Faroe Islands

Trip Summary:

Dates:    July 22 to July 29

Year: 2016

Main Language of Country:   Faroese (Everyone typically speaks good Danish and English)

Transportation Used:   Rental Car, Ferry

Total Number of Islands: 18

Currency: Faroese Krona (A version of the Danish Krona)

Accommodation: Tenting

Capital City of Country: Tórshavn

Number of Photos Taken: 1982

Favorite Place: Gjogv or the Northern Islands

Average Cost of a Night per Person: 100 to 200 DKK

Introduction:

If you’ve ever found yourself looking for somewhere to travel with incredible landscapes that is off of the beaten path and away from the popular tourist destinations, then the Faroe Islands might be what you’re looking for. It’s an incredible group of Islands about halfway between Iceland and the United Kingdom that has more than it’s fair share of awesome sights and scenery.

For whatever reason, very few people seem to travel here, which makes it feel like a hidden gem once you discover it. In fact, the largest crowds that you are likely to encounter are the flocks of sheep, and the loudest noises won’t be from busy cities or crowded streets, but will instead come from waves crashing on the shore during a storm, or the calls of thousands of birds that call the cliffs of these islands home.

There is something special about the Faroe Islands that is simply hard to describe through words and pictures, and there is a feeling that you get while you’re travelling there that makes you think that you’ve discovered something that no one else yet knows about.
The hiking in the Faroe Islands is fantastic and you will never run out of trails or mountains to climb. The only thing that might hold you back is the weather which can change very quickly and be unpredictable. There is often a lot of rain and low fog which can sometimes spoil even the best-laid plans.


TIP: The weather in the Faroe Islands seemed to constantly be 12 degrees Celsius. It’s quite cold with the wind and rain though so make sure to bring proper layers and include a rain jacket and pants as well.


 

 

Comparing the Faroe Islands to Iceland:

I should quickly compare the Faroe Islands to Iceland because many people that travel to the Faroe Islands are coming from, or going to, Iceland. I found similarities between Iceland and the Faroes in some things such as the weather, the grocery stores, and the driving (similar road signs and speed limits).


TIP: For meals, I didn’t eat at restaurants but instead bought all of my food at supermarkets and grocery stores. The food at supermarkets is a little bit more expensive than what I would be used to at home, but there is a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as nearly everything else that would be considered standard. This did, however, mean that I wasn’t able to try any traditional Faroese food, but I was able to cut costs this way and it allowed me to travel the country and be less concerned with the costs as much.


 

But there are some major differences in the feel and look of the Faroe Islands compared to Iceland. The Faroe Islands are far more centered around fishing than Iceland and you see a lot more fishing boats anchored to the shore and there are fish farms in many of the bays.

The buildings are also quite different and the towns seem more colourful, unique and vibrant. I found that the buildings is Iceland were often very simple and plain compared to those in the Faroes, which are often colourful and many have the traditional sod roofs.
Where Iceland’s landscape is always changing and is very varied, the Faroe Islands is pretty much all the same with green hills and cliffs right down to the water’s edge. The coastline is varied with lots of bays, harbours, and islands, and the height and steepness of the hills and cliffs varies from place to place, but for the most part everything looks very similar after a while. This of course isn’t a bad thing.

 

Vagar Island: (July 22 – 23)

I arrived in the Faroe Islands on a flight from Iceland where I had been travelling for two weeks with my friend Ryan. I had rented a vehicle for the trip, so I quickly got my vehicle and then I was on my way.


TIP: Vehicle rentals on the Faroe Islands tend to be very expensive compared to other countries, but it allows you more freedom, and with the small size of the islands, you can see a lot in a small amount of time. I rented from Sixt, but there are other companies that offered better prices if you book early enough. You can try Unicar, AVIS, Rentacar, 62N, or Bilrøkt.


 

After travelling with a friend for quite a long period of time, it was a strange feeling to be by myself again. It’s always great to travel with a friend that you share the same interests and enthusiasm with, and it took a few days to get used to the solo travel thing again. When you’re by yourself, you tend to be much more aware of the sights and sounds around you, as well as your own thoughts. It’s a completely different experience.


TIP: There is only one airline that flies to and from the Faroe Islands called Atlantic Airlines. It’s a great airline and their service is great, but the flights tend to be quite expensive for being such short distances. I booked two one-way tickets as I was arriving from Reykjavik, Iceland and flying to Edinburgh, Scotland afterward.


