The Overlooked Gem Of The North Atlantic – The Faroe Islands

This wasn’t quite an Arctic excursion. I wasn’t defending against polar bears like in Svalbard or trekking across an ice sheet like in Greenland. 

But it was certainly a remote North Atlantic adventure — one most travelers skip over or fly by. Visiting the Faroe Islands was similar to exploring Iceland in that it is all about appreciating incredible natural beauty. But it’s a bit more exotic.

Despite the Faroe Islands being closer to continental Europe, they don’t draw the tourist hordes of Iceland. And in a sense they are more remote. When’s the last time you heard about the Faroe Islands stopover? 🤔 

But just as Greenland should be made a summer getaway again, the Faroe Islands should be a stopover for travelers traversing the Atlantic.

Yes, it was quite difficult for me to get to the Faroe Islands — needlessly so, I might add. But I was determined to make it happen. And I did. 

And I left impressed. You can see it in my selfie face. 😉 

Rehashing the missed flight story

A little over a year ago, I was staring at the departure board at the international airport in Reykjavik looking for my flight to the Faroe Islands. I never found it. What I did find was that through some strange logic the Faroe Islands, which is part of Denmark, is considered a domestic flight in Iceland. I was at the wrong airport.

I missed my flight which meant I missed out on visiting the Faroe Islands all together. There are only flights from Iceland to the Faroe Islands every few days, and I didn’t want to sacrifice any of my subsequent trip to Greenland by waiting for the next plane.

After deciding to extend my stay in Iceland, I promised myself I would visit the Faroe Islands upon the next opportunity. That opportunity arose this July.

Hello and goodbye, Scotland

The last time I tried to visit the Faroe Islands I was in the midst of an arctic adventure. This time I would be leaving behind the lush lowlands of northern Scotland.

My final day in Scotland was a memorable one. On the last evening I met up with a female friend in a town not far from Edinburgh called Saint Andrews.

A beach in Saint Andrews

Saint Andrews is home to the golf course where golf was invented. So what did we do. We indulge in the true Scottish pastime of watching golf and drinking whiskey. 😊

It’s easy to see why golf is so popular when you see courses like this.

The next morning before my flight I wanted to visit one last thing. If you have read Dan Brown’s book, The Davinci Code, you’ll understand why it was fitting for my last memory of Scotland to be the Rosslyn Chapel.

The chapel may be the place where that story ends, but it is where my Faroe Island story begins.

Rosslyn Chapel

Ever since it was featured in The Davinci Code (the book and the movie) it has become a very popular place for tourists to visit. But even before Dan Brown’s novel, it was a place that has always had rumors about connection to the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. I didn’t see anything suspicious myself.

We finished our visit at the chapel and it was time to say goodbye to my friend and the country of Scotland. She got on a bus back to Saint Andrews and I drove to the Edinburgh airport.

Edinburgh

I found my flight to Faroe Islands on the international departure screen right where it belonged.

The Faroe Islands

After a short flight, the Faroe Islands appeared beneath our small plane. I had a window seat, but unfortunately was on the wrong side of the plane. I didn’t get to enjoy the view until we had almost landed.

When I did get to see the islands, it was worth the wait.

Breathtaking

The tall, lush green mountains layered with clouds are very characteristic of the islands. There are 18 islands in total that make up the Faroe archipelago, and all of them have very similar geographical terrain.

Like Greenland, the Faroe Islands are an autonomous Danish territory. For nearly 800 years, the Faroes were actually part of the Kingdom of Norway, although for about half of that time Norway was in a union with Denmark. The Faroe Islands were formally ceded to Denmark in 1814 and have been self governing since 1948.

Most people in the Faroe Islands are known as Faroe Islanders, or Faroese. Faroese is also the name of their language.

In all, these 18 islands have a population of only about 51,000 people. Since the population is so small and not nearly as spread out as in Greenland, there is only a need for one airport. We landed at this airport in the town of Sørvágur on an island called Vagar.

Immediately after stepping foot in the Faroes, I looked out over the bay and caught an incredible view of the westernmost island called Mykines. It seemed like I would be very lucky with the weather, as the visibility was much better than I expected.

Mykines Island

I wasn’t completely sure what terrain and road quality to expect, so I had reserved a big SUV as my rental car for the next four days.

I went straight to pick up the car and started my adventure, although it was difficult to make much progress. It seemed like every 10 meters I wanted to stop to take a photo. Everywhere I went was a picturesque combination of these big green mountains with a sharp blue sea in the background and wildlife everywhere.

This could be turned into a very difficult puzzle.

I knew how much there was to see though so I did my best to keep moving towards my first destination, the Múlafossur Waterfall.

After getting some great selfies in front of a few of Iceland’s many beautiful waterfalls, I knew I had to see this one. It is considered by many to be one of the most striking waterfalls on the planet. I now consider myself somewhat of an expert on waterfalls (having seen some of the best in South America, Africa etc), so I wanted to be the judge of that. 😊

I drove my SUV through a small town not far from Sørvágur and followed the sea northwest through a harbor alongside some cliffs and finally through a tunnel that spits you out at the town of Gásadalur.

From there you need to park and walk a little way to the most popular vantage point.

The waterfall turned out to be one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen in my life. It was this massive cliff with water plunging at least a hundred meters straight into the Atlantic Ocean. In very typical Faroe Island fashion, it had huge green mountains, steep cliffs and deep blue ocean around it to make it even more beautiful.

Múlafossur

You already know I had to take one of my waterfall selfies:

Should I make a calendar of all my waterfall selfies? 🤔

Another great part about this place was that there weren’t a lot of tourists. There were some of course, but never so many that it felt crowded or took away from how scenic the location was.

You were allowed to go quite close to the waterfall, so I did that and almost stepped on one of those cute little puffin birds with the orange beaks. I had never seen a puffin before, and here there were puffins everywhere right up to the edge of the waterfall.

Almost stepped on this little guy..

The town behind the waterfall in my pictures is called Gásadalur. It has one of the best views of the island I mentioned earlier called Mykines.

I took another picture and headed back to my car for the next destination.

Clear view of Mykines

You might think that a lake almost 40 meters above the ocean and only separated by a narrow cliff would lead to another great waterfall, but Múlafossur was going to be tough to beat. I stopped at the famous lake called Sørvágsvatn anyway, and was quite impressed.

It basically looked like an infinity pool you would find at a resort or hotel, except this was an entire lake. Maybe it was some Viking god’s infinity pool? 🤔

Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures, but if you Google Sørvágsvatn you’ll see why it is so special.

Torshavn

It was starting to get a little bit late in the afternoon, so I decided to head to the capital city of Tórshavn where I had booked my Airbnb.

Tórshavn is on the largest island called Streymoy, which is directly to the east of Vagar.

The islands are connected by bridges and tunnels, so to get to Streymoy I needed to pass deep underneath the sea. It is a little bit tricky because many of the tunnels are only one way, so every hundred meters or so there are places to stop and let the other cars pass.

Underwater tunnel

Eventually I made it to the island of Streymoy. From there Tórshavn is in the southern part of the island, right on the water.

Torshavn marina

After setting my bags down in my Airbnb I walked around a bit to explore the Faroese capital. Tórshavn is a city of about 20,000, by far the largest in the Faroes.

You know I love visiting places like Iceland and especially Greenland in the summer when the sun hardly ever sets. While the Faroe Islands aren’t technically Arctic (they are four degrees outside the official Arctic Circle) it still doesn’t get very dark in July, which gave me plenty of time to walk around and admire all of the colorful buildings.

Eventually I found a steakhouse and had a very nice steak before returning to my Airbnb for the night.

Day Two

I woke up on my first full day in the Faroe Islands to another day of good weather with great visibility.  I figured this would be a good day to cover as much distance as I could and see as many islands as possible.

Time to explore

There were some places I wanted to see in the northern islands, so I headed in that direction.

Here’s a small example of one of the bridges that connects the islands when a tunnel isn’t necessary.

I drove all the way to the northernmost settlement of the Faroe Islands, a town called Viðareiði on the island Viðoy.

Viðareiði on the right

As I’m sure you can guess, all the towns in the Faroe Islands are next to the water. Part of the reason for this is that many of them were settled by Vikings who needed quick access to their ships, but the main reason is the fishing industry. The Faroe Islands are the world’s leading salmon producer, and Atlantic Faroese salmon is renowned by top chefs around the world.

If you ever see it on a menu, order it and you’ll know why.

Aquaculture is a huge part of the success of the salmon industry there. You can see all the salmon farming nets in this picture I took of the mountain called Malinsfjall.

Believe it or not, this is only the third largest mountain in the archipelago.

Notice the aquaculture farms at the bottom

I wanted to take advantage of this great weather so I traversed north and south around the northern islands trying to see as much as I could.

Not a bad drive to work for the local fishermen

First, I drove down Kunoy, which is as beautiful as the next, but without many people. There are only two settlements here and they have a combined population of 64. In one of the settlements there is an old boat hanging in the church in town that I visited. The story is that over a hundred years ago all seven able-bodied men in the village died in a fishing accident.

The settlement was thought to have bad luck for a long time after that, so Kunoy has been sparsely populated ever since.

Small settlements on Kunoy

After Kunoy I traveled south to visit the second largest city in the Faroe Islands called Klaksvik.

Despite being the second largest “city”, it only has a population of about 5,100. This shows you how dramatically the population drops off after Torshavn. It is beautiful, but Klaksvík is a fairly quiet place without too much significance. I know they have a brewery and that’s about it.

Klaksvík was the end of my time in Norðoyar, which is the name they use for the seven northernmost islands. I took the underwater bridge to the town of Leirvík and continued to drive around while soaking up the nearly-Arctic sun.

An interesting note about Leirvík is that in 1349 all of the inhabitants died from the Bubonic Plague. It is interesting to think a place as isolated as the Faroe Islands still was not safe from the Black Death.

