A hidden gem in the Baltic Sea, a charming island full of roses, ruins and rauks (limestone formations) has been my home since 2022. Originally, I was enrolled for a one-year programme, but just after a month studying here I had a change of heart and decided to stay on this beautiful island!
This year I have arrived around the same time as I did last year, which was in mid-August, about a week before the start of the semester. Around that time, it is usually still very lively, warm and sunny here in Visby. All restaurants and bars are open, tourists from all over the world are strolling through the streets, having their meals or fika (Swedish coffee break) outside in the sun and buying typical goods and souvenirs. Sometimes it is even too crowded. This is due to the cruise ships, that bring in large groups of tourists, who often don’t stay longer than a few days except for the festivals or big events like Almedalen- or Medieval Week. Which is a pity considering that Gotland has so much more to offer than just Visby town. Seasonality is a worldwide phenomenon and challenge in the tourism sector, linked to the climate and holidays. The liveliness doesn’t last until low season, which is essentially all three seasons except summer.
Last year I didn’t manage to go to any restaurants and most cafés before low season hit, so most of them were closed by the time I finally had time aka was settled in. Simply, because I didn’t know. I guess one could argue it’s because I’m a city person, thus very used to having everything available almost 24/7. Well, that is certainly not the case in Visby, so I had to wait an entire year before I could try an ice cream at an ice cream store that offers over 200 flavours of gelato amongst other things. (I was off the island because of my internship, which made me miss the entire spring, different story.) In the end, I was disappointed as my expectations were so high after hanging on to that missed out chance for a year.
And I know for a fact I’m definitely not the only one here who is going through that struggle with seasonality. As a good sustainable tourism student, this of course inspired me to list some nice things that you can do during low-season on Gotland. Looking back, I was pretty lucky last year as I heard about Farö, a small island north of Gotland, in my first week of school. My new friends and I decided to rent a car from the gas station nearby and go on a small road trip adventure. We were lucky to catch one of the last sunny days, so we even went swimming on our way in the Blå Lagunen (Blue Lagoon), an artificial lake and former limestone quarry.
Later we had some tasty Räksmörgås, a typical Swedish sandwich with shrimps, and went to see the famous rauks that look like faces. Fun fact: The ferry company Destination Gotland even compares these face shaped rauks with the Moai statues, saying that you don’t need to travel that far or outside of Europe to go to the “Eastern Islands”. A little extreme but I like the idea behind it. See for yourself on the photos of the rauks below (photo on the left).
So this would be my top tip, rent a car and do a road trip around the island! I personally always rented from Wisby Biluthyring (car rental in Swedish). A manual car costs 480kr for an entire day with basic insurance (last update late August 2023). You’ll usually get it with and need to return with a full tank. As for destinations, the island Farö is a must-see, it is over 1h by car from Visby. In Farösund, there is a ferry that takes you to Farö in 10 min, it is for free and is going every 30min (from 5:30-21:30). On your way, you can check out the Blue Lagoon in Lärbro and/or the real lake Bästetrask close by.
Fårö and the rauks
On Fårö there is plenty to see. If you are interested in culture and history, the Farö Museum and Bergman Center about the famous film director Ingmar Bergman are worth a visit. And of course the rauks, there are numerous along the west coast.
These are the most famous rauks you can find on Gotland:
- Jungfrun in Lickershamn (North-west of Gotland)
- “The Dog” or “Kaffepannan in Gamlal Hamn (Old Harbour) nature reserve (Farö)
- Face rauks in Langhammar’s nature reserve (Farö)
- Rauk area in Folhammar (East of Gotland)
I’m very bumped that I still haven’t been to the last one in Folhammar, as I typically went to the northern part of Gotland, every time someone was visiting me or my friends.
There’s also a rauk not far from Visby, if you go north to Snäck. That one looks like a chimpanzee from the side (photo on the right).
Aside from rauks and ruins, you can find stone ship graves for even more viking vibes, and they are all scattered around the island.
In or around Visby there is also plenty to see! Walk along the city wall or along the coast, discover the botanical garden and lover’s gate, the Visby domkykra (cathedral) and Almedalen park. There are a lot of cute little shops with homemade crafts, for example on Adelsgatan which is one of the shopping streets within the city walls.
If you’re looking for something with a group of friends or classmates, go for a BBQ outside and enjoy another dreamy sunset. In winter, probably perfect with some Glögg (mulled wine). There are numerous public grill places, for example the one close to Campus Gotland at the ocean or on Galgenberget and Södra Hillarna. The latter is an amazing nature reserve, perfect to explore on a Sunday and also a great spot to show your (future) guests aka family and friends that visit! It’s south of Visby, around 30 min walk by foot to the official entrance. In the park you’ll find several BBQ spots, there’s no reservation schedule, it’s first come first serve. Btw this is how it looked in Södra Hillarna after a blizzard this March:
Finally, the reminder to have a good fika whether as study break or meeting with friends. Before coming here, I had no idea how big the Swedes are on their coffee and sweets. Trust me as a German I know strong coffee culture (especially in offices), but fikas are just next level. Go get yourself a kanelbullar (cinnamon bun) from a local café in town with some tea from Kränku – the Gotlandic tea shop, because you deserve it.
I hope this helps you all to go through the bit chillier and calmer time on Gotland. Most importantly, stay positive and don’t overwork yourself!
Over and out <3