There are few places in the world where you could say “The weather was horrible the entire time” and have it not effect your experience at all. With over 200 days of rain each year, the Faroe Islands are more than likely going to show you the true meaning of “Rain drops keep falling on my head.” Having visited in late August, we managed to secure 3 of our 4 days in relative sunshine. It truly felt as if the Norse gods had rained blessings down upon us when we left an uncharacteristically sunny day of hiking on a remote island as the storm clouds followed the ferry back to the main port. We made it home in time to watch the rains sheet across the small fjord outside our Air BnB.
It seems that this small cluster of Atlantic Islands is lost somewhere between their similarly green cousins of Scotland to the south and their strikingly similar dramatic brother, Iceland, in the north. Sleepy is the first term that came to mind in nearly every small fishing village we passed through as we slowly wound our way around the landscape.
However, it didn’t take long to relish in the slow pace of life: every morning, the coffee sputtered, the wind brushed the hairy turfed roofs and water whooshed from thousands of rivulets down the encircling mountain sides. We woke each day to foreboding clouds in the horizon, though only once did they exact their menace upon us. We sipped our coffee on the wrap around porch or from the breakfast table inside as we planned the day’s excursions from our home base in Leynar, Stromo Island in the south. Then we would dress, pack the car with extra dry clothes, rubber pull over pants and hiking boots, a picnic of meats and cheese and hit the narrow roads.
Before I dig too far into our itinerary, let me brief you on how we even landed on this obscure mass of land. Most people we know have either asked “Where is that?” or exclaimed “I’ve never even heard of that before!” Faroe first piqued our interest about the same time we moved to Finland. Jimmy had seen a picture on some website or another of a lake on a cliff over the ocean and decided that someday, somehow, we were going (This from the guy who doesn’t fancy hiking). We watched the ticket prices remained consistently high, regardless of season, for nearly three years. There are few (but growing) locations from which you can reach the islands, but one of them happens to be Copenhagen (as it is a Kingdom of Denmark) which is just a short 90 min flight from Helsinki. Finally, this year, the flights took a slight dip in price while I was visiting family back home in July; I received a text from Jimmy that said “Screw it, we’re going!” And just a month later, we were there for a long weekend, using some of the last few vacation days Jimmy has in order to celebrate our third wedding anniversary.
In hindsight, a long weekend was a perfect amount of time to spend here on holiday. If you wanted to be very thorough and do absolutely everything and a luxuriously restful pace, you could occupy up to a week. However, there are few places to eat and nearly no taverns or bars in which to interact with locals (your best bet is on the trails), so we found a long weekend to be just right. We slept in, ate out once, cooked in otherwise, and checked the major highlights off of our list.
Day 1: Explore & Torshavn
After arriving and getting settled into your residence, start by just exploring your area. The chances are that there are waterfalls and vistas around every corner.
We had planned to spend the remained of our afternoon in the capital of Torshavn. I had booked us a late night dinner reservation at Barbara, a highly recommended fish house.
Torshavn has some historic buildings- such as Tinganes, the parliament building where Faroese have been meeting since year 900 (or at least on that site) and the surrounding area of old, turfed houses (now housing restaurants). You can also visit the Nordic House and Historical Museum or walk along the waterfront to the lighthouse.
I had planned the entire afternoon to be spent here, but after a few hours of wandering and an hour or so spent over a plate of nachos and Faroese beer on the fishing docks, a visit to the grocery store for provisions we were plumb out of things to do. With 2.5 hours left until our reservation and a cold wind settling in, we figured we should just drive.
This was a good lesson to learn so early on in the trip. When in doubt, drive somewhere- anywhere. You will not be disappointed. We went a mere 15 minutes away to the other side of the peninsula and found a stunning sunset view over the outlying islands- all to ourselves. …and a dozen or so sheep.
Visit Torshavn, especially for a fantastic meal and if you want to see a few cultural museums. However, it was one of the least remarkable locations considering everything else there is to see.
Day 2: Drive North
On day two, we followed the pin points
As I was intricately braiding my hair to sustain the gale force winds ahead (HA! You’ll see how well that helped…) Jimmy dropped some pins on his map from the Visit Faroe Tourism app. We chose a route based upon those and wound our way around Stromo to Eysturoy, then up one side of Eysturoy, under the ocean bed (and a few mountains) as far north as Bordoy, then back down the other side of Eysturoy. It seems like a long route but we were never in the car for more than 30 minutes at a time. So much to see in such a small area! We didn’t even hit the road until nearly noon after a lazy morning and itinerary planning, and arrived home around 9pm after having stopped at any place that caught our eyes!
