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Inside: Blissfully off the tourist radar, the Faroe Islands feel like an undiscovered paradise. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your trip.
I’m often alerted to fabulous little-known travel destinations thanks to a little help from my well-traveled friends. And that’s exactly how the Faroe Islands first crossed my radar.
A fellow TV-industry colleague visited the Faroe Islands several years ago after working Wimbledon in the UK. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I was privy to all his glorious photos of dramatic plunging waterfalls and endless grassy countryside. Not to mention the turf roofed houses, cuddly sheep, and other assorted wondrous things.
I was spellbound.
“Where is this magical place called the Faroe Islands?” I wondered.
And it’s been on my Bucket List ever since.
So, where ARE the Faroe Islands?
Situated about halfway between Iceland and Norway, the Faroe Islands are an archipelago of 18 main islands located in the North Atlantic Ocean. Just 200 miles north-northwest of Scotland, the Faroes occupy a geographical area of about 540 square miles and are home to a population of just over 50,000.
What are the Faroe Islands famous for?
The beauty of the Faroe Islands is that they’re not famous, which is all part of the island nation’s charm. If you have heard of the Faroe Islands, it’s most likely because of their unrivaled natural beauty like stunning waterfalls. Or perhaps for the famous seasonal residents, the puffins.
The Faroes are, in fact, well-known for producing outstanding wool products including some pretty stylish knit sweater designs. (Because if there’s one thing the Faroe Islands have in abundance it’s sheep. Lots and lots of sheep.)
Are the Faroe Islands a country?
Yes, the Faroe Islands are a self-governing nation. Though they are one of three constituent countries within the Kingdom of Denmark (in addition to Denmark and Greenland), the island nation enjoys extensive autonomous powers.
The Bottom Line: If you like to keep track of the number of countries you’ve visited, the Faroe Islands counts as a new one (according to the Traveler’s Century Club Country List). And that makes it country #178 for me!
What’s the best way to get to the Faroe Islands?
Though there is one ferry option serving the Faroe Islands, by far, the easiest way to reach the islands is to fly.
Flights to the Faroe Islands
Established in 1988, Atlantic Airways is the national carrier of the Faroe Islands. The most frequent direct flights to the islands originate in Copenhagen and Edinburgh. But there are also direct flights from Reykjavik, Oslo, Aalborg, Billund, Paris, Mallorca, Gran Canaria and Barcelona.
Atlantic operates 3 roomy Airbus 320 aircraft and 2 helicopters, each named after a well-known Faroese artist. The A320’s are Ingalvur (first Faroese abstract painter), Tita (innovative wool artist) and William (Nordic author). And the two helicopters, Ruth and Samal, offer aerial tours of the islands and also serve as part of the government’s emergency preparedness team.
Is there a ferry to the Faroe Islands?
Yes, but just one. Symril Lines operates one ferry route to the Faroe Islands via Denmark and Iceland aboard the MS Norrona. In the summer months, the ferry runs twice weekly but the rest of the year it’s just once a week.
Do I need a rental car in the Faroe Islands?
Yes. If you want to be able to get out and explore many of the islands, you’ll need your own wheels.
Typically, when I book rental cars outside the United States, I always use RentalCars.com. I like their website because it clearly lists what is included with the car and what is not. This way there are no hidden costs or surprises at the counter (I abhor surprises at the rental car counter, especially after a long flight).
But in this case, my search on Rentalcars.com returned just one result, Arctic Rental Cars. (That’s unusual for RentalCars.com, but hey, the Faroe Islands aren’t exactly a vast rental car market.) And while the reviews for Arctic Rental Cars were great, I prefer a few options to choose from. Especially since the rates were pretty steep.
So, I dug a little deeper.
My search revealed 3 primary rental car companies in the Faroe Islands:
- Arctic Rental Cars
- Rent Your Car
- Just Drive
Note: If you’re partial to the major car rental chains, you’ll also find Sixt and Avis rental counters at the airport. However, their reviews are abysmal. In the Faroes, it pays to go local with your car rental choice.
Of the 3 companies, all had confidence-inspiring reviews. Just Drive had the best reviews (5 stars), but they were also the most expensive, by far, when I searched our July dates. They also charge an additional “late arrival fee” for flights landing after 6:00pm (our Copenhagen flight landed at 8:00pm). Neither of the other companies charge that fee.
After a thorough comparison of costs and reviews, we rented with RentYourCar.fo and we had a painless rental experience.
Regardless of which company you choose, here are a few tips that apply to all rentals:
- Get the tunnel pass
- Get the wifi hotspot
For about 300 DKK, the tunnel pass allows you unlimited trips through the tunnels. If you’re out and about exploring, this pass will pay for itself in a day or two. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the tunnel passes do not yet include the new tunnel which can be paid online after you transit the tunnel or charged to your card on file later.
All tolls are charged by plate so there’s no need to stop and pay a toll anywhere. Don’t worry, you’ll be charged later. If you don’t choose the tunnel pass, you can pay sub-sea tunnel fees online before or after driving through at www.tunnil.fo.
Driving in the Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands have a well-maintained network of roadways making it a fairly easy place to drive. Especially for Americans like us since they drive on the right. Let’s just say it was certainly less stressful than our road trip around Ireland a few years ago!
Assuming you get the wifi option with your rental car, you’ll have no trouble using GPS to navigate around and between the islands. The speed limit in towns and urban areas is 50km/h (30mph) and 80km/h (50mph) everywhere else.
Reaching some of the smaller villages like Saksun requires a good distance on mostly single-lane roads with two-way traffic. While that can be a bit nerve-wracking, there are lay-bys (widened sections on one side of the road to allow for passing) spaced frequently along single-lane roads.
The protocol, when faced with an oncoming vehicle, is to pull over if the lay-by is on your side of the road. If it’s on the other side, the other driver should pull over and yield. In practice, we found this system to be exceptionally effective.
The best hotels in the Faroe Islands
- Hilton Garden Inn Faroe Islands – This was our hotel choice in the islands (mainly because I wanted to use Hilton points!) and it was a terrific hotel. Rooms are modern and plush and the staff were friendly and helpful. It’s worth the extra money for a “view” room, our 4th floor room had a gorgeous view of the sea and town.
- Havgrim Seaside Hotel 1948 – If you’re looking for something right on the sea, this boutique hotel is the ideal choice for a bit of waterfront luxury.
- Gotugjogv Log House – For a terrific budget option, this charming guest house on Eysturoy island is tough to beat. Note: This one is a shared bathroom situation.
- Hotel Brandan – Opened in 2021, outdoor hot tub, popular restaurant Husgardur focuses on Faroese ingredients
- Hotel Hafnia – Currently in the process of a major refurbishment including rooms and the restaurant (Faroese inspired French cuisine).
- Hotel Foroyar – Eco-focused hotel with 200 rooms. Ruts restaurant is all vegetarian, outdoor wellness area with hot tubs, swimming pool, sauna and steam (all heated by a heat pump)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the Faroe Islands
When is the best time of year to visit the Faroe Islands?
May to August is considered the high season for visitors. We visited the first week of July and experienced temperatures in the 50’s (F) and quite a bit of rain, but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the islands.
Can you see the Northern Lights from the Faroe Islands?
Yes! Weather permitting, the Faroe Islands are a terrific place to experience the Northern Lights between the months of September and March. Located on the northern tip of Eysturoy island, the village of Gjógv is one of several great places to view the lights.
Why do houses in the Faroe Islands have grass roofs?
Aside from its many spectacular waterfalls, the turf roofed buildings are perhaps the Faroe Islands’ most recognizable sight. Common on homes, office buildings, restaurants, and even hotels, the sod roofs are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
These lush green rooftops are not exclusive to the Faroe Islands, in fact sod roofs are historically common throughout Scandinavia (especially in Iceland and Norway). The traditional Viking sod roofs are actually made of birch bark which is then covered with sod cut from good pasture land, something that is plentiful in the Faroes.
With up to 300 days of rainfall a year, the turf roofs provide protection from the elements as well as additional insulation in the long winter months.
Plus, let’s be honest, they just look really cool. Am I right?
There are two currencies of equal value used in the Faroe Islands, the Faroese krona and the Danish krone. Bank notes are printed in the Faroese currency, however, only Danish coins are used.
You may find a few places in the main towns willing to accept euros or British pounds but the exchange rate is likely to be very unfavorable.
Are credit cards widely accepted in the Faroe Islands?
Yes, most places on the main islands accept credit cards. Visa is the most widely accepted but many shops, restaurants, and hotels will also accept MasterCard, Eurocard, Maestro, and JCB. Aside from the major hotels, most places do not accept American Express.
Our experience with cash versus credit card
In researching the Faroe Islands, I read that while most places on the larger islands do accept credit cards, in the smaller towns and shops, we would likely need cash.
So, we took out the equivalent of $100 US in Danish krone before boarding our flight in Copenhagen, just in case. But we ended up putting it toward our hotel bill at the end of our stay. We just never needed it!
Everywhere we went, we used contactless payment from our phones (like Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Wallet). From the tiny (phone-booth-size) coffee shop at Saksun to the info center café on Nolsoy island, everyone utilized “tap to pay” as the preferred payment option. We never even had to take a card from our wallets.
So, from our experience, if you’re not already using one of these contactless forms of payment directly from your phone, it pays to load it before your trip. It’s by far the easiest way to pay for things as you travel in the Faroe Islands (and most of Europe these days).
How many days do you need in the Faroe Islands?
That depends on just how much you want to see! We had 3 nights (two full days and two half days thanks to the long hours of daylight). I would say that’s the minimum to get around and explore more than a few islands.
But 4 to 7 days is much better, especially if you plan to explore some of the islands’ many incredible hiking trails.
How many hours of daylight in the Faroe Islands?
Expect long days in the summer months with very little actual darkness. Yes, the sun sets eventually, but we discovered it rarely gets totally dark before the sun rises again. Very similar to when I visited Antarctica on Round the World #8.
June has the most hours of daylight with almost 20 hours at its peak. On the contrary, if you visit outside of June-August, the days get progressively shorter. One of the many perks of visiting in the summer months is the abundance of extra daylight hours to explore.
What language do they speak in the Faroe Islands?
Faroese is the primary language. However, Danish and English are both taught in schools and are widely spoken in most towns.
The 15 Best Things to See & Do in the Faroe Islands
From awe-inspiring waterfalls and world-class hiking to hi-tech Subsea tunnels and turf-roofed villages, the Faroe Islands are a brilliant destination to explore.
The Buttercup Route
Grab a handy island map at the airport and take a road trip along the “Buttercup Route.” Buttercups are the national flower of the Faroe Islands and this route (marked on the map and on local road signs) is a surefire way to discover all the best places to see around the islands.
Here are 15 of my favorites things to see and do:
1. Explore Tórshavn
One of the world’s smallest capital cities, the quirky town of Tórshavn is a visitor’s delight. Don’t miss the bright red Tinganes buildings jutting out into the sea with their lush sod rooftops. Once a gathering place for local Viking chiefs, today Tinganes is home to the Faroese government offices including the Prime Minister’s office.
2. Mulafossur Waterfall & Gasadalur
Located on Vagar island, Mulafossur is without a doubt the most iconic waterfall in the Faroes. And since it’s just a 15-minute drive from the airport, it’s the perfect place to kick off your exploration of the islands.
Perched at the cliff’s edge, this spectacular waterfall cascades straight into the North Atlantic Ocean with dramatic flair. Adding to its epic beauty, Mulafossur is also framed by steep emerald mountains and the tiny fairy tale village of Gasadalur. The entire scene is pure poetry.
Gasadalur itself makes a terrific day trip with a café, hike, and even puffins if you’re lucky.
From the parking area along the road, getting to the waterfall requires just a 2-minute walk down a level path. So it’s not just one of the most impressive sights in the Faroes, it’s also one of the easiest to visit.
If you only have time for one waterfall on your visit to the Faroe Islands, make sure it’s this one.
3. The Island of Kalsoy
The island of Kalsoy is no doubt one of the Faroes’ most scenic. And the hike to Kalsoy’s dramatic Kallur lighthouse is filled with jaw-dropping panoramic views. There’s no tunnel to Kalsoy so getting there requires a 20-minute ferry from Klaksvik to Syðradalur (Kalsoy).
The guided hike, led by local farmer and part-time tour guide Johannus Kallsgard, to the island’s picturesque Kallur lighthouse came highly recommended by a friend of mine who visited the Faroe Islands a few years ago.
But these days, the little-known island also has a new tourist draw.
When Johannus was contacted several years ago by an Icelandic producer looking for information and a few shots of the local area, he happily agreed. