There are some logistics to visiting a small island in the Atlantic. What follows is a guide to help get you to and around the Faroe Islands and make the most out of your trip:
You can fly into Faroe Islands (FAE) from 11 different destinations in Europe on Atlantic Airways: some are expected Nordic locations such as Billund, Aalborg, and Copenhagen, Denmark, Reykjavik, Island, Bergen, Norway and Edinburgh, Scotland but also some far-flung locations such as Crete, Palma de Mallorca, Lisbon, Barcelona and Chambrey, France. The commercial airport is located on the south-western island of Vagar. Even if it seems far away, you can drive from here to the northern island of Bordoy in a little over an hour.
Although it may seem like a location where renting a car is mandatory, it isn’t. There is an extensive and efficient bus system that can transport you around the islands and to the main sights, locations and even trailheads. However, if you want to travel at your own pace, have the luxury of a seat heater and shelter in an unexpected (though guaranteed) downpour, I do suggest that you rent a car. The buses cannot reach many of the destinations located up very narrow roads and you cannot stop at each waterfall you wish to climb.
Most major rental car companies are represented on the Islands. We rented with Hertz which-along with a number of other major companies- was managed by 62N. Aside from the back window sticker that boasted the fact that we were in a rental car, everything was fantastic. They keep a close eye on scratches and bumps, so be sure to check everything closely before leaving the lot.
On that note, be advised that many of the off-highway roads are narrow one-ways. It didn’t take us long to realize that the regular shoulder-pull outs were made for passing. Be aware and keep your eyes ahead for a car so you can be courteous and let them through. At one point, the car ahead of us failed to pull out in an adjacent shoulder, so we attempted to veer onto the grass; we learned that the grass is tall and the road ledge is sharp and our poor eco-friendly rental was perched on the bumper. Fortunately, the locals are extraordinarily friendly and a whole team of people helped to get us out (and even better, we landed where the car was already damaged and notated from a previous driver! Whew!)
The two sub-tunnels are toll roads: 100DKK -or $16- for each roundtrip (there and back). You are required to stop at the nearby service station to pay your toll within three days of making your passage. Rental cars conveniently have an electronic chip that records your trips so you can continue on your journey and pay in your final rental bill.
Along with narrow roads and under-the-sea tunnels, you may also encounter something truly unique: one-way mountain tunnels. The same principle applies, except that you are in a very dark tunnel. Before you enter, you will see a sign with two arrows; one in red and one in green. If the one in the direction that you are traveling is red- you must yield inside the tunnel. If you missed the sign, no worries- the car with the shoulders on the right must yield. Again, go slow and keep an eye out for coming cars (they will have their brights on. Dim yours as they approach).
We were lazily making plans for our first day when we noticed that all of the seats on the ferry to Mykines were sold out- with only a few left for the next day. This was the #1 thing I wanted to do, so I would have been devastated if we couldn’t have done it. The ferries to the Island of Birds are small- which keeps only a small amount of people hiking around some of the largest nesting grounds for puffins in the world at a time.
You can find ferry routes, timetables and tickets here: http://www.ssl.fo/en/
If you are an uber-planner and want to go all out, look into the passenger helicopter options- these are a very affordable way to get to a few of the islands- they are used to transport locals and to train pilots for search and rescue missions, so the fees are largely subsidized. Plus, it is a great way to see the islands!
Where to stay
Where you stay depends on what you want to do. Despite the fact that you can traverse the length of the islands in an hour or two, you can position yourself advantageously.
Stay in Torsyvn if:
-You are a foodie – most of the distinguished restaurants (and there are many!) are in Torshavn, specializing in everything from local dried fish to stewed lamb. As many reservation times run late and the Faroe Islands have a very strict NO tolerance policy for drinking and driving, you may consider staying in the capital in order to maximize your culinary tour.
-You intend to make trips to Sandoy and Suduroy, two of the outlying islands that are accessible by ferry from Torshavn.
Stay in Eysturoy if:
-You’re doing all the hiking. This middle-positioned island has a large number of great hikes that traverse between towns and across small peninsulas. It positions you close to the northern islands, which are harder to drive around (you’ll find those one-way mountain tunnels here) and some have to be accessed by a short ferry, including Mikladalur, home of the famous Selkie Woman sculpture. We also found the main town of Kjivik to be much more lively than Torshavn. However, you will be a long drive to the airport and the sights on Vagar.
As previously mentioned, we stayed in Leynar on the island Stomo and found it to be ideal for a few reasons:
Just 20 minutes drive into Torshavn, where most dining establishments can be found, as well as larger stores, shops and a ferry terminal to outer islands.
-The airport, a few of the most iconic hikes, and the terminal to Mykines is less than 20 minutes away on the island Vagar. (Vagar would be a great place to stay for the above mentioned facilities, however, in order to leave this island to visit any of the other islands, you have to go through one of the sea tunnels, which simply adds another 20 minutes to your drive. I think it would feel isolating. Plus, those tunnel tolls would add up)
-We had the relaxing holiday feel of staying in a private house in the country side, while also being very close to all activities. Our longest straight drive was 54 minutes on the way back from Leivik at the end of the day.