First Stop: Saskun
Following the gorgeous valley road passed hundreds of epic waterfalls to a tiny coffee shop over looking the mouth of a fjord is a great side trip on Stromo. We popped out at one point to hike up a waterfall before some very intimidating looking rams stalked us back to our car (lesson learned, I am afraid of sheep).
Arriving in Saskun, we walked out along the trail beyond the church towards the fjord bed- which you can hike down to when the tide is out- until the rains drove us to the safety of our car.
On the way back, we had an incident with our wheel driving off the side of the road and being temporarily stuck- Thank you to the super friendly locals! However, as we were maneuvering out, another rental came roaring by and- not paying attention- didn’t see us and went crashing off the road and nearly into the river. Everyone was ok, but the car was totaled. Please be cautious on these roads- this one was flat and easy, but you must be very mindful of the other cars and tractors on the road and be prepared to pull over at any time.
Second Stop: Gjogv
Named for the small gorge in the town, this little village tops most must-see lists. The gorge is very pretty and fun to climb around in. You can see up close how clear and blue the water is and listen to the waves crash outside. From on top, you can get a view of nesting puffins in the Cliffside- only a preview of what’s to come in Mykines! There are a few hikes around here- up the cliffs by the puffins or in the lower country side, or you can do as we did and warm up in the Gjaargardur Guest House.
They have coffees, pasties and pies, beers and ciders, soup and a buffet dinner at night. Even better, they sold us two bottles of wine for our weekend provisions since we had missed the liquor store closing by 12 minutes (at 2pm!)
Third Stop: Somewhere in between….
The promised scenic drive to this location was obstructed by dense fog and lots of rain, and our stay was short. I am sure a stunning coastline was behind all the stuff coming out of the sky, but I had my hood pulled so tightly against my face that I am not certain. All of the photos are dappled with water spots so this one is a big question mark for us.
Final Stop: Klaksvik
We made for Klaksvik first and went from there. After getting into the striking harbor town, we continued driving north for Bordoy, in hopes of catching a view of Kalsoy and the outlying islands at sunset. Unfortunately the fog closed in and obstructed the view, but it didn’t keep us from laughing our butts off as we drove, unsuspectingly, into a dark, one-way mountain tunnel! It didn’t take long to figure out, but it was a great adventure while we were at it! AND we got to do it 4 times- two in and two back! I think it may be worth the drive north just to experience this. We drove north as far as Vidareidi- about as far as you can drive before turning back and making for our home base.
On the way back, we followed some very festive twinkle lights to a harbor-side festival (of some sort) where we walked in on an anchor-holding competition. Three strapping young lads on a stage held anchors straight out in front until they dropped one-by-one to the howls and cheers of the on looking crowd. The next event was arm wrestling, during which one contestant passed out cold on the stage- not to worry! There were paramedics on hand- apparently this happens often enough to be prepared! (I wondered if the winners of these competitions got to pick their bride first, or something. It seemed rather….barbaric. But also awesome.)
Aside from the grunting Faroese men on stage, there was a fish and chips stand with a line a mile long and little kiddie pools filled with a variety of sea creatures as a sort of aquatic petting zoo for the kids. (I will add that each tank also had a series of hoses for the kids to irritate the swimmers with in order to see them move. The little boys were a bit too enthusiastic and there was at least one “belly up”..)
Then home for some pasta bolgnese and a hard-fought bottle of wine to the sounds of whistling wind on the deck!
Day 3: Day Trip by Ferry
After spending a whole day driving, it was time to take to the waters. There are a few islands that you cannot access by sea tunnel. The advantage here is that the villages live out their days without the interruption of hoards of tourists, cars and all other things that might make an otherwise charming island…uncharming. If you have all the time in the world, you can visit a few of these and spend your time getting to know the intricacies of each. Now, you can visit the southern most islands by way of Torshavn, or you can do as we did and visit Mykines, the Island of Birds.
It would be a complete disservice and gross understatement if I didn’t tag this experience in my top-5 ever. For that reason, it deserves its own post, which you can read here: Mykines Day Trip.
