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To be honest, there's not a great deal to do in Visby. But then, that's kind of the point of the place.
Visby is the capital of Gotland, Sweden's beautiful 'holiday island', famous for its soft sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs, distinctive grey-fleeced sheep and wild orchids (more than 35 varieties of them, at the last count).
It also has a fascinating history, having been inhabited for more than 7,000 years and invaded by 13th Century Germans (who left behind some spectacular medieval churches) and then by Danes, only reverting to Swedish rule in the mid 17th Century.
Visby itself, which lies on Gotland's northwest coast, is the jewel of the island and testament to its rich history -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Sweden's best-preserved medieval cities (complete with ancient walls).
It has the feel of a real seaside resort and is a truly delightful place to spend a few hours in, boasting some spectacular church ruins, very pretty Botanical Gardens, a few historic houses and an interesting museum -- as well as a sparkling seafront, some excellent craft shops and good cafés and restaurants.
Come here with a go-getting rubbernecking agenda and you might be disappointed that there's not more to it. On the other hand, if you view a day here as a chance to kick back, mosey around and smell the roses (which proliferate -- thanks to its clement climate -- until very late autumn) and you'll have a truly lovely time and experience the laid-back Swedish lifestyle at its best.
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It has to be some manifestation of the local curly-horned, dark grey-fleeced sheep of which the Gotlanders are so proud. You'll find them everywhere (there are even statues of them on the promenade!) and local craft shops are crammed with jolly cuddly toy versions costing from SK 69 for a small one to SK 159 for a large.
For a really impressive memento, splash out on a grey curly fleece rug (SK 1,700 – about US$ 242 ) Or spend SK 86 on a Pippi Longstocking doll (movies featuring the flame-haired little girl were filmed in Visby).
Swedish, naturally, is the island's language. English is not widely spoken. Take a phrasebook if you really want to connect with the locals, but here are few phrases to start you off, like "hello" and "goodbye" (hej / hejda), and "please" and "thank you" (vanligen /tack).
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Swedish Krona (SK 7 is roughly $1; SK 11.5 is approximately £1, but see www.oanda.com or www.xe.com for the latest conversion rates).
There is an ATM machine set into the wall on the right hand corner of Donnersplats (the main square); look for the 'Automat' sign.
Where You're Docked
Ships must anchor at Visby as there's no cruise dock. Passengers are tendered into town past a long breakwater, with the medieval town within easy walking distance of the tender pier. On arrival you'll see a 'Welcome to Visby' sign and there are basic maps and toilets at the landing site, but no passenger terminal.
Outside the tender station entrance, turn left and just across the road you'll see the Tourist Office, a modern building that is well staffed and equipped with maps and brochures, some of which are free (and available in English and other languages)
There's also an Internet station (SK 2 per minute) and a shop (with a good stock of sheep-related mementoes!). It is open Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays it's open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Most of Visby is walkable, and if you need to go further afield, the form (according to the locals) is simply to stroll into any hotel or boarding house you pass and ask them to call you a taxi.
There are also taxis at the ferry terminal (near the tender station) or you can call Taxi Gotland on 0498 200 200.
A taxi (for four) to the Botanical Gardens or anywhere in town should cost no more than SK 60 (about $ 8.50). An island run costs SK 145 for one to four people; SK 215 for five to eight, so a gang of you could get an island tour without breaking the bank.
Watch Out For
Volvo drivers with their lights full blaze, driving along at 15 miles per hour (Swedish traffic laws are ferocious, so motorists tend to take things slow and steady in this part of the world). Oddly, this does not appear to apply to flocks of cyclists, who can whizz by at startling speed while you're waiting for one of those interminable Volvos to pass.
Also, watch your step as Visby's cobbled streets look very charming but can be steep and ankle-wrenchingly slippery in the wet. Wear flat, sensible shoes for exploring; this is not the place for tottering about in stilettos.
The Botanical Gardens to the northwest of Visby (walkable from the port).They're crammed with roses (which also climb up the walls of the city's medieval ruins) and simply lovely. At the south end of the gardens, you'll find the ruins of the Romanesque church of St Olof , which dates from around 1200 AD.