 

The airport is located on Vagar island and, after picking up my vehicle, I made my way a little ways down the road to the Giljanesi Hostel and Campground where I set up my tent for the night. The Giljanesi Hostel and Campground is the only one on the island and it has a small field with room for tents and a kitchen and sitting area for preparing food and getting dry if the weather turns bad.


TIP: Unlike some countries, you cannot free-camp or wild-camp in the Faroe Islands. Therefore you must find designated camping spots if you wish to set up a tent (or even sleep in your vehicle apparently). Camping is a great option if you are on a budget as all other accommodation tends to be very expensive. It also allows you the freedom of not planning ahead as there always seems to be room for more tents at the campgrounds. I used an app called maps.me where I downloaded a map of the Faroe Islands. This map showed all of the campgrounds and was a very valuable resource.


 

To cross from the island of Vagar to the main island of Streymoy there is a sub-sea toll tunnel that costs 100DKK to cross. Therefore, I decided to check out a few things on Vagar island while I was there before continuing on so that I didn’t have to backtrack later. The places that I visited on Vagar were:

 

  • Gasadalur:

Gasadalur is only about 10 minutes from the airport on Vagar and is one of the places that I had been looking forward to seeing in the Faroe Islands. I had seen several pictures of this town when I was researching the trip, so it was a strange feeling being there and when I was walking around the area and through the town, it felt like I was walking through the picture that I had seen so many times. I was also very lacking on sleep when I arrived, so I was half-asleep and dreaming, so that might have been part of it.

To get to the town you can drive through a tunnel that was built around 2004. I don’t know all of the facts, but apparently before the tunnel was built, the population of the town was dwindling because it was difficult to access. The only route to the town previously was a small hiking trail over a pass, which is now called the Post Master’s Route, and takes about 2 hours to walk. The town apparently lost population until only 12 people were left in the town.


TIP: There are a lot of tunnels on the Faroe Islands and some of them can be quite daunting and intimidating to drive as they are only one lane. In these, you have to make sure that you know who has the right-of-way as one direction of traffic has to pull into the pull-offs when there is another vehicle coming.


 

When I arrived it was getting late at night and there were a few other people walking around the town but not many. It’s a fantastic spot and is very much unique to the faroes. When I was there, I couldn’t stop thinking that if a town as scenic as this was in some of the more popular travel destinations, there would be tourists everywhere at all time of the day. But in the Faroes, you can often find places like this and be the only one there which makes it feel even more special.

Unfortunately, shortly after I arrived on the first night, a storm blew in and it became foggy and rainy in no time, but I was still able to take a few pictures.

Coincidentally, I stopped again on my last day in the Faroe Islands before I caught my flight out. On that day, the same thing happened and when I arrived, the weather was clear and sunny. Suddenly, however, a storm blew in and in a matter of minutes everything became foggy and rainy, but I had some time to get some pictures of the town in the sunny weather before my window disappeared.

 

  • Bøur:

Bøur is another town on Vagar that you pass by on the way to Gasadalur. There are only a few houses here, but there is a small beach and a dock at the bottom of the town where you can get a great view across the water to the islands of Tindhólmur and Drangarnir.

 

  • Sørvágsvatn:

Sørvágsvatn, or Leitisvatn, is a lake (and the largest on on the Faroe Islands) immediately next to the airport. When planes come in to land they actually fly over the end of the lake.

You can walk to the end of the lake where there is a small waterfall that pours from the lake into the ocean. You can also hike up above the lake for a great view where you can get the view in the picture above and it looks a bit like an optical illusion.

When you are driving from the main road from Sandavágur (toward the airport), you will pass through the town of Miðvágur. As you pass through Miðvágur, keep an eye out for the church on your left and take your first left after the church. Drive up about 250 metres to a small intersection and take a right turn. Drive along this road until you see a small rocky parking lot and a gate. Head through the gate and this will be the upper trail along the lake. You can then walk back along the bottom trail.

When I was at Sørvágsvatn, I was taking pictures of the lake from the viewpoint at the end, when all of a sudden a cloud of fog and rain blew in. In a matter of minutes, the view went from the picture that you see above, to the one that you see below. This just shows how quickly the weather changes around the Faroe Islands.

