Visby is the one stop on the cruise that pleasantly surprised me. Visby is Scandinavia’s best-preserved medieval town. It was a very photogenic destination with cobbled streets, pastel cottages, and historic buildings within the city walls. It has beautiful ruined Gothic churches.
I visited during Medieval Week, which is definitely the week to go! I think my experience would have been much less exciting if I wasn’t there during their most famous week of the year. Everywhere you look, you are surrounded by knights, queens, peasants, and strumpets, dining, drinking, and dancing against a UNESCO World Heritage backdrop.
The festival lasts for one week with 500 events and 40,000 visitors. During the week, you will witness jousting, markets, church concerts, street theater, fire shows, storytelling, walks, lectures, and more. You can get a full schedule on the Medieval Week on Gotland website.
I started off my gorgeous day in Visbyat Almedalen Park. It is well known in Sweden as the central site of the annual Almedalen Week, an annual event in Visby, which is an important meeting place for everyone involved in Swedish politics. During the week, which takes place during the 27th week of every year, representatives from the major political parties in Sweden take turns giving speeches in the park. It was a nice place to walk around and get a good view from outside of the city walls.
Visby City Wall is a medieval defensive wall surrounding the town. The oldest part of the wall is a defensive tower, today called Kruttornet (the Gunpowder Tower), which was erected at the harbor entrance in the 12th century, making it the oldest surviving non-religious building in the Nordic countries.
After taking a look at the tower, I walked along the water and even took a short break to relax in the hammock. You will get some amazing views from the outskirts of the island. This would be an amazing spot to watch the sunrise or sunset. It is very peaceful here.
From the walking point, you will see an entrance to DBW’s Botanical Gardens, the most beautiful park in Visby. A member of the DBW committee, submitted a proposal to create the botanical gardens in 1854. The objective was to spread knowledge of both horticulture and botany to all corners of the island. Upon entering, you can pick up an information map. The gardens are free to enter. Next to the gardens are where a lot of the Medieval festivities take place.
The first ruin of the day that I saw was St. Clemens Ruin. Majestic arches, columns, walls, and a tower are all that is left from this 11th century church.
Not far from it is St. Nicolai Ruin. It is another major ruin listed by UNESCO, which history reaches back to the 12th century. Having great acoustics, it hosts numerous concerts.
From this ruin, I took an opportunity to get a good view of the City Walls. As the strongest, most extensive, and best preserved medieval city wall in Scandinavia, the wall forms an important and integral part of the Visby World Heritage Site. Built in two stages during the 13th and 14th century, approximately 3.44 km of its original 3.6 km still stands. Of the 29 large and 22 smaller towers, 27 large and 9 small remain. A number of houses that predate the all were incorporated within it during one of the two phases of construction. During the 18th century, fortifications were added to the wall in several places and some of the towers were rebuilt to accommodate cannons. Be sure to walk along the walls at some point.
Next, I visited Helgeandskyrkan (Holy Communion Church), which was built in the early 13th century.
From most places in Visby’s town center, you will be able to spot Visby Cathedral, also known as St. Mary’s Church, which is the only survived medieval church in Visby. It was originally build for German merchants and inaugurated in 1225. Around the year 1350, the church was enlarged and converted into a basilica. There are 400 graves under the church floor.
While you are visiting the cathedral, make sure you take a walk up the stairs and get a wonderful view from above. If you are here during Medieval Week, you may also witness people jousting in the fields.
The next ruin that I visited was Drottens Kyrkoruin (The Lord’s Church Ruin). It is the common name of the ruins of Trinity Church. The church was built around the year 1240 as a parish church for the Germans but was rebuilt during the latter part of the Middle Ages.
Across from Drottens Church is St. Lars or St. Lawrence’s Church. It has a different shape from the other churches of Visby. Whereas they were inspired by German ecclesiastical architecture, St. Lawrence’s resembles the Byzantine churches of the east. The numerous staircases and passages In the walls are a distinctive feature.
My favorite of the ruins is St. Katarina Ruins. The construction of St. Catherine’s Church was started in the 1250s and continued through the 14th century. It was actually never completed, and in the 1540s, it was partially collapsed during the worship. The pillars are still very impressive.
The square beside these ruins is always busy. There is a central market and lots of restaurants and cafes for you to choose from.
If you are into museums, Fornsalen (Gotlands Museum) is a great option. There are actually different options that you can choose from including the Historical Museum, the Art Museum, and Norby’s Rural Museum. The main museum is located near Packhusplan Fountain.
The final ruins that I looked at were The Church Ruins of Saint Hans and Saint Peter. It is two combined church ruins that were erected in the 13th century and were dedicated to the evangelist John and the apostle Peter. The oldest (St. Hans) was probably the first stone church built on Gotland and happened around 1060. It was the parish church for the Gotlanders in Visby. St. Peter’s Church was built after 1161 as a German parish church at the site of an abandoned wooden church, All Saints Church.
After enjoying more of the Medieval Festival, I was out of time for the day and needed to get back to the cruise ship. However, if I had a little more time, I would have liked to go to Hogklint, one of Gotland’s highest cliffs. There are nice walking trails in the nature reserve and you can hike along the cliffs all the way to Ygne, a small fishing village south of Hogklint, to get magnificent views of Visby and the Baltic Sea.