The Burmeisterska Hus (Burmeister House) which lies near the Donnersplats (main square) just inland from the harbour. Built in 1652 for local merchant Hans Burmeister, it's one of the best-preserved Baroque burgher's houses in Sweden and often hosts art exhibitions featuring the work of local and Swedish artists.
The ruined medieval churches of St. Per and St. Hans, which stand side by side at the south end of Donnersplats.
The Museum of Antiquities (Golands Fornsal), which also lies near Donnersplats (just along Strandgatan), contains displays of Viking and medieval artefacts including runic stones, arms and armour, furniture and art.
Visby Market Square (Stora Torget), which contains the ruins of 13th Century St Catherine's Church.. It also has a good selection of bars, cafés and restaurants if you've had enough of sightseeing.
Visby's limestone city walls, which date from the 13th Century, circle the old city and cover 3.5 km. They are studded with 44 towers , each around 60 foot high. The Powder Tower (Kruttornet) overlooks the sea, while the Maiden's Tower (Jungfrutornet) is at the north end and is so called because legend has it that the daughter of a Visby goldsmith was walled up alive in it.
St Mary's Cathedral (on St Hansgatan) dates from 1225 and is the only one of Visby's old churches which is still in use. It contains a spectacular walnut and ebony pulpit from Germany and a 13th Century red marble font.
Been There, Done That
Grab your bathers, pick up a cab and head off for a swim at one of Gotland's gorgeous beaches; recommended on the island's north coast ( not far from Visby) are Sjalso and Faro beaches.
Visit Lummelunda, a series of spectacular stalactite caves about 11 miles north of Visby. En route, stop off at Krusmyntogarden, a lovely garden containing more than 200 different types of herb. It lies five miles north of Visby.
Anyone who's seen the film Babette's Feast (or eaten meatballs at a branch of Ikea) will know that the Nordic nations are not big into fancy food, but Gotlanders are partial to lamb dishes spiced with local herbs. Smoked flatfish and saffron pancake are other local specialities, as are truffles. And the Swedes love their home baking – look out for cafés serving good bread, pies, cakes and muffins, washed down with good strong coffee.
Italian dishes are also popular; a good spot for a casual lunch with a harbour view would be Florence on Korgsgatan Street, which overlooks the sea. It lies only a short walk left from the tender pier and dishes up hearty fare like Lasagna (SK 85) Pizza (from SK 75) and Fruit de Mer Spaghetti (SK 130).
For a more authentic Swedish experience, hang a right after Florence and wander inland up Hamnagoten (a pretty cobbled street lined with red-roofed houses painted in shades of ochre and cream).
This leads into Donnersplats, an attractive cobbled square where you'll find some typical Swedish cafés, including the Donnerska Huset café (toasted sandwiches SK 39; salads SK 86). One street inland, opposite a pretty little rose garden, is Rosas restaurant, which has a beamed medieval façade and a small garden with seating to the rear.
Push the boat out at the lovely Lindgardens restaurant (just off the main square), where a 'surf and turf' will set you back SK 285 and grilled tuna with mozzarella costs SK 255. Puddings are expensive but spectacular (SK 112 for rhubarb and strawberry millefeuille with ginger marscapone).
Staying in Touch
There is a wall-mounted computer with Internet access at the Tourist Office (SK 2 per minute)
Best for foodies: A taste of Gotland (four hours), which comprised a half hour drive to a medieval church, then a call at Tjauls Farm to taste Gotlandish specialities and try the local beer. The tour then took in the fishing village of Lickershamn before returning to Visby for a 50 minute walk around the old city walls.
Best quick overview tour: Medieval Visby (three hours, by coach), which took in Hogklint (a photo stop for views over the city), then went on to Almedalen Botanical Gardens and St Mary's Cathedral.
Best in-depth exploration: The Visby Walk and Historical Museum (three hours). This tour also visited the Gardens and the Cathedral, but on foot, and it also included visits to the Museum and views of several ruined medieval churches.
Best for fitness fans: (or those with active kids in tow) Try the Visby by Bicycle tour (four hours), which took in the gardens, the Powder and Maiden's Towers, and Princess Euginie's summer residence in Fridheim (where refreshments were available).
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--by Maria Harding. The work of England-based Harding, a journalist and broadcaster, has appeared in the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express