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Visby Travel Guide: 174 reviews and 562 photos

Medieval Town of Visby

"Gutenses signo xpistus signatur in agno."

Sail into the Swedish town of Visby and you will be transported into a land where time seems to have stood still. The cobblestone streets, quaint cottages, and church ruins still standing from medieval times are incredible reminders of long ago Medieval times. However, Visby is most notable for its medieval city wall, the best preserved city wall in Northern Europe. The stunningly picturesque limestone wall was constructed in the 13th century as were many of the 17 medieval churches and many homes that are enclosed by the walls. The fact that the wall remains intact is remarkable since Visby has been the site of numerous invasions, perhaps the most famous of which was the invasion and battle of Danish King Valdemar on July 22, 1361. The now famous, yearly festival known as Medeltivdsveckan pa Gotland or "Medieval Week on Gotland" is a reminder of this ancient battle.

Located on the largest island in the Baltic, which is Gotland, the town of Visby is the administrative center of the Swedish County (Lan) of Gotland. Located only 60 miles west of the Swedish mainland, summertime brings tourists not only from the mainland, but from around the Baltic transported by ferries. The advent of cruise ships arriving at its shores bring an even larger international contingent.

The permanent population of Visby and the surrounding islands is said to be about 20,000, but seems much less. There are some other notable towns on the main island or smaller ones (Stora Karlso, and Faro) which draw vacationers to this excellent place to rent a little cottage on some windswept beach for a week or two in the summer. If offers a different ambience from the many islands in the Swedish Archipelago.

"Gutasagen" ~ Fact or Fiction

Like Iceland, the island of Gotland has its own saga or legend known as "Gutasagen" or "Gotland's Saga." According to the saga, Gotland, the "enchanted island rose from the sea at twilight and sank beneath the waves again at dawn. A man named Tjelvar broke the spell when he brought fire to the island." Of course most people agree the saga is a myth, you could say that a certain air of mystery hovers over the historically rich island of Gotland. The "Gutsagen has been passed down to succeeding generations even prior to the 13th century first by word of mouth, but also in written form. Ironically, scientists have shown that Gotland did sink beneath the sea several times in its history.

Visby and its Viking Past

History tells us that between the 9th & 11th centuries, many Viking expeditions were launched from Gotland. The term, Viking most likely is derived from the Swedish word vik meaning "inlet." Viking, therefore, unites the relationship of men to the sea. Vikings were feared throughout Europe for their wildness, mericilessness and piracy. The men called Vikings not only came from Sweden but also Norway and Denmark. The distinction between these Vikings lay in where they ventured. The Danes and Norsemen ventured westward, while the Swedish Vikings sailed eastward to Russia and beyond.

By the 12th & 13th century, trade and shipping played a major role on the island of Gotland and this was particularly true of Visby which retains some German cultural elements. The HANSA was a poltical and commerical league of German merchants and towns in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Visby was given leadership of the northeastern towns and as such was part of the "Hanseatic League," and had even been a starting point for the German crusades against Latvia. Over the next century, Visby faded from its former trade importance but became an object of desire by Sweden, Denmark and Mecklenburg (Germany). Visby regained some revitalization and interest in the mid-19th century as an historical monument of sorts and though it was in some decay, it was this very economic downturn which helped preserve its historical architecture and originality because no one could afford to modernize.

The renewed interest by authors and artists in the early 18th century as an historical monument brought the town of Visby back to life. Slowly a cultural and economic life was breathed back into Visby and today tourism is a large part of the fabric of Visby.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Uniquely historical , often rugged landscape, the windswept beaches!
  • Cons:No sun the day we visited!
  • In a nutshell:A visit to Visby will be well worth your effort to reach it!
  • Last visit to Visby: Aug 2005
  • Intro Updated Nov 27, 2009
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Reviews (14)

Comments (20)

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Apr 17, 2011 at 2:04 AM

    Lovely page about this Swedish gem on Gotland. It is well known as a holiday destination here in continental Europe, but I still haven't been there.

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Dec 5, 2010 at 12:48 AM

    Sounds like there is plenty of interest here. What a shame you missed the medieval week, I know how disappointed you must have been, as have done similar myself.

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Oct 26, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    Too bad you missed the "Medieval Week on Gotland" by one day! But this still looks like a fascinating town with lots of medieval walls and buildings. Good that you were able to stop there.

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Nov 27, 2009 at 2:57 PM

    Very informative for travelers about language, currency, tipping, shopping. Boy, those are steep steps! Loved City Wall & Towers as well as the cathedral. Beautiful photographs. Always a pleasure to read your pages enthusiastic,, positive, & sincere.

  • MalenaN's Profile Photo
    Apr 23, 2009 at 9:29 PM

    Visby is lovely! I have been to Visby and Gotland twice, but the last time was 28 years ago. I really want to visit again. Great tips Sylvia!

  • LoriPori's Profile Photo
    Mar 30, 2009 at 5:39 AM

    What a charming town Visby is esp. the wonderful medieval wall and the cobblestoned streets.

  • angiebabe's Profile Photo
    Jul 21, 2008 at 1:09 AM

    hi nice page, thanks for the tour - am thinking about going for the Medieval week next month versus the lovely trip from Oslo to Bergen via Flam and the fjords!

  • Mar 29, 2008 at 5:03 PM

    A lot of information

  • VeronicaG's Profile Photo
    Feb 28, 2008 at 2:03 PM

    I really enjoyed reading about Maiden's Tower (could that be true?) and viewing your pictures of St. Mary's Cathedral, the lively market square and unique Rauks that are created near this site--a fascinating place, Sylvia!

  • marielexoteria's Profile Photo
    Oct 18, 2007 at 6:18 AM

    Great pages. I'm hopefully visiting Visby next summer.


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