A Guide to Gotland, a Rural Paradise Off the Swedish Coast



Surrounded by the Baltic Sea, about 60 miles off the southeastern coast of Sweden’s mainland, Gotland is the largest of the country’s bucolic islands (which number well over 200,000), and one that has a seemingly split personality. In the short summer season — primarily July and August, when temperatures hover in the balmy 70s — revelers descend on this mostly wild, windswept and sparsely populated province for all-night partying and the rambunctious weeklong electronic music festival Stockholmsveckan. Outside of high season, though — and anywhere outside of its largest town, Visby (population: 24,300) — Gotland remains a rural paradise, popular with outdoorsy Stockholm professionals looking to escape city life by hiking along the island’s craggy limestone cliffs and cycling past tiny clapboard fishing villages, crumbling medieval churches and 18th-century farmhouses. Several Stockholm-based architects have even chosen to build their own startlingly contemporary houses on the tradition-bound island.

Lately, Gotland has been attracting a growing stream of international visitors, too. Chalk it up to gloomy political and environmental forecasts if you will, but as travelers increasingly seek out pristine landscapes offering peace and quiet, the island presents the perfect retreat — just a 40-minute flight from Stockholm. Design-forward boutique hotels offer access to nature that doesn’t require pitching a tent in the wilderness, and a clutch of remarkably good restaurants — serving fresh-caught Baltic fish and all manner of organic locally grown vegetables — show off the bounty of the surrounding farmland. Throw in a few charming craft-oriented Nordic design shops and an impressively large collection of museums for an island with a population of just 60,000, and you have a compelling reason to skip the mainland entirely.

The Revolver Hotel in Visby, which is owned and decorated by the conceptual designer Ingela Tanaka Rohnstrom.CreditYolanta Birkhane


Hotel Stelor

Staying at this tiny, six-room hotel in rural Vastergarn village (about a 20-minute drive south of central Visby) feels like being a guest at a family friend’s country compound. The wood-beamed interiors of the 18th-century farmhouse are endlessly photogenic, decorated with pastel floral wallpaper, sheepskin throw rugs and jugs of freshly picked wildflowers. During the summer, there are live folk music performances in the property’s barn, and the traditionally Swedish restaurant — which uses produce from the hotel’s own two-acre garden — is considered one of the best on Gotland.

Fabriken Furillen

An imposing former factory building on the site of an old limestone quarry might not sound particularly inviting, but photographer Johan Hellstrom had a vision for what it could become, and he turned this industrial patch of land into a high-end escape (about an hour’s drive northeast of Visby) after purchasing the abandoned factory in 1999. The 19 guest rooms all have Hastens beds and a color scheme dominated by soothing grays and white, so there’s nothing to detract from the natural, forested surroundings. For those who really want to detach, there’s a “Hermit Cabin” on the grounds — an isolated outpost (a 20-minute bike ride from the main building) with no running water, no Wi-Fi and free-roaming cows and sheep as your only neighbors.

Revolver Hotel

Tucked into a quiet courtyard in central Visby, the three-year-old Revolver is an under-the-radar hotel option in Gotland’s main town — there’s no website and no outside signage, so word of mouth has been the main driver for bookings here. Quirky décor dominates — think sparkly golden bathroom tiles, vintage rotary phones as objets d’art, and Fornasetti wallpaper depicting hot air balloons — all of it the singular vision of its owner, the conceptual designer Ingela Tanaka Rohnstrom. There’s no restaurant, but the hotel is within walking distance of the main commercial blocks of Visby, and three of the nine guest rooms have a full kitchen and living room. 011-46-70-639-39-01

The seasonal restaurant and hotel Krakas Krog, in the Kräklingbo countryside.CreditBeatrice Lundborg



In central Visby, the island’s premier seafood restaurant is a no-frills rustic dining room, filled with mismatched wooden chairs and vintage fish prints, that’s usually packed — no reservations accepted. The day’s specials are written on a chalkboard at the entrance and often include baked perch with celeriac and truffle vinaigrette, lobster soup with black radish, and fried herring with spring onion butter and mashed potatoes. In warm weather, simple wooden tables are set up on the street outside — the ideal place to sip a glass of Chardonnay and watch the summer crowds pass by.

Krakas Krog

A 40-minute drive east across Gotland from Visby brings you to this hybrid restaurant and hotel in the middle of the Kräklingbo countryside. There’s a highly seasonal tasting menu of six to eight courses — regular ingredients include grilled beetroot, local lamb, and frogs’ legs sourced from the nearby pond — all presented by one of the cooks in the spare, minimalist dining room. And with only one seating a night, there’s a sense of special occasion that permeates dinners here. The three guest rooms are similarly simple and refined, all in varying shades of white, with wide-plank wood floors and fluffy down comforters.

Lilla Bjers

This 30-acre family-run farm on the outskirts of Visby is surrounded by vegetable fields and fruit orchards, from which it sources the ingredients for its organic, constantly changing menu. Everything from blueberries and currants to garlic and nine varieties of asparagus, as well as Christmas trees, are grown on the property. Dishes are a simple affair — think roasted lamb with pickled carrots and potatoes pulled straight from the earth — and a walk around the grounds before a meal is the best way to fully appreciate what you’re about to eat. You can even meet the chickens that supply the kitchen’s eggs. Dinner in the farm’s atmospheric greenhouse can also be arranged, where you’ll dine amid banana, fig and olive trees.

Ceramics by Camilla Jensen, at her store C. Jensen Keramik in Visby.CreditCourtesy of C. Jensen Keramik


C. Jensen Keramik

The ubiquity of Nordic design extends to Gotland, where the ceramist Camilla Jensen occupies a studio-cum-store selling her delicate, artfully imperfect handmade stone and porcelain tableware, most in pristine shades of white or jet black. The space itself, in central Visby — all whitewashed walls and pale linen finishings — is reminiscent of an art gallery. On the building’s lower level, Jensen also sells a small selection of home items (textiles, rugs, woven baskets), primarily sourced from India, where she travels every year.


In the medieval coastal town of Tofta, you’ll find an extension of Visby’s Revolver Hotel (which lies about 15 minutes to the north). Here, the hotel’s owner, Ingela Tanaka, and her partner Lena Herrmann, who runs the shop, have created another home for Tanaka’s vast assortment of design and fashion finds, collected over decades. There’s a whole room of vintage clothing (including original Levi’s and Lee denim, wedding dresses and unusual sneakers), bicycles from the 1960s, kitschy decorative items like porcelain parrots, vinyl records and an array of giftable local items (Swedish candy, homemade soaps, specialty loose-leaf teas and herbs). 011-07-63-94-24-44

From left: Visby Botanical Garden; the ruins of the 13th-century Church of St. Olaf.CreditLeft: Alamy; Right: courtesy of the Gotland Museum


Visby Botanical Garden

A verdant expanse of parkland near the shoreline, Visby’s 150-year-old botanical garden is the place to be on warm summer afternoons — for a picnic lunch or to stroll the garden’s 60 acres while taking a closer look at the magnolia, tulips, cedar and sequoia trees. Be sure to explore the ivy-shrouded ruins of St. Olaf, a former church from the 13th century, whose gray stone structure still stands on the southern edge of the park.

Gotland Fornsalen

The Gotland Museum comprises seven different structures scattered throughout Visby, but its main building, Fornsalen (housed in a former 18th-century distillery) is dedicated to the culture and history of the island, with a collection that spans roughly 8,000 years. Here, you’ll find everything from the mummified remains of Stone Age islanders to medieval armor from the Danish invasion of 1361. It’s a deep dive into Gotland’s rugged, seafaring culture and why the island holds such a special place in the Swedish imagination.

Related: A Low-Key Swedish Island’s Shockingly Modern Architecture



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