Blue water off the coast of Leirvík

From Leirvík I moved up the eastern coast of the island Eysturoy. I first stopped in the small town of Fuglafjörður. This town is starting to develop a cultural center, and if I had to guess I would say it will pass Klaksvík in population someday because of it.

Most of the young people in the Faroe Islands move to Denmark after graduating high school though, so population trends in towns change very slowly over many years.

Fuglafjörður on the left

I finally made my way to the top of the Eysturoy island to a little settlement called Gjógv.

Gjógv

In Gjógv you can find the two tallest mountains and one of the best natural harbors on the Faroe Islands. It might even be one of the best natural harbors in the world.

Gjógv Harbor

You can see how any boat who could fit into this harbor would be safe from nasty conditions. The harbor even has a basic railway system for transporting cargo into town.

Gjógv from the distance

After exploring the town, I headed for the highest mountain called Slættaratindur. A decent portion of the mountain could be driven up with your car, so I went as far as I could and tried to enjoy the views. Unfortunately, it is so far to the north and so high up that the wind is very extreme.

It is possible to climb all the way to the top in just a few hours, but I can’t imagine how bad the wind is up there. In Greek mythology the god of cold air or the “north wind” is named Boreas. People sometimes say you can find God at the top of mountains, I bet you could find Boreas up there.

After Gjógv it was back to the island of Streymoy where the capital of Tórshavn sits in the southern corner.

Instead of going south I decided to traverse north-south one last time while the weather was nice. I headed north to the town of Tjørnuvík.

Nice looking beach at Tjørnuvík

Tjørnuvík was similar to Klaksvík, nothing very significant about it although the colorful houses and surrounding scenery made all these places very enjoyable to look at.

I traveled west from Tjørnuvík to my last stop for the day, the settlement of Saksun. The population is only 14, and yet they have a church and a sheep farm which functions as a museum. I found that out later actually, or I probably would have gone. How a sheep farm doubles as a museum I may never know.

Another waterfall at saksun

Back to the big city..

I made my way down to my Airbnb in Tórshavn after a long day. When the days are so long it is easy to forget how late it is.

After a quick rest I went out to find something to eat. The restaurants there are quite good and, although I wouldn’t call it cheap, the prices are fair and a bit less expensive than a place like Iceland which has similar cuisine. A full dinner in Tórshavn with beverages included would cost a little over a hundred euros typically.

I think it is accurate to say the Faroese enjoy their fermented fish as much as Icelandic people do. I found a spot to have dinner and headed back to the Airbnb to rest before my last full day.

Missed opportunity for whaling watching

I woke up on the second day and was very thankful that I had utilized the good weather the day before. The weather on this day was awful, very cold and rainy with almost no visibility.

Luckily, I had seen almost everything there was to see traveling by car the day before. There are two other big island regions south of Streymoy, but you need a helicopter or a ferry to visit both and neither seemed like they would be worth the money in this weather.

I was a little bummed that I wouldn’t get to see a whale hunt, however. It was hunting season, but whaling only occurs when you spot some whales.

The day before there had been no whale sightings, and on this day, there most certainly wouldn’t. The maritime fog and low cloud level from the storm meant you could only see a meter or two ahead of you.

Whaling has been a tradition of the Faroe Islanders for hundreds of years. They still do it today, even though they face pressure from animal rights groups. Whale meat and blubber are considered a delicacy, and there’s a tradition to eat it at Faroese weddings.

Since whaling is such a Faroese tradition, anyone on the island can leave his day job to take part in a hunt. But now in order to participate, you need to have a training certificate on slaughtering a pilot whale with a spinal cord lance. The islanders slaughter annually about 800 long-finned pilot whales and some Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Sometimes this results in bloody beaches.

Due to the conditions, I didn’t get to see any purple water.

With weather like this, you start to realize why Scandinavian cultures put grass and sod on their roof. It is an excellent insulator in cold climates.

This helps quite a lot with insulation from the cold.

I spent this day exploring whatever was left of Tórshavn like this quaint Ministry of Foreign Affairs building. 😊

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

I finished my final full day in the Faroe Islands with another traditional Faroese meal and a cozy night in my Airbnb.

The next day I’d be returning to Europe in preparation for my complicated Russia trip.

My Faroese farewell

I headed back to the airport at Sørvágur the next day and said my goodbyes all along the way. I was very happy to have honored my promise to make it to the Faroe Islands after missing my first opportunity.

Since most young people move to Denmark after high school, the Faroes don’t have the nightlife of a northern party capital like Brentsburg, Svalbard. But they do have breathtaking beauty. Everywhere I visited in this Atlantic archipelago seemed like it belonged in a painting.

So whether you’re crossing the Atlantic, en route to or from Iceland or just trying to take in some northern beauty while getting the hell away from Europe, make a stopover in the Faroe Islands. You’re not going to want to miss the sight of that puffin looking out over Múlafossur waterfall. Even if you still don’t know what a puffin is. 😉