Visby – A Medieval Treasure

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Visby is a small town on the island of Gotland that you can reach by either plane or by taking a ferry from Nynäshamn. The terminal is an hour south of Stockholm by pendaltåg or flybussen, and the ferry itself is about three and a half hours before docking right at Visby. While you can drive on the ferry most seemed to walk on, and the tickets range from basic (which allows you to sit just anywhere in cafeteria area) or you can have fancy airplane like seats or even a day cabin. Walking on is very quick and easy after check in, which only requires your booking number, and they even have checked baggage which will come off a carousel at the other end like with an airport if you have more than a simple carry on. While it is a time-intense endeavour, it is very easy and not that bad at all if you are in good company.

I was going to Visby with one of my amazing friends I have made since moving to Sweden, a sort of girl’s night away, and we were staying the night at Mullbärsgården B&B. This turned out to be about a fifteen minute walk from the ferry terminal, taking us past plenty of hostels and such that weren’t too lively as we were there in the off season. Even the old prison down by the water has been converted, though it looks somehow nice and terrifying at the same time (it still has the barbed wire). Our B&B was found through a wooden gate where we found a large courtyard with a mess of different buildings around for the rooms. Some were one big floor while others, like ours, boasted several rooms on the floor with private bathrooms but a large common kitchen and shared area. The room itself was nice but simple with two single beds, and we were to make our own beds with the clean sheets provided, as well as stripping them before leaving; this definitely made it feel most like a hostel. That and the lack of actual reception area had me wondering if this was typical of the location or just a result of being there when the city is virtually closed for colder seasons.

Speaking of closed, nearly everything was. Not only was it closed early as is typical in Sweden, most restaurants and shops appeared to only be open on weekends until the summer time, so coming in mid-May meant it took us a long time to find a place for dinner, plus it was pretty cold that evening with the biting wind coming off the ocean. We eventually found a decent priced specials menu at Köpmannen II not too far off Stora Torget (where we had wandered while looking for food and attractions) and had a very good helping of vegetarian lasagne, just the thing to warm us up. Afterwards we walked back to Stora Torget and had a hot drink at Bagariet with a great view of one of the many ruined cathedrals still standing centuries later. Then it was back to the B&B with the sun still lighting our way as days grow longer.

The next day we wandered back out to the still standing medieval city wall and towards the suburbs. Beyond the inner city you can see much of the wall as it winds its way around Visby, a path for hikers or bikers alike following alongside. And even on the way there, beyond the centrum and Stora Torget, there are more ruins of old cathedrals, apparently twelve throughout the whole city. Even the smaller ones are still large and impressive. It’s no wonder Visby is the oldest medieval town in Scandinavia, all things considered. What is left standing was not redone or remade to fit the changing times, or re-purposed, keeping the classic structure and integrity of its original self and altered only by time. The city also has a more modern church which creates a fascinating contrast on the skyline.

Around check-out we rested a while in the sun as this day proved warmer and chatted a bit in the B&B courtyard, which was very lovely, before heading out for lunch. Each time we walked somewhere we were able to take in an abundance of history in this cute and fascinating little town. Cobblestone streets line the hills on our way to more abundant food options since it was lunchtime, and we settled in at Creperie O Logi, a crepe place with the coolest of decor. It was very cozy, and the food was very good! Everything about it was great and I could only imagine how much nicer it would be in summer when one could sit outside for lunch. Next to it was a tiny side street, which we took and found ourselves in the tourist shop area, but continued walking brought us once more to the wall and a simple square, finally leading into a more residential area and a great view of the city below and the ocean beyond. It seemed that every part of the small town had an myriad of styles and views. Even for the last fika we sat on the tiniest platform just outside a hair salon/boutique/ice cream parlour/coffee shop/who knows what else. Why not? It was really cool with the cutest cups and a great view of the city streets as the few people there walked by. I could only imagine what the place was like in summer, the place that was nearly a ghost town probably a bustling hub of tourist activity.

And then it was time to head back to the ferry for check in. Though not before stopping at Donnerplats and watching a small filming session complete with gunshots. And with that short diversion accomplished we got on board and started the long, long journey home.

A bit more transit planning ahead of time, or better timing of trains and ferries so you aren’t waiting 45 mins for the next pendaltåg, would have been better, but even then we got home earlier than we’d thought. And the trip itself, the things we saw and food we ate, was well worth it. It was a great experience finally getting to Gotland and seeing this place, and probably a good thing to see it without all the people filling the streets, allowing us to really enjoy all the views and sights without any bustle or crowds. That being said I really want to go back in summer and hope to go soon, maybe with a few visiting friends? I can certainly say that seeing those old cathedrals, even in ruins, was awe inspiring, more than most ruins I’ve seen, up close and so preserved. That, more than anything else, made it all worth any amount of cold and transit. Definitely a worthwhile trip any time of year.

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