island’s bays were too shallow and thus could no longer function as natural harbours.

Linguistically, Gotlandic (the gutamål) was originally a distinct Scandinavian language. Today, however, it more or less refers to a Swedish dialect spoken on Gotland.

As an island, it was also strongly characterised by fishing villages, of which there are still around 150 in varying sizes. Eleven of these fishing villages are also listed.
Another important feature of the island’s image are the many country churches, which usually date back to the Middle Ages. Of these, almost a hundred churches are well preserved.

Due to its special geography, the island’s important economic factors included not only trade and fishing, but also marl and clay quarrying and the stone and cement industries. Today, limestone is mined only in very few places. However, there is still a cement factory near the village of Slite – the largest in Sweden.

For tourists

Gotland is also a very popular holiday destination among Swedes. This is mainly due to the mild climate. Especially young people or bicycle tourists often visit the island. This is also due to the many events and festivals that take place on Gotland throughout the year. One of these is the Medieval Week (Swedish: Medeltidsveckan), which always takes place in the 32nd calendar week of each year. The programmes and performances are spread all over the island, but the capital Visby is the centre: the UNESCO World Heritage Site with its many medieval buildings is transformed into the Visby of 1361. During the week, up to 40,000 visitors come to the spectacle and many of them dress up in medieval costumes. Besides many markets, jugglers and music, the highlights include various jousting tournaments.

In July there is also the Olympics of Gotland, which is a kind of Highland Games and includes the disciplines of tree trunk throwing, stone throwing and high jump. There are also many other events throughout the year.

Apart from that, the island invites to many discovery tours. On the one hand, it offers beautiful white sandy beaches with bathing possibilities and on the other hand, picturesque steep cliffs. Thus, after a bathing day at the almost tropical beach, it is easily possible to spend the next day hiking at typical northern cliffs. But also the inland offers many hiking possibilities. Numerous nature trails and forests invite you to explore a nature rich in species. There are also several nature reserves, where you can sometimes find forests with a primeval forest character.

A special natural attraction is the so-called Rauken. These are artistic, idiosyncratic and sometimes somewhat bizarre limestone columns that reach a height of over 10 metres. The highest is the “Jungfrun” with its 27 meters, which can be found on a cliff near the village of Lickershamn. Other of these rockets sometimes look like proud warriors looking out to sea – or seem to be stepping straight out of the sea. They can also be found on the rocky beaches at Langhammars and Digerhuvud, in the east at Ljugarn and in the south at Hoburgen.

So it is worthwhile

Gotland has a lot to offer. For nature lovers and culture enthusiasts alike. The special thing about the island is probably its ambivalence: wild cliffs on one side, almost tropical beaches on the other. A small town almost from the Middle Ages and wild, diverse nature in the interior. Many festivals and events that attract crowds from all over Europe and lonely nature trails and hiking trails, nature reserves that lead to real virgin forests.
So there is a lot to discover on the island and friends of Nordic nature and culture will get their money’s worth here. From the fortified castles and the almost completely preserved city walls of Visby to the imposing limestone columns on the coast.

The most popular destinations in Gotland

Gotland Guide

Explore Gotland and find information on what to do and where to stay.