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We have been plotting our way to Faroe Islands. It is not cheap to get to, but seems very picturesque from all the pictures we have seen.
Stuck somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Scotland and Iceland lie the little known Faroe Islands. This archipelago of 18 islands, 17 of which are inhabited, has a total population of about 50,000 humans and many, many more sheep. The islands are an independent territory of Denmark, but consider themselves Faroese rather than Danish. The official language is Faroese but English is widely spoken. The Faroese language is only spoken by about 80,000 people in the world.
You might think that such a remote, sparsely populated place would pose difficulties for traveling, however the islands are remarkably well connected by daily flights from mainland Europe and the islands themselves have a strong infrastructure with more than adequate roads. Some of the islands are connected by impressive under sea tunnels, while others require hopping on a ferry or simply crossing a bridge. Despite the modern infrastructure and ammenities available to travelers, being on the Faroe Islands is like being transported to another time and place. Some might even say it’s like living in a fairy tale. This is a land that inspires the imagination. If you have even the slightest adventurous spirit, you’re bound to love traveling to the Faroe Islands.
The Faroe Islands are a photographer’s dream. You’ll see countless waterfalls (I’m not kidding, they are everywhere and even more plentiful than Iceland!), colorful little villages with grass roofed houses and huge sea cliffs with absolutely dramatic vistas. There’s something around almost every turn that will catch your eye. While you could spend weeks on these islands to see everything, I’ll list my favorite spots in the following paragraphs to easily fill a 4-5 day journey through the islands. You should also consider that the weather on the Faroes can be notoriously rough, and your plans may be subject to mother nature. We lost more than a day to rain and extreme fog which made it difficult and even pointless to do some of the hikes at higher elevations. To that end, I would ideally give yourself about a week on the islands just in case you lose some days to the conditions.
I spent hours upon hours researching and scouring the web for information on the Faroes to plan the best trip I could before my wife and I visited in August of 2019. I’ve summarized that information, along with my own personal experiences to give you a flexible itinerary in the coming paragraphs. Realistically, each day of this itinerary could be it’s own blog post, but I’ll try to condense everything down into the most simple and necessary to know information to help make your planning a bit easier.
How to get there
Getting to the islands is actually pretty straightforward, you’ll either fly from Copenhagen, Oslo, Reykjavik, or Edinburgh. All four of those cities offer direct flights and, if you plan it well, you can make it round trip for about $200 bucks. During my planning, I found Copenhagen to be the cheapest option and buying two one way flights was far less expensive than doing it round trip! The airlines that offer these flights are Atlantic Airways and Scandinavian Airways (aka SAS). Prices change frequently, so check often because your desired days are bound to go up and down a number of times.
Where to stay and how to get around
There are a number of hotels, especially in the capital, along with guesthouses and AirBnB’s scattered through the islands. Tórshavn is an ideal base to explore from, although you will find lodging to be slightly more expensive there than outside of the city. We spent our time at an AirBnb and just found those options to be much more economical than hotels during peak season.
The Faroe Islands do have a bus system, but I would not rely on that as your way of getting around. Some of the coolest places are just in the middle of nowhere and you’ll have so much more flexibility if you’ve got your own car. You’d probably have better luck hitchhiking than getting a bus to everywhere you want to go. Also, driving in the Faroe Islands is just a blast – you’ll get to experience winding roads through epic scenery, one lane tunnels through the inside of mountains and hairpin turns up and down mountains. You might even have to dodge a few sheep along the way! If you prefer automatics, reserve your car early! There aren’t many available, and the ones they do have are rather pricey. We used Bilrøkt for our car and found their prices to be about as good as you can find. The only downside is you can’t pick-up from the airport with them. Reserve months in advance if at all possible.
What should I wear?
The Faroe Islands have every type of weather, sometimes even in the span of a few minutes you’ll experience all of it which makes it slightly challenging knowing what to bring. If you’ve done Iceland, I’d pack similarly. That means, bring a sweatshirt, good waterproof hiking boots and definitely a raincoat. You may even want to wear layers on some days to deal with the wind which can blow right through you. I’m not much for wearing gloves unless it is absolutely freezing, but a pair of mittens might be a good idea to throw in your bag. Any clothes that dry quickly or repel water will be helpful.
I also recommend loading up on snacks and picnic food that you can carry with you. Many places that you’ll be going are pretty remote. You’re not just going to stumble on a fast food chain or anything like that, which if you ask me, is part of the allure of the Faroe Islands. Also, having a little picnic in these otherworldly locations is a fantastic way to add to the already awesome experience. More on that later. Furthermore, food on the islands is just expensive wherever you go and grocery stores are the most economical way to travel on a budget.
The islands do have decent cell phone coverage, so if you have a provider like Google Fi or an international sim, it should work. Regardless, pick up a map at the airport on your way out from the stand just outside the tourism office – they are free and show all of the buttercup routes, which are the roads they’ve designated as the most scenic. If you use Google Maps, download the maps of the Faroes for offline use before arriving just in case you don’t have service somewhere while out and about.
Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s dive in to the fun stuff. Rather than list a bunch of highlights scattered across multiple islands I will break it down by island so you can easily plan out your days rather than wasting time trying to figure out where these places that you can’t even pronounce are actually located. Since you’re probably staying in Tórshavn, we’ll start with the island of Streymoy. This is the Faroe’s biggest island but still, you can get from one end to the other easily and it won’t feel that large once you get out exploring. Some spots you have to hit are:
Make the journey to Saksun, the tiny village of maybe a dozen people in a surreal setting. Do some hiking, take some epic photos of the grass roofed huts in the most idyllic setting and enjoy the quiet solitude. This is one of the most photographed places on the islands, but it’s not overrated in the slightest. There are a couple of hikes here, if you’re doing the ontunya hike try to plan it around low tide so you can make it all the way through the bay. This hike now has a turnstile with a credit card machine to get in, so you have to pay or turn around. Kind of annoying, but it is a unique and beautiful hike. The hike takes maybe 90 minutes round trip. The other hike is a much longer trek that goes up and over a mountain to the village of Tjørnuvík. This hike was still free during our visit.
Drive up to Sornfeli, it’s a spot near an old NATO installation high up off a buttercup route but only a few minutes outside of the capital. The road that leads up there is crazy narrow and winds back and forth more than a river. If you happen to have a sunny moment there’d be views for days up there! I was there on a windy, cloudy and foggy day and I dang near blew off the top, but it was still a fun experience!
Fossa literally means waterfall in Faroese, but the highest waterfall on the islands is just known as Fossa and found near the northern tip of Streymoy close to the picturesque village of Tjornuvik. Fossa technically is three different tiers and ranges in size depending on recent rainfall, just like every other waterfall on the islands.
Google maps will take you directly to the fall if you type in Fossa. You’ll spot it right off the road, and there’s a little car parking area. The hiking trail begins to the right of the falls and zig zags up to the middle level. There doesn’t seem to be one correct route for the way up, so just find some good footing and keep working your way up. You supposedly can make it all the way to the top level but we didn’t find it necessary to do this, especially on a cloudy day. It’s not the most spectacular of waterfalls, but it is beautiful nonetheless,. It is worth a hike up to the middle tier and won’t take more than 60-90 minutes up total.
While you’re in the capital, make sure to stop at the Skansinn Fortress which is right by the ferry/bus terminal. There’s some cool history and great views. Did you know the Faroe Islands were used by the British in World War II? I sure didn’t! You also should save some time to stroll through Tinganes, the old Parliament area. There’s a number of restaurants and even a movie theater, should you get bored on a rainy day. I also enjoyed the little harbor. It’s all so quaint and peaceful.
On Eysturoy, which connects to Streymoy by bridge, there is easily a full day’s worth of adventuring to do here if you are lucky enough to have decent weather which, regretfully, we did not. You have to visit the village of Gjogv and hike around the gorge leading into the sea. You might even see some puffins there along the cliffs. It’s such a beautiful setting for a village, and there’s even a cafe here if you need to take a break and chow down on something or warm up with some hot chocolate.
Right at the top of the hill on the road leading into Gjogv, you’ll find a pull off on the road (left side if you’re heading away from the village). This is the start of a hike known as Hvíthamar which follows the fence line straight up. At the top there are some spectacular views, supposedly. I tried but was surrounded by crazy fog for all but about 10 seconds and what I could see during that little window was amazing! The hike takes like 15 minutes up and then you can wander around along the ridge line. It’s easy to miss the pull off if you aren’t paying attention for it. It’s just about 3km before the village.
Not too far from Hvíthamar is another spectacular hike which we tried to do twice but opted not to because of intense rain, wind and fog. Slættaratindur is the highest mountain in the Faroe Islands, and on a clear day you can see all the way to Iceland from the summit. It even got some sort of record for the longest sight line, which is pretty dang cool. If you’ve miraculously got a clear day, enjoy hiking and have a couple of hours you absolutely should do this! The road to Slættaratindur is a mountain pass and even on a foggy day was still spectacular, especially when you could see the expansive views of the cliffs and sea stacks off in the distance before they got enveloped in thick fog again.
Mykines is one of the absolute must dos on any trip to the Faroe Islands. It’s the western most island of the archipelago and known for being a huge puffin nesting colony and having a beautiful lighthouse which is reachable by a spectacular hike with jaw dropping scenery. If that’s not enough to peak your interest, maybe stop reading here! You either reach the island by ferry or helicopter but I’m just going to cover the ferry side as this is what we did and is quite simple. First and foremost, book your ferry tickets early because this route sells out in high season and you don’t want to miss out. Again, just like reserving your car, months early is good. Secondly, this route is frequently the victim of cancellations due to bad weather, so it’s best to book the trip in the first half of your time on the Faroes. This will leave you a chance to go on a later day, especially if they add on another trip which they will if there’s enough interest after a string of cancellations.
