With adventure tourism booming in the land of fire and ice in Iceland and cruise passenger numbers increasing for Norway, I wonder when it be the Faroe Islands turn to encounter a burst in tourist figures? Thankfully 2017 might just be the one as they have experienced a 20.5% increase in passenger arrivals at the islands only airport, so I think it’s time for me to check out what all the fuss is about!
The Faroe Islands are located just north of Scotland and although similar in scenery the weather can often be quite different due to being in the milder waters of the Gulf Stream. With 18 beautiful islands, some only accessible by ferry, it is no wonder that people are starting to realise that Iceland isn’t the only northern country that they need to explore. Just what is there to discover here? Well, before I visited I knew very little about the place including what to see and where to go. Thankfully after trawling the internet, checking out some blogs and Instagram photos I built up an image in my mind of how I was going to explore this wild and unspoiled landscape. The reason for the trip? Well, it was my partners birthday and he had always wanted to visit somewhere in Scandinavia, obviously the Faroe’s aren’t officially classed as this but it was still heading north! After considering several options, I opted for the Faroe Islands simply because I hadn’t been but also because I knew that tourism is starting to pick up here and I was intrigued to go and see it for myself.
I often get very fed up of living in the U.K, things can be quite stressful, busy and even chaotic depending on which part you live in, so for me travel and experiencing a different way of life is like my religion; it helps me learn, it helps me to grow as a person and best of all I now have someone to spoil and experience these life-changing moments with.
Have you ever imagined getting away from everything, yet still feeling connected? With just a one hour flight from Edinburgh, I opted to fly with the national airline of the Faroe Islands; Atlantic Airways, who thankfully turned out to be really great. Upon arrival you’ll likely be one of only a handful of flights to land that day at the very small but perfectly formed Vágar Airport. Stepping off the plane and breathing in the crisp, clean air is like, well a breath of fresh air. My experience of going through passport control was a breeze and I even got a nice “Welcome to the Faroe Islands”, this is always a good sign in my opinion of how friendly a country will be.
Admittedly the Faroe’s aren’t that easy to get around if you don’t drive, there is public transport buses but if you are looking for some freedom then I’d recommend hiring a car. Once again after a very quick check in process, before I knew it we had our hands on Renault beast that was to prove invaluable throughout our four day adventure. After my partner, Oliver, drove out of the airport on the wrong side of the road we thankfully got to grips with our new home and after only a short 15 minute drive we arrived in the perfect place for a bit of P&Q – Gasadalur. Most people will only briefly visit here to see the incredible natural beauty of Mulafossur Waterfall, but they are missing out on the unique opportunity to experience what it’s like to stay in a village with a population of only 18 people.
I often find city life can be incredibly stressful and as I describe it, an assault on every sense so places like this as perfect for me to escape. In Gasadalur there’s only one place to stay; a beautiful boutique guesthouse that has recently been built but includes a Scandinavian design (thanks Ikea) with cute and quirky Faroese touches including a woollen tea cosy and a wooden penguin. Next door is the village’s only cafe that serves traditional Faroese food including rye bread, prawns and smoked salmon. Thankfully we were just in time for dinner, but before that we met an absolutely adorable puppy who was only two months old, I seriously wanted to adopt the little mischief!
Unfortunately for me and Oli, during our first night a weather system had developed and it was incredibly windy, to the point that we honestly thought our house was going to blow away, so much so that when a gust of wind occurred the whole place shook! Was pretty scary, it also meant that I woke up at 4.30am but got to experience true Faroese weather at its worst. Thankfully for me the next day it had fully cleared and the sun shined a balmy 12 degrees.
It was time to leave our wonderful turfed roof home and make our way towards the capital, Tórshavn, but not before I put my walking boots on and discover the other natural beauty of Vágar Island – Sørvágsvatn Lake. It is the Faroe Islands largest lake and sits approximately 40m above sea level, it features the stunning Bøsdalafossur waterfall where you see the sheer power of Mother Nature when the mighty waterfall plunges deep into the North Atlantic Ocean.
