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Swedes are travellers: roaming foreign lands is in their blood.

It is Viking blood, after all.

Stone depicting seafaring Vikings.

Stone depicting seafaring Vikings.

You’ll be hard pushed to travel far without running into a Swede or two. This is especially true of South East Asia, which becomes the Swedes’ playground during the European winter, and if you have spent a winter in Sweden you will understand why so many of them want to leave during the dark months.

Summer, however, is when Sweden wakes up. As soon as the spring buds burst into bloom, and the long summer nights brighten the sky, Sweden is transformed. Stony faces smile as the ice melts away, both literally and figuratively. You see, Swedes love their green and pleasant land—and her long, warm summers more than most. As the weather warms up, cities empty with a general migration towards summer cabins in the countryside.

Summer in Sweden is idyllic. 

Summer is when Sweden wakes up. Stony faces smile as the ice melts away, both literally and figuratively.

Many head to Gotland: an island that lies 90 km from the Swedish mainland on which Ingmar Bergman famously resided. The island is known for dramatic coastline; natural limestone sculptures; turquoise water; nature reserves; speciality lamb cuisine; and the medieval port town of Visby—a UNESCO World Heritage Site that holds a popular Medieval Week festival every August. It is only a 4-hour journey, by bus and ferry, from Stockholm.

Skyline view of Visby seen at dawn.

Skyline view of Visby seen at dawn.

Gotland does not just attract Swedes, but tourists from all across Scandinavia, as well as the neighbouring Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. It is undoubtedly one of Sweden’s prime tourist locations. The island becomes very busy during the summer, and was not quite in season for my trip there in early May.

Visby is a truly wonderful town to explore. Circled by exceptionally well-preserved walls, and retaining original cobbled streets, the town looks as it has for centuries. Planning permission is strict here; any new buildings have to fit in with the originals. A scattering of ruined abbey-like churches hint at Gotland’s long history. In early May there is warmth in the sun, but regular showers and a brisk Baltic breeze keeps the majority of tourists at bay for another month or two, creating a sense of privacy for the hardy few who make it there before high season.

Ruins of St Katarina

Ruins of St Katarina

It is easy to lose sense of time as you wander through narrow alleyways flanked on either side by tall townhouses painted in bright colours, or sitting inside one of the countless restaurants trying out Gotland lamb, something of a speciality in Sweden.

Visby architecture

Visby architecture

Visby architecture

Visby architecture

You can stroll around the city walls, a pleasant walk that takes you past the coastline outside of Visby, and offers you sporadic views across the town with the distinctive ruin of St Katarina church at the pinnacle. You could easily spend a few hours in Gotland Museum (which I will write about in another post), or eat ice-cream at Visby Glass; a large ice-cream parlour that offers Smurf and Harry Potter flavours amongst the regular favourites.

Walking around the city walls.

Walking around the city walls.

City walls seen from under the bridge.

City walls seen from under the bridge.

The walls are just so photogenic.

The walls are just so photogenic.

I stayed at a hotel just inside the city walls, which I won’t name as I don’t want you to think that this is a sponsored post, but for a mid-range hotel it provided an excellent breakfast and had a pool, sauna and steam room—the perfect way to unwind after a day of walking up all those steep hills!

Low Season is the perfect time to get the pool to yourself!

Low Season is the perfect time to get the pool to yourself!

If you’d like to visit Visby then you can take the ferry from Nynashämn – a 50 minute train or bus ride from Stockholm’s Central station. The ferry takes 3 hours. Medieval Week will take place on the 3rd-10th August, 2014. Booking in advance is recommended. Visby is great to visit any other time of year too!

Have you heard of Gotland? Would you like to visit Visby? Please leave a comment in the space below.

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