-Our AirBnB was one of the best we found. The house is a duplex with another large apartment on the other side which can be rented for larger parties. We had a large deck from which to take in the stunning view, a clean and uncluttered place, fully stocked kitchen, comfortable beds and lots of hot water to warm up at the end of the day! The owner left us with fresh country bread, cheese, meats, some weird fish paste, milk and condiments in the fridge.
Find it here: Faroe Islands Air BnB
Down the street from us, directly off of the beach, we found the most beautiful rental. Well, really it was the hot tub on the deck that first grabbed our attention. Then we peaked inside the windows under the fuzzy roof to see a modern kitchen and open floor plan with huge windows overlooking the beach. All I could think about was how fun it would be to play on the beach at low-tide and then sit in the hot tub all evening!
Lucky for you, I found it’s listing! For a larger group, this would be a superb location at a reasonable price (for the Faroes, that is)
The Visit Faroe Islands Website is one of the best tourism websites I have ever seen. It is a great tool for every aspect of your trip. There is also a Visit Faroe App that was great to have with us upon arrival.
Tours and Excursions
There is a tourist information office in Torshavn that has a ton of resources for the “book now, plan later” travelers. However, I advise you to look into your excursions and tours before arriving on the Islands. Most tours offered via the tourism office are only offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so plan accordingly if a deep sea fishing excursion or sailing on an old schooner are on your list.
You can plan your own day trips to outlying islands utilizing the ferries. As mentioned above, plan in advance.
Before arriving, I read the Faroe Islands hiking manual cover to cover, via ISSUU. I was happy to find a hard copy at the tourism office, which we used as we drove around the islands. While we only ventured onto a few of the many possible hikes, it was good to get an idea of what we were in for.
This is a place where you could literally step off of a towering cliff if you weren’t paying attention- or if the fog does what fog does and rolls in without warning. Be prepared, pack well, and have an idea of where you are going and how long it should take you to get there.
Most hiking paths are marked by cairns- rock piles in the outfield. You are asked to stick to these not only for your own safety, but also to preserve the crops and livestock that are the local people’s livelihood.
Be sure to close outfield gates to keep the livestock on the proper land.
Food & Drink
As previously mentioned, Torshavn is the best spot for the traveling foodie. KOKS is Michelin starred and has an impressive menu of delicately considered local ingredients. Aarstova features local lamb in every possible manner. Barbara offers a menu featuring all seafood. We booked a table here our first evening and were blown away by the flavors of each course. Look for a separate post soon.
For a truly unique experience, consider booking a Heimablidni: “home hospitality.” A few locals offer dinners in their home of family recipes to travelers who have booked in advance. Unfortunately, most are only available for groups. However, Ana and Oli offer open seats at their supper clubs for the same experience. They are easily located just south of Torshavn, but only select spring and early summer dates are available, so you may want to plan your trip around one of the dates! Unfortunately, we were unable to make one of these dinners work for our stay, but I hope that this information makes it possible for someone else!
Other nights, we cooked in. Be sure to stop in a grocery store in the main towns, as the small villages do not have them. We found that the stores had everything we needed and more and had no trouble finding what we needed for two full dinners in the comfort of our rental.
Liquor stores close early and are more rare than a sunny Faroese day. If you want so much as a beer, buy duty free before arrival or do your research and plan accordingly.
Layers, options, and a change of clothes. This is another advantage of having a car- most of our clothes were in there the whole time. The weather is as irresolute as possible, with sunshine disappearing behind dense fog which gives way to driving rains. Even on our sunny days, the clouds would cover and instantly drop the temperatures.
-Wool socks, plus extra for wet toes
– Wool or non-cotton base layers
– Waterproof pull over pants
-Water and wind proof jacket
Most days we wore jeans or leggings with wool socks and boots, a tshirt and a wool sweater. Both of us wore our water-proof Barbour jackets- which sustained all the wind and all the rain, while keeping us toasty warm. We kept water-proof pants, extra socks and hiking boots in the back of the car along with a thick scarf and light thermal layers. All were necessary in August.
Despite the fact that I packed a few cute clothing options, I wore 1 of 2 wool sweaters and the same flannel almost every day. You don’t need much- waterproof clothing, wool under-things, and changes of clothes if you get wet. A good pair of hiking boots or shoes is highly suggested-you want some traction when you are on those cliffs! I wore water-resistant hiking shoes with thick rubber tread and toe. They were great for the weather we had, survived a number of muddy puddles, and could have handled even more terrain, but if we had hiked more in the rain, an all-out water-proof boot would have been better.
Please feel free to ask questions in the comments- or add your own suggestions!
Be sure to keep an eye out for a post on our 4-day itinerary of the islands, as well as a review of Barbara’s fish house!