After a short 35 minute ride and my first ever sub-sea car journey, I arrived on the island of Streymoy and the capital of the Faroe Islands; Tórshavn (Thors Harbour). As one of the smallest capital cities in the world, it has only 20,000 inhabitants and boy do you notice it! It has a very laid-back, quiet yet quirky feel where you might get the opportunity to run in to the Prime Minister in the historic old part of the city, Tinganes; that basically translates as “parliament point”. With beautiful grass roofs and brightly painted wooden buildings it gives you the sense that you’ve stepped back in time.
Although there isn’t a huge amount to see or do in Tórshavn, I definitely recommend spending at least one night here. I stayed at Hotel Føroyar – the only 4* place in the whole country, although for me personally it felt a little dated and I preferred other places that I stayed at throughout my trip. It is particularly famous for the time that U.S President Bill Clinton popped by in 2007 and stayed on his visit, although a myriad of other celebrities and famous people have also stayed here. Be sure to check out the rather normal Presidential Suite!
As it was Oli’s birthday I thought I’d treat him to a special meal, I had to book well in advance but I was able to get us into the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the Faroe Islands, the rather amusingly named Koks. Previously this was located in Hotel Føroyar but has since relocated to its own premises only a short 15 minute drive away. Unfortunately for me he wasn’t feeling 100% and after sampling only a handful of taster menu dishes he opted to sadly sit this one out, I think that might have been a wise move though as some of the dishes didn’t really float my boat. Have you ever fancied raw sea urchin, whale blubber or barely cooked clam? Hmm no, sadly not for me but worth trying local Faroese cuisine.
The morning after and thankfully slowly recovering from my non-appetising food experience, we set off for a wander around Tórshavn. Although petite, it was really nice to simply wander although that might have had something to do with the beautiful and rather unexpected September sunshine I experienced when I visited.
So, I’m going to approach the subject of whaling with extreme caution but sadly this is what the Faroe Islands are most unfortunately known for. Although I am completely against the practise I do believe that the world is beyond cruel to most animals, not just whales and therefore I was intrigued to visit the the only whaling station left in the Northern Hemisphere at Við Áir. Thankfully it has been defunct since 1985, except for a stranded Sperm whale that spectacularly exploded in 2013 when the rotting carcass was cut into and subsequently the clip went viral. There were plans to create an open-air museum here but when I checked this place out in September 2017 everywhere was empty/abandoned.
The beauty of a driving holiday here is that you can easily pull over and stop to admire the stunning panoramic views whilst getting to explore places that are a bit more off-the-beaten track. After leaving the capital we headed north towards our last overnight stop of Gjógv but before we arrived I made a detour to the remote village of Saksun. Be sure to time your arrival properly, unlike me who arrived sadly during high tide which will affect you seeing the most famous view of black sand, yes that’s right BLACK sand! According to Wikipedia, this place used to be an inlet of the sea which formed a natural deepwater harbour but sadly after a fierce storm this became subsequently unaccessible due to being filled by sand. It’s a fascinating place to visit, surrounded by high mountains on every side it makes for an exciting walk.
When planning this trip I really struggled to find good accommodation, mostly due to the remoteness and also lack of investment there are very few hotels so I often had to opt for what I could find, this was definitely the case in Gjógv. There’s only one guesthouse, although if I’d used Air BnB I could have stayed in some beautiful old houses. Ah well, next time. Thankfully for us it was everything we needed to explore this part of Eysturoy island. Gjógv in Faroese means gorge, which is what the village is most famous for. It forms a natural harbour where, if you are lucky enough you’ll see vessels being pulled up the rather steep ramp to the village. Make sure if you get a clear evening you walk to the end of the path above the harbour to sit and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. If you like walking I’d recommend making Gjógv your starting point for hiking to the highest mountain in the whole of the Faroe Islands; Slættaratindur, standing at a huge 880m this was definitely not on my itinerary list but driving past this beast was an incredible sight to see.