You take the ferry from the port in Sorvagur, it takes maybe 45 minutes to arrive at Mykines but the ride is part of the adventure itself. They’ll take you right by Dragarnir and Tindolholm and the perspective you get from the boat is awesome, just make sure to claim a spot with room to take pictures. I found the back of the boat to be best. Eventually you’ll get to Mykines and you can either go into the village and use the bathroom or stop at the cafe for a snack or head immediately on to the hiking trail. If you want to experience the entire route with minimal human interaction, I’d recommend going straight for the hike as most everyone on our sold out boat went into town.
The ferry heads back to Vagar about 5pm which should leave you enough time for another marvelous stop at what I think is one of the most special places on the planet – Gásadalur and the Múlafossur waterfall. If you’ve ever been on Instagram, you’ve seen a picture of this place. Often, a spot like this can be over hyped, but I assure you this was not the case. It’s a 12 minute drive from where you parked for the ferry to Mykines to the parking area just outside of the village of Gásadalur . Go down the path, take some photos but most importantly just sit back and enjoy the fairy tale view that you are blessed enough to be able to see in person. I recommend doing this the same day as Mykines to save you from paying another 100 DKK fee for going through the under sea tunnel. You could come another day and add in the Sorvagsvatn hike to the famous floating lake, but the land owners have imposed a stiff 200 DKK per person charge to hike there, which is 30 some bucks a person. That’s a racket I’m not willing to get involved with! If you’re willing to fork over the money, the hike would be absolutely lead to some world class views.
When you’re talking about must dos on the Faroe Islands, the hike to the Kallur Lighthouse on Kalsoy should be on everyone’s list. You reach Kalsoy by taking a ferry from Klaksvik, the ride only takes a few minutes and you get to pack your car onto a relatively small ferry like sardines. Get your car in line early or you won’t make it! You can park your car and then walk down the road to a cool little cafe and hang out for a bit. We arrived about an hour before the departure that we wanted and there were already a couple cars in line. Check out the ferry schedule ahead of time so you can plan appropriately and note that the schedule does change depending on the season. Once you get to Kalsoy, take the island’s only road and head north. If you’re directionally challenged, just go the way basically everyone else is going! Be advised, there are a handful of one lane tunnels through the mountains that are pretty narrow and dark, but nothing too dangerous if you pay attention! I read some horror stories of these tunnels but didn’t find them too dangerous if you drive cautiously.
You’ll keep driving until you reach literally the end of the road, a village name Trollanes. It’s a beautiful spot right by the ocean where a few farmers live. You’ll see a parking area and a public bathroom right before entering the village. This is where your head off into the hills for a hike that you will definitely never forget. I can’t even tell you how cool it is when you reach the lighthouse. The views in every direction are unspeakably awesome. You’re hundreds of feet above the ocean on near vertical cliffs with multiple islands in view off in the distance. It’s just nothing short of spectacular. One of the best views and most iconic photos is actually just beyond the lighthouse at the top of a little, narrow ridge. It’s a little daunting hiking up there, but with some caution and a decent pair of hiking boots you can make it just fine. We had a picnic at the lighthouse. You can’t get a much better spot to slow down and take it all in. It’s truly majestic. If you’ve got a few minutes to spare before your return boat leaves, stop at the village of Mikladalur and check out the statue of the seal woman. Just about everywhere on Kalsoy feels like you’ve been transported into a different era and this is a half day side trip you will not forget.
Back in Klaksvik, if you’ve got the time and enough daylight, drive up Lover’s Lane and hike to the Klakkur viewpoint. The drive itself takes you high above the city where you’ll eventually find a parking area and a sign directing the route of the hike. Getting there is easy if you’ve got a GPS, just type in Ástarbreytin which is the road ending at the parking area.
If you have more time on the islands, visit Suðuroy. It’s a two hour ferry from Tórshavn. The boat is huge and rarely get canceled, unlike the Mykines line. There are a lot of hikes and epic views on the island so I’d recommend staying a night and taking a boat back the next day so you don’t have to rush through everything.
About the Author:
Adam is a curious individual who spent a semester in Spain and came home with a very strong case of an incurable strain of the travel bug. He has become a budget traveling aficionado, always on the lookout for the next great deal, which is nothing more than an excuse to pack his bags again and explore this fascinating planet. Adam spends his non-traveling time working as a case manager, photographer and freelance blogger, and enjoys sports and film. Follow Adam on his site Adam Smith Adventure, his Facebook or Instagram.
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