Gotska Sandön is an island in the Baltic Sea, 8 km (5.0 mi) across. It lies 40 km (25 mi) north of Gotland, 85 km (53 mi) south-east of the Scandinavian mainland and some 200 km (120 mi) south-west from Åland and Finnish Utö. All of it is a national park. Often described as "an island for the soul", this is the Baltic's most isolated island, a lovely place to unwind, watch the horizon, and take long walks listening to the wind in the pine trees.
Through history, the island has occasionally been populated. Legend says that it was a base for pirates during the Middle Ages. In the 17th and 18th centuries there was sheep farming on the island, and later cattle and crop farming as well. Today, only the hospitality and park crew reside on the island.
World-renowned film director Ingmar Bergman recorded a feature documentary about the island in 1987.
On an island named after sand, you can expect the most stunning beaches in Sweden. There is some 30 km of sandy beaches surrounding the island. In fact almost all of the island consists of sand, with some stone and gravel. However, most of the inland area is covered with pine forest, tall and breezy.
Flora and fauna
There is a small colony of grey seals on the island: make your way to Säludden and see if they're there. You may also spot mountain hares, toads and several unusual species of beetles, some endemic to Gotska Sandön. There's also a rich variety of migratory birds, best viewed in springtime.
There is a weather station on the island.
The weather is generally milder than on the Swedish mainland, with decently warm summers. Frost is common during winter.
The island is the first land to be sighted on the way from Finland to Gotland, but it has no safe harbour. Anchoring is allowed (except at the seal sanctuary) and there is a guest book at the lighthouse.
All bookings, including lodging, go through sandoresor.se, firstname.lastname@example.org or +46 16-15 05 65. The M/S Gotska Sandön departs from Nynäshamn on the Swedish mainland and from Fårösund on Gotland from mid-May to mid-September, up to four times per week. A return ticket costs 1.095 kr from Nynäshamn and 895 kr from Fårösund.
Day trips are available for 495 kr. They departure on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, May to August from Nynäshamn and late August and early September from Fårösund. The Nynäshamn ferry stays for some 5 hours on Gotska Sandön, while the Fårösund ferry stays 7 hours. Day trips can only be booked within 7 days of departure, until 16:00 the day before departure. Further, they can only be booked via telephone or email (i.e. not via the website).
The trip takes a little over three hours – you may want to bring motion sickness medication. M/S Gotska Sandön is designed to land on sandy beaches, since the island has no harbour, but depending on the wind you might need to go ashore by dinghy. From the beach you will have to walk on foot to the campsite, between 1 and 9 km away depending on where the captain decides to land (luggage is transported by tractor).
Fees and permits
- See also: Right to access in the Nordic countries
There is no special fee or permit for accessing the island. However, in practice the only way to reach the island without your own boat is to use the ferry which has to be paid.
There are also a few laws which apply since the area is a natural reserve. In the natural reserve it is not allowed to:
- Bring pets.
- Feed wild animals.
- Hunt, fish or otherwise disturb wildlife.
- Sleep anywhere but on the designated sites (see #Sleep below).
- Light fires, including grills and outdoor stoves.
- Set foot in the seal sanctuary Säludden, except for a designated footbridge and hideout.
Berry and mushroom picking for personal consumption is allowed on the island, with the exception of the area surrounding Säludden.
Motor vehicles and bicycles are disallowed on the island. You will have to get by on foot.
- 1 Gotska Sandön lighthouse (Gotska Sandöns fyr). A 24 m (79 ft) tall lighthouse. It was manned between 1859 until 1970, but is today automated.
- 2 The Chapel (Kapellet), ☏ . Built in 1894, but completely destroyed in a 1934 fire. It was reconstructed in 1950.
- 3 Kyrkudden. A cape on the south-eastern part of the island with an old church ruin.
- 4 Nature and local heritage museum (Natur och hembygdsmuseum) (Fyrbyn). 08:00-21:00 daily during season. In an old school building, this museum showcase different objects associated with the history of the island, including a figurehead from one of the many ships which were wrecked on the island and a gun which belonged to the local pirate Gottberg.
- One of the few scheduled activities, and a popular one, is the daily evening prayer in the small chapel, built in 1894 and rebuilt in 1950 after a fire. A peaceful way to end a most likely peaceful day.
There are no grocery stores or kiosks on the island. Between 08:30 and 09:00 it is however possible to buy maps, books, t-shirts and postcards at the local heritage museum.
The café on the ship is the last restaurant you'll see for a while – you need to bring all the food you're going to eat yourself. Stock up before you go. If you stay in the hostel or in a tent, there is a communal kitchen available.
No, don't expect partying, Gotland is the place to go if that's what you're looking for. You can however get an unlimited amount of freshwater on the island.
There are two areas in this national park where sleeping is allowed: the 1 Lägerplatsen (Camp area) and the 2 Fyrbyn (Lighthouse village). Both are by the northern tip of the island. All lodging must be booked in advance via Sandöresor, and maximum stay is one week. Wherever you sleep you have to clean up the area yourself and check out before 12:00 on the day of your departure.
- Cabins are available in the camp area and in the lighthouse village. Prices start at 700 kr for a two-bed room by the Camp area. Cabins have cooking facilities. Pillows and blankets provided, but bring your own sheets.
- There's a hostel in the camp area where you can rent rooms with 3 or 4 beds. Prices from 500 kr per room per night.
- Pre-raised rental tents are available, with proper beds and wooden floors. Bring your own sheets. Price per tent is 300 kr/night.
- If you bring your own tent the fee is 30 kr per person per night.
- You may only pitch a tent in the designated camping areas.
Be aware that bad weather may mean that the boat back is delayed, possibly by a day or even more. Bring enough spare food for one more day than you plan to spend on the island. In case that departure is delayed more that 24 hours staff on the island will provide food.
If you came with your own boat, instead of a delay, bad weather may mean having to leave for the stormy sea in the middle of the night.
Unless you brought your own sea-going vessel, there are really only two places to go:
- 1 Nynäshamn, a port south of Stockholm
- 2 Fårösund, a port in the north end of Gotland proper, by Fårö
If you did, you could continue to 3 Åland or the 4 Archipelago Sea, where you will have thousands of islands to explore in sheltered waters. The distance is a hundred and some nautical miles, so do your maths to avoid hitting the wealth of skerries in the night, and have your vessel and crew prepared for changes in weather. The 5 Stockholm Archipelago is a bit closer.