219km (136 miles) S of Stockholm, 150km (93 miles) S of Nynäshamn, 89km (55 miles) E of the Swedish mainland

In the middle of the Baltic Sea sits the island of "Gothland" -- the ancient home of the Goths -- about 121km (75 miles) long and 56km (35 miles) wide. Swedes go to the coast of Gotland -- Sweden's most popular tourist island -- for sunny holidays by the sea, whereas North Americans tend to be more drawn to the old walled city of Visby. An investment of a little extra time will reveal that both Visby and greater Gotland, with its cliffs, unusual rock formations, bathing beaches, and rolling countryside, are rich territory. If you can visit only one Swedish island, make it Gotland -- even if you have to skip Öland. Buses traverse the island, as do organized tours out of Visby.

From the end of the 12th century and throughout the 13th, the walled city of Visby rose to the zenith of its power as the seat of the powerful Hanseatic merchants and the trade center of northern Europe. During its heyday, 17 churches were built, step-gabled stone houses were erected, and the townspeople lived in relative luxury. Visby eventually was ransacked by the Danes, however, and fell into decline. Sometime late in the 19th century, when Visby was recognized as a treasure house of medieval art, it became a major attraction.