Gotland is Sweden's main holiday island, a place of ancient history, a relaxed summer-party vibe, wide sandy beaches, and wild cliff formations called raukar (the remnants of reefs formed more than 400 million years ago). Measuring 125 km (78 miles) long and 52 km (32 miles) at its widest point, Gotland is where Swedish sheep farming has its home. In its charming glades, 35 varieties of wild orchids thrive, attracting botanists from all over the world.
Bo Nilsson, the chef proprietor of this atmospheric restaurant, was once chef at the renowned Operakällaren in Stockholm. Now, in a beautiful orange-brick house on a small square in Visby, he cooks for a mix of locals and visitors, who dine in cellar-like halls surrounded by white stone walls. The menu uses excellent local ingredients to make French-influenced dishes that are reasonably priced, given their quality. Its house specialty of Gotland lamb shanks with sweetbread and turnips is absolutely delicious; you may want to finish with a rich and sticky-sweet crème brûlée topped with a mixed berry compote.
It may have one of the best locations in town—right in Stora Torget next to medieval ruins of St. Karin—but this restaurant is decorated in what could be called Fisherman's Shack Rustic, with wood benches, shellfish and seafood displays, details from fishing boats, small metal buckets resting on shelves, and menus scribbled on chalkboards. Expect a tight squeeze—there isn't much space to maneuver inside. Try the fried Baltic herring with mashed potatoes, or on a brisk day, warm up with its hearty fish stew with a dollop of aioli.
St. Maria Kyrka
Visby's cathedral is the only one of the town's 13 medieval churches that is still intact and in use. Built between 1190 and 1225 as a place of worship for the town's German parishioners, the church has few of its original fittings because of the extensive and sometimes clumsy restoration work done over the years. That said, the sandstone font and the unusually ugly angels decorating the pulpit are both original features worth a look.
Stora and Lilla Karlsö
These two bird sanctuaries are off the coast south of Visby. The bird population consists mainly of guillemots, which look like penguins. Visits to these sanctuaries are permitted only in the company of a recognized guide. Contact each sanctuary for its tour times.
The Länsmuseet på Gotland, Gotland's county museum, contains examples of medieval artwork, prehistoric gravestones and skeletons, and silver hoards from Viking times. Be sure to also check out the ornate "picture stones" from AD 400–600, which depict ships, people, houses, and animals.
The 4 km (2½ mi) of stalactite caves at Lummelunda, about 18 km (11 mi) north of Visby on the coastal road, are unique in this part of the world and well worth a visit.
It takes a five-minute ferry crossing to reach tiny, secluded Fårö from Gotland, to the south. A popular summer retreat for Scandinavians, the island has just 600 year-round residents. Legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman once called this island home; every June, film fanatics head over to celebrate Bergman Week. And in September, the island celebrates Fårönatta—a night when its shops, restaurants, and attractions stay open all night and the church holds a midnight mass. Head to the Digerhuvud area to find some impressive natural "sea stacks," weather rock formations that are known as raukar. They often take on human profiles, fueling local myths and legends. Note that basic services, including police, medical services, and banks, are virtually nonexistent on Fårö itself. If you really want to retreat from the world, Fårö is it.
This resort with a water park and amusement park brings droves of families in summer; there are over 600 rooms, cabins, apartments, and camping sites. Locations from the Pippi Longstocking TV show, including her house, Villa Villekulla, are here.
Be a Viking for a day at this 10th-century village re-creation. Kids and adults can try their hands at baking Viking bread, axe throwing, archery, and other activities. There are also performances along with guided tours and lectures.