Among Roses and Ruins
When you are on a cruise to Sweden you just have to take time out to enjoy Visby, a city made for wandering and lingering over coffees and slices of cake.
Whether climbing the ramparts of the surrounding walls, or meandering up and down the warren of cobbled, sloping streets, there’s plenty to tease the eye. An MSC shore excursion can be the opportunity to visit its old town. Here, pretty Packhusplan, the oldest square in the city, is bisected by curving Strandgatan, which runs southwards to the fragmentary ruins of Visborgs Slott, overlooking the harbour. Built in the fifteenth century by Erik of Pomerania, the castle was blown up by the Danes in the seventeenth century. In the opposite direction, Strandgatan runs north-west towards the sea and the Jungfrutornet (Maiden’s Tower), where a local goldsmith’s daughter was walled up alive – reputedly for betraying the city to the Danes. Strolling around the twisting streets and atmospheric walls is not something that palls quickly, but if you need a focus, aim for Norra Murgatan, above the cathedral, once one of Visby’s poorest areas.
The end of the street nearest Norderport enjoys the best view of the walls and city rooftops. Strandgatan is the best place to view the impressive merchants’ houses looming over the narrow streets, with storerooms above the living quarters and cellars below; most notable among these is the clearly signposted Burmeisterska huset in Donnerplats, which is attractive and in good condition. One of the most picturesque buildings on the street is the old pharmacy, Gamla Apoteket, a lofty old place with gloriously higgledy-piggledy windows; it’s at the corner of Strandgatan and Lybska gränd.
If you feel like something more educational during your MSC Northern Europe cruise, head for the fine Fornsal museum, which covers pretty well all there is to know about Gotland, and Visby in particular – and there’s a rather good art gallery close by too.