Visby is one of the most remarkable towns in the Nordic countries. It is on the west coast of Sweden’s largest island Gotland in the Baltic Sea with about 23,000 citizens.
Visby is known for the city wall, the Cathedral and many church ruins. In 1995 the old city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. During the Swedish summer, from mid-June to mid-August, Visby is crowded. It is one of the best party cities in Sweden in the summer. Many Visby residents leave during these hectic months and let their apartments to visitors. During the rest of the year, the atmosphere is quite different.
Understand : Visby is on the western shore of Gotland, and is the only city on the island. The old city centre is encircled by a medieval city wall. The old city has an oblong shape along the shore, measuring some 2 km in length and half a km in breadth. It is often called “the city of roses and ruins”: roses thrive on the limestone island, and the city is filled with medieval ruins.
Around 900 AD, Visby became a hub for trading in the Baltic Sea, and it eventually became a member of the Hanseatic League. During the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries the city prospered, and several churches as well as a major defensive wall were constructed. Visby’s long period of decline began in 1361, when the Danish king Valdemar IV conquered Gotland and held Visby for ransom, threatening to pillage the city if he did not get three beer barrels filled with gold and silver. In the latter part of the 14th century Visby became a nest of a pirate organization called “The Victual Brothers”.
The Danes regained control over the island in 1409 and construction of the major fortification Wisborg started two years later. In 1525 the city was burnt by occupying Hanseatic troops. Much of the city was never re-built after this, and many of Visby’s ruins stem from this event. In the 17th century, Gotland became a part of Sweden rather than Denmark. In order to prevent Wisborg from falling into Swedish hands the castle was destroyed by Danish troops. In the latter part of the 19th century the city started growing due to industrialization and an emerging tourist industry, and eventually came to develop beyond the old city walls.
As the Pippi Longstocking movies were shot in Visby, and the original Villa Villekulla can be visited in Kneippbyn in the city outskirts, it is a great destination for Astrid Lindgren tourism. The city was also the model for the fictional setting of the Japanese movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service”.
Access : Coordinates: 57.634722, 18.299167 / By plane : Visby Airport (VBY IATA) (is located some 4 km north of central Visby). There are flights all year to Visby from Stockholm (Stockholm-Bromma Airport and Stockholm-Arlanda Airport), Gothenburg, Angelholm and Nykoping. During the summer you can usually fly to various destinations such as Oslo, Hamburg, Riga, Helsinki and Orebro.
By ferry : Destination Gotland runs domestic ferry lines from Nynashamn and Oskarshamn to Visby.
By boat : Visby port is located in the south-western part of central Visby. From the Swedish mainland, Destination Gotland runs ferries from Nynashamn and Oskarshamn to Visby. You can bring your car. In the summer some Baltic Sea cruises also include Visby.
Visby Marina : There is a lively marina in Visby centre :
Visby Marina . Reception 08:00–21:00. 170–460 kr for normal yachts depending on length and width, 300 kr for yachts 11–14m (36–46 ft) < 4m electricity 54 kr for 10A.
Visby is some 35 nautical miles from Oland or the Swedish coast, some 60 from the Stockholm archipelago (Landsort), so a full day of sailing. There is little shelter except from the mainland and Gotland itself. The coast of Gotland is exposed, with only some harbours.
The port of Visby is tight and busy in the summer. You are advised to check the ferry timetables and listen on VHF 16, and adjust arrival and departure accordingly. Be alert and apply good seamanship.
The 250 berths are distributed between the inner harbour, the north breakwater and the fishing harbour to the right of the entrance. There is often a boat meeting visitors to assist in finding a berth. There are quays also for big vessels. A few berths can be booked, but mostly you just show up and will find or be showed a berth. At the big events, check the situation beforehand.
Get around : The inner city (Old Town), which is located within the city walls, is small enough to be covered by foot. The rest of the city is easy to get around by bike and has plenty of good bike paths.
By foot : Visby is best enjoyed by foot, especially the Old Town, located within the city wall. / By bicycle : During the summer there are usually plenty of bike rentals, but they can be expensive, if you’re staying for a longer period purchasing a used bike might be a cheaper option. / By bus : There are several bus lines going out to the rest of the island, check the timetable before heading out though.