 

Gjogv: (July 23 – 24)

I mentioned above that when I was at Sørvágsvatn, the weather quickly changed from being sunny and clear, to being foggy and rainy. That rain and fog hung around for the rest of the day so I decided to leave Vagar and make my way across to the island of Streymoy and then Eysturoy.


TIP: The roads in the faroes are very well maintained but can be quite steep, curvy and narrow. It makes for a fun experience and keeps you on your toes anyways.


 

I made a few stops in Vestmanna and Eidi. I was looking for a place to camp for the night and found that the spot in Vestmanna was not much more than a parking lot, and the place in Eidi had recently been shut down (I later found out that they had camping at the local football field after the hostel and campground had been shut down). I wasn’t in a rush to find a place to camp, so I carried on to the town of Gjogv.


TIP: To camp in Gjogv, you check in at the guesthouse in town. It’s not hard to find as there are only about 30 buildings in town altogether. It costs 200 dkk a day which is quite expensive for camping. Like most camping areas, it had showers, bathrooms, sinks, and wifi. It also had a small patch of grass with room for about 5 tents.


 

Gjogv is a really cool small town and should be on your list to see. The word Gjogv actually means gorge in Faroese, and it gets its name because there is a deep canyon in town that acts like a natural harbour. If you have a bit of time you can walk to a little lookout above town for some great views. The town is small and doesn’t leave much to explore but there is a ton of hiking in the area, including Slættaratindur, which at 882 metres, is the highest mountain in the Faroe Islands.

The morning that I woke up in Gjogv, the weather had finally cleared and I woke up early to climb the hill beside town. It only takes about 40 minutes to the top, but you get a great view back into town.

As I was climbing above town, I could hear the sheep in the fields, the birds flying above the bay, the church bells ringing to mark the hour, the ocean waves crashing on the rocky shore, and the roosters announcing the start of the day. I could only think that I was in a little town from the Nintendo game Zelda.

That morning was some of the best weather that I had on the entire trip, and it made me realize how relaxing and peaceful the Faroe Islands can be when the weather cooperates. I sat up on the hill for quite a while taking in the sun from above and the sounds from below. At some points, I would hear the sheep “bahhh” from below and it would sound like they were saying “bennnn”. This happened often in the Faroe Islands, and sometimes it would sound so much like “Bennn” that I would actually turn around looking for someone calling my name.

When I walked back through town afterwards, there was a group of kids playing in the stream that runs through town and people were slowly making their way to church for the morning service. These are the sights and sounds that can’t be captured in pictures, but that you can only try to remember.

My next stop was Klaksvik, and along the way I made a few stops in some towns along the coast:

 

  • Funningur:

I didn’t stop in the town of Funningur itself, but there is a cool section of road above the town that you drive shortly after leaving Gjogv.

 

  • Elduvik:

Elduvik is a small picturesque town that is on a nice bay and has a rocky beach along its coast. Behind the town is a small stream that runs down from a beautiful valley. There is also a small campground along the shore.

 

  • Oyndarfjørður and Hellurnar:

I didn’t stop long in Oyndarfjørður and Hellurnar, but the drive to the towns is quite nice and is worth a quick detour. The town of Oyndarfjørður is also the spot where you can find the well-known rocking stones.

 

Klaksvik: (July 24 – 27)

Klaksvik was the next destination on my trip and it is located on the island of Bordoy. To cross from Eysturoy to Bordoy, there is another sub-sea toll tunnel that costs 100 DKK to pass through.


TIP: If you have a rental car, there are cameras at the beginning and end of the tunnels that scan your licence plate. The rental company will then send you an invoice for the 100 DKK after you return the car. Therefore, there is no need to pay the toll at the nearest service station as the signs at the tunnel say.


 

Klaksvik is the second largest town in the Faroe Islands with a population of about 4,600 and is a great place to stay for exploring the northern islands. There is a small campground just outside of town beside a local kindergarten, and this is where I stayed during my time in Klaksvik.

There is a lot to see in the northern islands, and the places that I explored were:

  • Kunoy Island :

It is worth a quick drive along Kunoy island, as there is a land bridge that connects it to Bordoy. You aren’t able to drive the entire length of the island, so it doesn’t take long and there are lots of places to stop and hike if you have the time.

 

  • Kalsoy Island:

Kalsoy Island is an absolute must see! You can take a ferry from Klaksvik over to Kalsoy, and depending on the day of the week, it has about 6 or 8 departures and returns throughout the day. On the day that I went, I caught the first departure at 6:40AM and returned at 5:35PM. A return ticket costs 160 DKK and it takes about 20 minutes.

It’s then about another 20 minutes to drive the length of the island to the town of Trøllanes and you pass through about 3 or 4 tunnels along the way (which can sometime feel a bit dicey as they are gravel and full of potholes with water dripping from the ceiling and large ditches along each side).

On the day that I went to Kalsoy, my goal was to hike up to the Kallur Lighthouse that is at the tip of the island. To do this, you park in the town of Trøllanes and head north out of town where you will find a small path with a gate. The path takes you all of the way to the lighthouse and takes about 40 minutes to an hour.

When I did this hike, the weather was quite good in the morning when I started out, but I had looked at the forecast and they were calling for clouds and rain, which is why I took the earliest ferry and did the hike as quickly as possibly. When I got near enough to see the lighthouse, the sky was still perfectly clear but I could see the edge of some clouds moving in from the ocean.

Just as I was arriving at the lighthouse, the clouds appeared and a heavy fog rolled over the area, blanketing everything in the span of a minute or two. I was only standing about 50 feet from the lighthouse, but at times you couldn’t see the lighthouse at all. It was an eerie feeling being on a little tip of land sticking out into the middle of the ocean surrounded by fog.

After I had come all this way, I decided to stick it out in hopes that it would clear off and I found a spot out of the wind where I could lay on the grass and tried to catch some sleep. It was about 2 hours and it still hadn’t cleared off so I took a walk around to warm up as the wind and the damp air had given me a chill.

All of a sudden, the fog began to clear and I could see the top of the mountain. It was like the fog was slowly being peeled back by some gigantic invisible hand. I ran back to my spot and started to take pictures. I couldn’t see any more clouds on the horizon so I thought that it was clear for the day. I was able to take pictures for about 20 minutes when again, out of nowhere, a heavy fog set in as fast as it had disappeared.

I waited around a bit more, but the fog seemed even thicker this time, and I knew that I had been given the only window that I could expect to get all day.

There are also a few other things to do on the island, however. There is a great hike to the top of the valley above Trøllanes. As you are driving away from Trøllanes, and before you enter the first tunnel there are several pull-offs on the side of the road. You can park here and head straight across the fields to start the climb. I wasn’t able to see much with the fog on the day that I did this, but on a clear day, the views would be spectacular.

You can also check out the statue of the seal woman in the town of Mikladalur.

 

  • Vidareidi:

The town of Vidareidi is on the island of Vidoy and is the most northern town in the Faroe Islands. There is a land bridge connecting it to Bordoy, so you can drive all of the way.

Not only is the drive along the coastline in this area fantastic, there is a great hike in Vidareidi. You can climb the mountain Villingadalsfjall and get a great view down onto Vidareidi and across to the mountain Malinsfjall. The route starts from the top of town and there are blue stakes that mark the trail once you pass through the gate above town.

On the day that I drove out to hike Villingadalsfjall, it was raining heavily and there was a low fog in the area. I decided to try the climb anyways and made it to where the fog started, which was only about half way up. The trail begins to get quite a bit steeper and I didn’t want to climb any higher into the fog so I was forced to turn around.

One thing that I noticed is that the mountains and cliffs around the northern islands are higher and steeper than anywhere else in the Faroe Islands, and Vidareidi is a great example of this.

After having a lot of rain and fog during my time staying in Klaksvik and the northern islands, I decided to stay one more night in hopes that the weather would clear and I might be able to return to Vidareidi to complete the hike up Villingadalsfjall. I woke up early on my last day but the fog had set in even heavier than the days before. I began to drive towards Vidareidi in hopes that the weather would break up, and turned into a roadside pullout near Hvannasund to wait. As I waited I began to notice that people were gathering on the docks of the town below me and cars were lined up all along the streets of the town.

Eventually I walked down to see what everyone was gathering for. They had brought in a bunch of pilot whale that had been hunted and were dividing them up on the docks. Families were gathered with trailers, buckets, bins, and wheelbarrows hauling their share of the whales away. It was a bit of a grim scene with people walking around with blood covered hands and clothes, and many of the men wielding large knives. Amongst the chaos, however, were kids walking and playing, and mothers pushing their young children in strollers across the blood stained docks. It was a strange contrast but was a very real glimpse into the lives of the people that call the islands home. It really emphasized the wild and untouched nature of the Faroe Islands that makes it such a unique place to travel. Needless to say, I don’t think the Faroe Islands is the place to go if you’re looking for whale watching tours.

