May 17, 2011
Sunvil Discovery’s Rachel Jelley fills us in on her recent visit to the Faroe Islands…
The Faroe Islands are like nowhere else on earth: a staggeringly beautiful, unspoiled volcanic landscape where age-old traditions reign supreme. It is a destination to which the written word cannot do justice, and where seeing is the only way to believe a place like this exists.
Set in the North Atlantic, half way between Scotland and Iceland, the Faroese archipelago is comprised of 18 islands and is home to c.49,000 people and approximately 70,000 sheep. In May 2011, I visited the islands for the second time and left with a new list of highlights and an even longer list of places to visit and things to do on my next trip.
Here are my top things to see and do in the Faroe Islands.
1. Request a window seat on the plane and have your camera ready
The approach to Vagar airport by air affords a spectacular panorama of the green mountain peaks, sea stacks, and islets below. Of course, your approach may be in thick cloud but be patient and you will not be disappointed when the islands finally come into view.
2. Take a helicopter ride
Appreciate the dramatic backdrop of the world’s most appealing island destination on a helicopter ride – A regular and good value service operates between most islands – Mykines, Vagar, Koltur, Streymoy, Bordoy, Svinoy, Fugloy, Skuvoy, Stora Dimun and Suduroy. Highly recommended is a day trip by helicopter to the easternmost island of Fugloy, barely 11km2 and with 10 residents.
Note: Visitors to the Faroe Islands may only book a helicopter journey one way. A day trip to Fugloy would include a one-way helicopter flight and return travel by ferry and bus or taxi.
3. Hire a car
The landscape of the Faroe Islands changes at every turn; one minute you are on a high mountain road with only the sheep to keep you company and the next, you are passing through a quaint, colourful village surrounded by lofty peaks. Coupled with the ever-changing weather conditions, this means that you cannot travel far before wishing to stop and take a picture (and another, and another…).
Hiring a car, for even a couple of days, enables you to see the islands at your own pace; stop as many times as you wish and, most importantly in my opinion, allows you to reach the small communities such as Gasadalur on Vagar not accessible by public transport.
Notes: The Faroese drive on the right side of the road; there is no congestion – you are more likely to meet a sheep than a car on a journey – and there are only four sets of traffic lights in the whole archipelago (three in Torshavn and one in Hvannasund).
One of the smallest capital cities in the world, Torshavn is best explored on foot (and if possible, with a local guide). Visit Tinganes, the historical centre of the city with its narrow passages lined with traditional wooden buildings; wander along the harbour front with its waterfront restaurants and bars; visit the Nordic House and enjoy the art exhibitions and free cultural events; and walk uphill to the Hotel Foroyar for a wonderful view over the town.
As a base from which to explore the Faroe Islands, Torshavn cannot be beaten. Centrally located in the archipelago, the city is the hub for the public transportation network with bus, helicopter, and ferry connections.
Spectacular views are something that the Faroe Islands have in abundance. The list below details my favourite views but is by no means exhaustive.
• The village of Gasadalur on Vagar,
• Tindholmur from the village of Bour on Vagar,
• Bosdalafossur, the highest waterfall in the Faroe Islands and the bird cliffs of Geituskorardrangur – both on Vagar. From the cliff top you look out onto the North Atlantic Ocean and it feels as if you are standing at the edge of the world,
• The picturesque villages of Gjogv (on Eysturoy), and Tjornuvik and Saksun (on Streymoy)
• The puffin nesting grounds on Mykines,
• The dramatic coastline of the west coast of Suduroy,
I am looking forward to visiting the islands again in the future, discovering new areas, and adding to this list.
The Faroe Islands are a paradise for nature lovers, hikers, ornithologists, photographers, and artists alike. A wide range of excursions, to suit all interests and ages, are on offer locally – below are some of my favourite trips:
• Guided walking tour to the island of birds, Mykines.
• A guided hike
• A boat trip or walk around Sorvagsvatn/Leitisvatn lake to the Bosdalafossur waterfall
• A cruise onboard a schooner to the island of Hestur and enjoy a musical concert in a cave
• Join a sightseeing cruise to the Vestmanna bird cliffs
• Visit the cultural centre at Kirkjubour
• Take a taxi tour of the northern groups of islands: Kalsoy, Kunoy and Vidoy
7. The summer festival programme and cultural evenings
The summer festival in the Faroe Islands includes a range of musical events, exhibitions, festivals, and sporting competitions throughout the archipelago. On arrival, be sure to visit the tourist information centre or visit www.nlh.fo to discover the events taking place during your stay.
The Faroese are fiercely independent and proud of their history, culture, and traditions. Cultural evenings hosted by the Hotel Torshavn (Tuesday) and the Gjaargardur guesthouse (Wednesday) as well as at local music stores enable visitors to gain a deeper understanding of life on the islands over the centuries. Cultural evenings often include traditional food, music, and even a chance to join in with a Faroese chain dance.
8. Get outside
Scandinavians say that “there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing” and this is a statement that could have been written for the Faroe Islands. Pack your comfortable clothes, sensible shoes, a rain coat and even a hat and gloves – leave behind your city wears – and head outdoors.
The Faroese also say “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. The weather in the archipelago changes quickly and frequently… one minute you can see the island of Kalsoy from the village of Gjogv, the next it is hidden by clouds.
Do you have any highlights or recommendations? Please let me know and I will include them in my next trip. Rachel Jelley, Sunvil Discovery
For more information about the Faroes, visit www.visitfaroeisland.com.