By car : During the summer cars are not allowed within the city walls. There are parking options free of charge, though a small parking fee is usually required in the city center. / By taxi : Like the rest of Sweden, taxis can be expensive, and are best for short trips when you are unable to get around otherwise. / By sightseeing train :
There are a few sightseeing “trains” – practically a couple of trailers with seats and roofs pulled by a vehicle making tours around the old town with an audio guide playing through the speakers. Tours take about 30 minutes and tickets typically cost 65 kr/person.
Highlights : Note that many of the town’s attractions are only open during the summer months, usually until Aug 30th.
- Old Town
- City wall (Visby stadsmur, Ringmuren). Built during the 13th and 14th centuries, Visby’s city wall stretches almost 3.5 km and stands 11 m high. Today, 36 towers and three main gates remain.
- DBW’s Botanical Gardens. Enter through the “Door of Love” to this picturesque garden of trees and ruins.
- Klinten. Once the workers’ quarter and now a popular spot to take in the view over the lower town, Klinten is an attractive maze of small, rose covered, homes.
- Visborg Castle Ruins, Sodra Slottsgrand 4. A major fortress built in the early 15th century. It was demolished by Danish forces in 1679 in when it became clear that Gotland would fall into Swedish hands.
- Visby Cathedral (St. Maria church), Vastra Kyrkogatan. Built in the early 13th century.
- Church ruins in the Old Town : St.Katarina ruins next to Stora Torget
- Visby once had many more churches, but most of them were destroyed in a major fire in 1525. Today the ruins of these remain as attractions.
- St. Clemens ruins, Smedjegatan 3.
- St. Gerturde ruins, S:ta Gertruds grand 6./ St. Hans & St. Per ruins. The ruins of two connected churches
- St.Katarina ruins (St. Karin ruins), Stora Torget 2./ St. Nicolaus ruins, Smedjegatan 19./ St. Olof ruins (located in the Botanical Gardens).
- Museums: Gotlands Museum, Strandgatan 14. Museum of local history (Fornsalen), plus a science museum for children (Fenomenalen). 80-100 kr./ Gotlands Konstmuseum, S:t Hansgatan 21. Tu-Su 12:00-16:00. Entrance: 40-50 kr, or it’s included in the fee for Gotlands Museum above. Art museum.
Fenomenalen Science Centre, Skeppsbron 4-6. Th F 12:00-16:00, Sa Su 11:00-16:00. A children oriented theme park teaching natural sciences, technology and mathematics. 70 kr per person.
2 Kotteland, Langs vag 2. 10:00-18:00 daily. A children’s play land with ball pools, inflatables, trampolines, slides and laser tag. 100 kr per child.
3 Kneippbyn, Kneippbyn 11 (3 km south of central Visby). 12:00-17:00 during summer. A summer resort village containing a waterpark and an amusementpark with some 40 attractions, including the original “Villa Villekulla”-building from the “Pippi Longstocking” movies. 200-250 kr (Varies over the season).
4 Selma City Spa, Strandgatan 6, M Su 11:00-18:00, Tu-Th 11:00-19:00, F Sa 11:00-20:00. A spa and massage centre. A day pass to the spa is 400 kr. A 50-minute treatment is 800 kr.
The politicians’ week, (Almedalsveckan) takes place in the Almedalen park in Visby, first week of July. All political parties and organizations meet for debates and seminars, most of it open to the public mostly in Swedish, but some in English. Big media coverage.
Stockholm week, (Stockholmsveckan) is a week of clubbing and partying in mid July when Visby is filled with youths, many of which come from the Swedish capital Stockholm.
Medieval Week (Medeltidsveckan), a large feast during a whole week in the beginning of August every year. Visitors dress in medieval clothes while visiting the medieval market or the jousting tournament. The feast is concentrated to Visby, but arrangements are held on all of Gotland. 2018 is the 35th anniversary. Visby is crowded during this week, and venues and connections are heavily booked
Go next : Gotland island / Stockholm / Uppsala / Oskarshamn on the coast of Smaland.