 

Tórshavn: (July 27 – 28)

After my stay in Klaksvik, I headed back to the main island of Streymoy to stay one night in the capital of Tórshavn.


TIP: There is a campground alongside the ocean in Torshavn that is only several blocks from the harbour and it is a great place to stay. Unlike nearly everywhere else in the Faroes, there are also several hostels in Torshavn if you’re looking for something other than tenting spots.


 

Tórshavn itself is a very nice and clean city, and has a population of about 17,600 people. I didn’t have much time to explore the city, but I spent one morning walking around the harbour and downtown area and found it quite colourful and clean.

July 29th, also the day that I flew out of the Faroe Islands, is the national holiday for the country. They had a lot of stages and venues set up in preparation for the celebrations and I wish that I had had more time to be able to stay for that.

Some of the roads in the Faroe Islands are marked as “Buttercup Routes”. These roads are marked on some maps and the signs for the roads are a bright green with a yellow buttercup on them. These mark the more scenic drives on the islands. On my way driving from Klaksvik to Tórshavn, I was able to check some of these buttercup routes out:

  • Æðuvík:

The road to Æðuvík is quite scenic and is worth the drive. I didn’t spend long in the stopping along the way, but there is a campground at the end of the road where you can stay. The landscape here is much less steep and dramatic and some of the other areas of the Faroes.

 

  • Saksun:

I spent quite a bit of time in Saksun and it was one of my favorite spots to visit. It’s only about a 20 minute drive from the main road but it takes you through a very wide and dramatic valley and I could barely keep my eyes on the road.

Saksun itself is a small village with some traditional Faroese buildings and a little museum. There is also a church looking over the inlet below. You can walk along the sandy inlet below the church, as well as to a small waterfall above the village. It’s a great spot to spend a few hours or an afternoon.

 

  • Tjørnuvík:

Tjørnuvík is another small village that is about 20 minutes from the main road. Again, the drive along the coast offers great views and there are some fairly large waterfalls along the way.

When I drove out to Tjørnuvík, the visibility was limited from the fog, but I was able to spend some time walking around the village, even though I couldn’t see much. There is a great sandy beach in the town and on a clearer day, it would probably be very scenic.

Tjørnuvík is nearby Saksun, and you can easily see both villages in a morning or afternoon. In fact, the church that stands in Saksun, was originally built in Tjørnuvík, and then it was disassembled and carried over the ridge to Saksun.

 

  • Road #50 from Tórshavn:

There are two main roads to Tórshavn, and #50 is the higher and more scenic road. I took this road on my way back toward Vagar on my last day of the trip. It was one of my favorite drives in all of the Faroes.

I stopped along the way to try some hiking (even though, yet again, there was a low fog and rain). I wanted to climb above the road to get a view of the mountain Skælingur, but the fog was so thick on the west side that I couldn’t see anything. I had a fairly clear view back down toward the road however, and with the fog all around me, it felt like I was looking down from the clouds of heaven.

 

Conclusion:

After Tórshavn, I headed back to Vagar to catch my early flight the next morning over to Scotland. The wet weather had settled in and just like when I first arrived in the Faroe Islands, my trip ended in the rain, fog and mist.

Even though I only had a brief stay on the Faroe Islands, I had developed a great appreciation for the place. The landscapes and towns are incredibly beautiful and there are endless opportunities for hiking, but the sudden and dramatic weather make you work for your rewards. And really, when the weather does finally clear and the sun emerges to cover the cliffs and valleys in its soft, warm light, you realize that the unpredictable weather only makes those moments that much more special.

The rough and rugged nature of the Faroe Islands reminds me of the Pyke Islands in Game of Thrones (if you’re not familiar with the Pyke islands, don’t worry, they’re purely fictional and made-up so you’re not missing out). And they’re even more unique because there seems to be a very small amount of people that travel here.

The opportunities for hiking in the Faroe Islands are endless and when you are hiking, it’s easy to get the feeling that you’re the only one in the world. There is a huge amount of space to explore and it’s easy to get away from everything and get the feeling of isolation that seems to be so rare in many other places around the world. It’s in these states of isolation that you really feel alive in the Faroe Islands, and it’s part of what makes the place feel so unique and hidden from the rest of the world.


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