The walled city of Visby -- a UNESCO World Heritage site -- is made for wandering and getting lost. The city is simply a marvel. From the middle of May to the middle of August, vehicles are banned in the Alstadt, or Old Town, so you'll have the cobbled streets to yourself.
If you're energized, you can walk the entire perimeter of the walls, the Ringmurer, a distance of 3.5km (2 1/4 miles). We've walked these walls, which are riddled with medieval gates and towers, at least a dozen times and we always find something new and enchanting. There is both a land wall and a sea wall, the latter 5.3m (17 ft.) tall. It was built as a fortification sometime in the late 1200s, incorporating an ancient gunpowder tower, the Kruttornet. The crenellated land wall is only 6m (20 ft.) high. Amazingly, a total of 27 of the original 29 towers of the Ringmurer are still standing.
Even though Visby is a good town for walkers, you may want to take one of the organized tours that are offered in season. Because so many of the sights, particularly the ruins of the 13th- and 14th-century churches, are better appreciated with some background, we recommend the tours that take 2 hours each and cost 95SEK ($19/£9.50) per participant. They're offered only in summer, between mid-June and mid-August. Between mid-June and mid-July, English-language tours are conducted every Wednesday and Saturday at 10am.
In town, you can walk about, observing houses from the Middle Ages, ruined fortifications, and churches. Notable among these is the Burmeisterska Huset, the home of the burmeister, or the leading German merchant, at Strandgatan 9. Or you can stroll down to the old Hanseatic harbor (not the same harbor in use today) and continue to the Botanical Gardens, which have earned for Visby the title "City of Roses." You'll pass two of the most famous towers in the old wall -- the Maiden's Tower (a peasant girl was buried alive here for helping a Danish king) and the Powder Tower (the oldest fortification in Visby).
In its heyday, little Visby boasted 17 churches. Only one, Domkyrkan (Cathedral of St. Mary), is in use today. Found at Kyrkberget, it was built with funds collected by German merchant ships, and was dedicated in 1225 -- though it didn't obtain its status as a "cathedral" until 1572. The so-called Swertingska chapel was added in 1349, with the blessing and permission of Pope Clement VI in Avignon. But the church was later damaged in four serious fires: in 1400, 1586, 1610, and 1744. The only original fixture left is a sandstone font from the 1200s. The towers of the church are considered Visby's landmarks; the tower at the western front is square, whereas two slimmer ones appear on the east. The interior is worth checking out, especially the fringe of grotesque angels' faces beneath the pulpit. Hours are daily 8am to 8pm and admission is free. For more information, call tel. 0498/20-68-00.
The ruins of the former Dominican Monastery of St. Nicholas are just down the road from Domkyrkan. Work began on the monastery in 1230, but it was destroyed by Lübeck forces in 1525. Still visible are remnants of the monastery church's rose window, cut from a single big stone, which is more than 3m (10 ft.) in diameter. For more information, call tel. 0498/20-68-00.
Another sightseeing recommendation is the impressive Gotlands Fornsal, the Historical Museum of Gotland, Strandgatan 14 (tel. 0498/29-27-00), on a medieval street noted for its step-gabled houses. We consider this one of the best regional museums in the country -- it's certainly among the largest, and you'll need to devote about 2 hours to it to take in the highlights. The museum contains artifacts discovered on Gotland, including carved stones dating from A.D. 400, art from medieval and later periods, plus furniture and household items. After five floors of exhibitions, and 8,000 years of history, we like to wind down at the on-site cafe and browse through the bookstore. It's open from May 15 to August daily 10am to 6pm, September to May 14 Tuesday to Sunday noon to 4pm. Admission is 75SEK ($15/£7.50) for adults, and free for children under 17.
On the Island
At the Turistbyrå, Skeppsbron 4-6 (tel. 0498/20-17-00), ask what island tours are scheduled during your visit; these daily tours (different every day) are the best way to get a quick overview of Gotland. The price can be as low as 70SEK ($14/£7) for a brief walking tour or as high as 550SEK ($110/£55) for a complete tour of the island by van.
One thing you can be sure of is that each tour will visit the Lummelunda Grottan, Lummelunds Bruk (tel. 0498/27-30-50), a karst cave formed of limestone bedrock by a subterranean stream. The explored part of the stream cave stretches for 4km (2 1/2 miles) and contains stalactite and stalagmite formations, fossil remains, and subterranean waters. The part of the cave with some of the biggest and most beautiful chambers is open to visitors. It's located 13km (8 miles) north of Visby along Route 149. A bus departs from Österport Visby from June 19 to August 14 daily at 2pm. The cave is open from May to June 25 daily 9am to 4pm, June 26 to August 14 daily 9am to 6pm, August 15 to September 14 daily 10am to 2pm (closed at other times). Visits on your own cost 90SEK ($18/£9) for adults, 70SEK ($14/£7) for children 5 to 15, free for children under 5.
One of the best area tours goes to northern Gotland and Fårö. A bus takes you to the ferry port of Fårösund, with a 7-minute ferry ride over the strait followed by an excursion around Fårö (Sheep Island) so that you can see dwarf forests and moors.
The tours take place in summer on Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30am to 5:30pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.