Sadly it was almost time to leave the beautiful and unspoiled Faroe Islands but before we ventured back home, there is something I had to do – drive through a sub-sea tunnel! It’s one of the most unique features of this country and we took on the biggest one there is; Norðoyatunnilin. At 6.3km long and 150 metres beneath sea-level this is one of the must-do things to test out whilst you’re here, don’t worry about passing places here though as it is the newest tunnel completed in 2015. One of the most unique features about this place is that at the deepest point it turns into a rainbow tunnel for a short distance! I noticed that this won’t be the newest tunnel for long as they are currently building the Eysturoyartunnilin between the capital and two islands. This will be the world’s longest sub-sea tunnel and will even include a roundabout – how cool is that! I’m definitely heading back to check that out when it opens in 2020.
After passing through the island of Borðoy and into Viðoy we arrived at Viðareiði; the most northern settlement in the country and basically the end of the road. There isn’t a huge amount to do here but the scenery more than makes up for that and especially knowing that the only thing north of you is the Norwegian volcanic island of Jan Mayen before the mighty Arctic.
Travelling to the Faroe Islands can be difficult at certain times of the year, I was here in September 2017, this is right at the end of the typical tourist season (May-September) when things are starting to shut down or have reduced hours but due to its location in the Gulf Stream this place doesn’t get quite as cold as you might think. There are opportunities to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) here due to the lack of people and light pollution I’d highly recommend this place as an alternative to Iceland.
Although expensive, the Faroe Islands aren’t quite as extreme as Norway or Iceland due to the Faroese Krona being pegged to the Danish currency which is often typically lower than other Scandinavian countries. This isn’t to say that bargains can’t be found, especially when it comes to accommodation. If you shop around and use websites like AirBnB and Booking.com you’ll find reasonable places to stay. If you use the links above you’ll also get a discount of £25 and £15 respectively when you sign up or stay at your first hotel/property.
Here’s a quick guide to roughly what things cost me;
- Fish and Chips – £10 (approximately 79DKK)
- Water – FREE (The water is amazing here, don’t buy bottled)
- Beer – £4 (It ranged from 35-60DKK)
- Michelin-star meal – £200!! (It was 1400 just for the tasting menu)
- Hotel Føroyar – £105 for one night (the only 4* hotel in the country)
Hiring a car was really easy here, I booked online before arriving and collected at Vágar airport – highly recommended if you are to get the most out of your trip. I’d strongly advise against doing expensive day trips, they cost at least £100 just to do a 6 hour tour and they really aren’t worth it.
How to get there
It’s surprisingly easy, from the UK there’s a direct flight from Edinburgh Airport and at just over an hour it’s easier than flying to London! The Faroese national carrier is Atlantic Airways, who offered us a really unique service of traditional food (to purchase) and a mix of non-alcoholic (free) and purchasable alcoholic drinks on board. Both of my flights arriving and departing were sadly not full but as interest in the Faroe Islands grow I definitely see this as being a popular route.
My flight cost £170 return which is definitely more expensive than a flight to Iceland but that’s simply due to competition, the only other way than a direct flight from Edinburgh would be to go to Copenhagen and then fly with either SAS or Atlantic Airways which will likely end up costing you more.
LGBT Travel to the Faroe Islands
Often when me and my partner travel together as a gay couple we pick and choose our accommodation very carefully, to avoid any aggro once we arrive. Thankfully the Faroe Islands recently outlawed discrimination against the LGBT community and travelling here I felt safe and welcomed. At a recent Pride event more than 5,000 people turned up, that’s more than 10% of the population!
I recently read a BBC News article about Faroese men outnumbering women, however sadly due to religion it’s unlikely that they would be gay – but due to the lack of available ladies they were looking further afield to countries like Thailand and the Philippines for a wife, I mean that’s a long way for romance!
Although there is no gay scene, as such, you’ll definitely find a small community, especially in the capital of Tórshavn. I’d recommend if you are a solo traveller contacting the LGBT Faroe Islands group on Facebook who can definitely tell you the best places to check out and if they know of any activities happening nearby.
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