Before arriving in Visby with the ferry from Oskarshamn on the Swedish east coast, I had heard good things about Gotland, an island home to around 57,000 residents and visited by more than 800,000 people a year, but still didn’t quite know what to expect.
I spent a couple of warm July days here and discovered why so many locals and regular visitors believe there’s something magical about Gotland.
You can tell a lot about a city from its food. And Visby has more high quality restaurants on such a small space than any other city in Sweden. During my first hour in town I caught a bus from the harbor to the bus station and followed the winding, cobblestoned streets to Stortorget Square, where aroma from oven-baked pizzas and Italian pasta drifted through the air. Apart from the many outdoor restaurants on Stortorget, check out the well-liked café Ett rum för resande, award winning 50 Kvadrat with a Swedish-based kitchen influenced from the whole world and Visby’s cosiest crêperie.
It is not rare to hear of someone who moved to Gotland to realize their dream of opening a small interior shop, a cozy café, a handicraft studio or gallery. Thanks to Visby’s shop owners, designers, creators and entrepreneurs, the city is filled with a personal energy and atmosphere whispering that anything is possible. No dream is too anything to fulfil. Visby will gladly find the space for more creative people. Successful examples include Kafé Vinäger, Café H10, Butik Fåfängan and Bertholdsson & Holm, all located along the shopping street Hästgatan, as well as Akantus Design & Interior on S:t Hansplan and Grafikgruppen, a graphic art workshop with gallery.
One aspect of the creative climate is present in the range of art throughout Gotland. Throughout the ages, the light of the island has attracted dedicated artists, from watercolor painters of the early 19th century to the Swedes who returned from Paris in the 1880s. Works by artists who discovered the beauty and joy of painting outdoors were featured in The Gotland Light exhibition at Gotland’s Art Museum. The museum presents a selection of the last century’s most famous Gotlandish artists and craftsmen as well as temporary exhibitions with contemporary art, design and crafts.
Later along Södra Kyrkogatan shopping street I found Hedbergs Bok & Musikkafe, a book and music café whose cellar café displayed half-surrealist art by Swedish digital artist Bengt Olov Andersson. The artist himself who sat in a chair outside asked if I liked the exhibit. I learned that Bengt-Olov Andersson spent 20 years in southern France and southern England plus 20 years in Danish Grenaa before returning to Sweden. Now he has a studio in Visby, where he creates photos of 10-15 layers of color – a real visual treat.
A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1995, the Hanseatic city of Visby was once the most powerful city in the Baltic Sea and is known for its treasures from the Viking time. In the 1800s Visby was one of Sweden’s first tourist towns. More than 200 medieval houses and 17 churches remain today. Gotland itself has as many 92 well-preserved and functioning churches.
Adelsgatan, the city’s oldest shopping street, which grew as a shopping street when the railway came in 1878, is worth walking end to end despite its touristy feel with souvenir shops and seemingly endless stream of visitors in summer. More fascinating, however, are all the church ruins in the city plus Visby Cathedral, originally built as a guest church for German businessmen. The stairs next to the church leads to a hill with a view of the northern parts of town. Not least, Visby ring wall. Built to protect the city, the 11 meter high wall surrounded by moats is almost 3,5 km long with three main entrances and more than 50 towers.
Plenty of Party
Kallis, voted Europe’s Best Beach Club by Sunday Times London last year, attracts visitors from Sweden, southern Europe, the US and Brazil, Gutekällaren is known as the number one party temple, Hamnplan 5 with three dance floors, five bars and a newly built live stage is one of the town’s largest nightclubs, and summer evenings at legendary Burmeister turns from a casual outdoor restaurant into a lively meeting place with the country’s largest dance floor. In other words, Visby is not short of party spots.
Where to Stay
Best Western Strand Hotel
For a central stay near sights and party spots in Visby, book a room at Best Western Strand Hotel located inside the city wall. Originally Visby Brewery, and the largest brewery on Gotland between 1854 and 1977, the building of Strand Hotel first opened as a hotel by Angelica and Magnus Wiman in 1982. Under the name Hotel Bryggaregården with 13 rooms, the hotel expanded gradually, all with the owner’s personal design, into what is today a four-star hotel with a natural blend of history and modernity.
Single rooms are furnished for comfort, whether you travel for leisure or business. All double rooms were decorated after the five quarters the hotel is situated in. Some double rooms have Bliss beds for extra comfort. My double room, on a higher floor, featured an individual design like almost every one of the 110 rooms and suites. I loved the large bed, the white flowery curtains, and the view over Visby’s rooftops. Superior rooms offer Jacuzzi or sauna, with private balcony as a choice. For more luxurious spaces, Strand Hotel has two one-level suites, and one three-floor bridal suite.
From 3pm, complimentary coffee and tea is served in the elegant lobby. The area with a generous selection of newspapers and magazines opposite the reception invites to reading and conversations. An adjacent cozy library will please any book lover, and relax facility with steam room, sauna and small indoor pool provides calm after a day out in Visby.
The breakfast buffet caters to many tastes with a variety of bread, muesli, cornflakes, and other common Swedish staples plus sweet choices of chocolate or berry muffins. Bonus for the soy milk for vegans and the option to microwave your own oat porridge.
Less positive aspects is the lack of Wi-Fi (all rooms have broadband internet access and guests can borrow network cables in the reception), and the high number of rooms decreases the personal feel of the space.
Best Western Strand Hotel accommodates different groups depending on season. Mainly tourists stay at Strand during June, July and August, while the period from late part of August until June is visited by foremost business travelers, workers, conference guests and groups.
A highlight for all guests is the hotel’s private top-floor terrace, ideal for some rest and relaxation with view over the medieval town of Visby and the sea in the distance.