(more information on ferries and bookings can be found on the Faroe Islands Logistics post)
Day 4: Vagar
On our final day, we decided to tackle everything that Vagar has to offer- which happen to be some of the most iconic parts of the islands.
For our morning hike, we decided to test fate and take what could potentially be the most dangerous hike of them all. Suitable for all audiences, provided that you feel comfortable walking along sheer cliffs that plummet into the swirling waters below.
But all that in a minute. This hike starts out much more placidly- with a stroll along a glassy lake. Many Faroese tales have many similarities to what we are familiar with as Scottish lore: Selkies- the seals that shed their skins once a year to dance in the moonlight; Fairies; Folk that live in the rocks; and water horses. This particular lake has a rather long tale about a sea horse who use to lure children on its back for a ride before pulling them under and drowning them. He isn’t believed to still reside in the depths after an unfortunate incident wherein he lost his power, but it didn’t stop me from calling out to it to come play as we hiked the rocky edges.
You can see the cairns- rock formations used to mark hiking trails- in these photos as well as the gates and steps used to cross between different properties. I found it so unique that we were walking through people’s land, right passed their fluffy sheep and straight up to a cliffs edge. This hike in particular made it perfectly clear why you are advised to stay by the nearest cairn if a dense fog should suddenly roll in- you could literally step off a cliff!
The climax of this hike is a grassy knoll that rises above the lake- and drops straight down to the ocean below. These pictures cannot even begin to describe the massive scale of these cliffs. I mean…I just……I have no words.
Both Jimmy and I were extraordinarily cautious when approaching the cliff- lose rocks abound! I sat down and scooted as close as I wanted, all while repeatedly telling Jimmy not to die because it would really piss me off to go home alone. However, once you get a spot where you are comfortable, sit for a while and enjoy the view. It makes an optical illusion that makes it appear as if the lake is perched over the cliff’s edge. Be careful though! It induces a bit of vertigo.
Be safe! There is a rising case of selfie deaths. If you are trying to get great photos, take your shots with a sturdy foothold. if you need to reposition, put the camera down and focus on your feet first before shooting again.
This was pretty funny because Jimmy and I had been looking forward to this hike the most- and yet it made us both so uncomfortable that we didn’t stay nearly as long as I had thought. As I said- it is a really lovely 2-hour round trip hike to just enjoy. You can decide how close you want to get to the edge, or just stay on the hill. But certainly do not miss the opportunity while you are there!
The final highlight of Vagar is the picturesque isolated town of Gasadalur. This little town sits at the base or a punch-bowl, perched on the Cliffside. Oh, did I mention that there is a waterfall??
Yes, it is as picture-perfect as they come. Part of what makes it so special is that is was isolated until 2004, when a mountain tunnel connected it to the rest of the island. Before that time, villagers had to trek over the 400 meter mountains to the nearest town- a hike you can still make today, if you are so inclined. A stairway to the waters was built during WWII by the British that improved access to boats but is closed today. Not many residents were left in the town before the tunnel, but the opening of the tunnel has helped to keep it from becoming a ghost town. Today, there are walks along the Cliffside and a few cafes open in town. Or just drive in a take a good while to enjoy the cascading waterfall next to this scenic town.
We had actually visited the town the evening before as a detour on our way home after the Mykines adventure- it is just a few minutes drive from the harbor. The views before sunset were stunning- especially out over the waters to the island of Mykines and beyond. This really is a special location, so be sure to make the quick detour while you are in the area.
Want more Faroe?
If you have more time to spend, consider these add-ons:
-Spend another day in the northern islands to explore Kunoy and take the ferry to Kalsoy to see the famous Selkie sculpture. There are also great hikes in this area. You can slow down your tour of Eysturoy with a few hikes listed in the Faroe Islands Hiking Guide on ISSUU.
-Take a day trip to the outlying southern islands, Nolsoy, Sandoy, and Suduroy. There are some very well known hikes down that direction as well.
-Book an excursion to go sailing on an old schooner or fishing in the open waters. Visit Faroe Islands is calk a block full of fantastic ways to fill your time on the islands. You can also download their app for use when you are there. (Most of these tours are only offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Be sure to book ahead, as the seats are limited. More information on my Faroe Islands Logistics post)
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