- Travel and Places
Exploring Gotland | Motorcycle Ride Report
My off-season trip through medieval lands
Gotland is a large island about 190 kilometers south-east of Stockholm in the Baltic Sea. Gotland is a region where huge numbers of historic artifacts have been discovered. Our Viking history has strong roots on the island of Gotland, it was the home of the Gutes (arguably the Goths) and it was a trading hub for the Baltic region. There is a lot to see there, specially historic medieval architecture and fortifications, and the island gets a huge number of Swedish and foreign tourists during the summer season.
I prefer to go there off season, when the tourist storm has passed by and Gotland offers calm and beautiful rural landscape.
The image above is one I took a couple of years ago when touring Gotland late in October on my dual-sport motorcycle. There is cold autumn bite in the air which makes it fresh and easy to breathe.
This pic says a lot about how I prefer to travel: by myself, off-season and wherever the nose points! Unless otherwise credited, all images by me.
Image credit wikipediaGotland has no freeways and gravel back-roads often intersect with curvy and narrow asphalt passing from town to town. This is not a place for loud motorcycles or speed-trips and a well muffled dual-sport bike will take you to many memorable places, specially by the coast where trails can lead to very nice vantage points. If you feel sporty, touring Gotland on bicycle is absolutely awesome and pretty easy since the island is mostly flat.
Sweden has freedom of movement over other people's grounds so you can travel through the many farms on the backroads and trails. Just remember to firmly close the many road gates you will be passing through.
Our freedom of movement is built on respect so please, be civilized and do not litter the landscape with your trash.
To plunder and be plundered!
The Gotland Vikings did their share of fighting, conquering and plundering. In 1361 the Danes took over but Gotland returned to the Swedish crown just 8 years later. On several occasions through the 1390's the capital Visby was taken by the Baltic pirates the Victual Brothers, until Teutonic Knights conquered the island in 1391 and destroyed Visby. Read more about Visby history on Wikipedia.
When you travel through Gotland (specially on foot, bike or horse) you somehow feel the rich history around you. At least, I do :).
Image credit wikipedia
King Valdemar IV of Denmark overseeing the 1361 Danish looting after the Battle of Visby. Public domain image of painting by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist.
Tourism and Farms
Gotland regional finance is mainly built on a mix between a farming and tourism. Gotland gets the highest amount of sun hours per year in Sweden, and as an island, has lots of beach area to offer. The capital Visby sees about 2 million travelers come and go by sea and air. While the vast majority of these are tourists, many islanders also travel to the mainland for work.
With so many visitors hitting the island during the short summer, you need to book accommodation very early to get what you want. If you book late, I suggest you try to a B&B or rent a cottage either in the the north or southeast areas. Renting a apartment for a week inside the ancient city wall is very expensive during season.
The tourism industry basically comes to a standstill off-season and the locals take a break from all the fuss. This is my favorite season and I find it an easier time to make contact with locals.
There is quite a lot of farming going on on Gotland, primarily growing carrots and raising sheep.
Guidebooks to Sweden and Gotland
This is a pretty expensive but very thorough guide to Visby, the capital of Gotland
Sheep are cool
A lot of sheep live on Gotland. On average about 65,000 sheep patrol the rural landscape. Quite often, they are left to move about inside settlements and surrounding lands.
Sheep are environmentally a lot better to keep than cattle, and they offer wool and they provide healthier food than beef too! These are cool animals and the sheep on Gotland seem extraordinarily sociable to me. They got me laughing many times as they would sprint towards us and then surround the bike and stare at me as if... I don't know, expecting me to perform some kind of acrobatic show for them?.. If you walk about, the whole gang will follow and many will press really close and demand you pet and scratch them! :)
The tires I had on my Yamaha XTZ-660 dual sport were TKC-80 as seen in the pics to left and above (those were on their last lap though). If you have a heavy offroad / dual-sport bike then I highly recommend them. They have excellent performance on the curvy asphalt roads and they perform very well on gravel and trails.
Their only weakness is loosing performance when they get old and being so-so on wet grass and mud.
If you have a heavy offroad bike you will probably not be trying any enduro stuff and will be riding dual sport style on a lot on main roads and gravel trails of varying condition - this is were the TKC-80 tires are great.
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Video Presentation of Gotland, Sweden
This video adequately compresses what Gotland is about into a 2 minute presentation. Check it out!
If you visit Gotland by ferry or air your probably want to rent a car or bike in Visby
Have you been to Sweden?
The Gotland Medieval Church Tour
Gotland has a long history as a strategic stronghold controlling the Baltic Sea and it was a religious and commercial magnet during the middle ages. There are 92 medieval churches on Gotland, all in good condition and each with a distinct architectural style.
Medieval Chess SetVery often, you can see the spire of several churches from the one you are visiting. Almost all of these churches are still in use! Bestselling
If you will be vising Gotland, why not set yourself a goal of stopping by all the 92 churches! That is a tour that will take weeks (divide it up to several visits) and which will take you to many places, inland and by the shore, that the standard tourist never gets to see.
Click to view a Google map of Gotland church locations including on-ground photos and images from inside the churches.
Gotland is a lot about historic landmarks and heritage. If you have the chance (and manage to book accommodation in time) the Medieval Week at the beginning of August is a lifetime experience for adults and kids. Make the most of it and wear a proper medieval costume for the week-long festivities!
More info at Medeltidsveckan
Gotland facts and figures
- biggest island in Baltic Sea
- population about 57,000
- 390 farms with 65,000 sheep
- 2,000,000 travellers
- gets most sun hours
- has 92 medieval churches
- hosts Grand National race
- hosts the Medieval Week
- Gotland Tourist Info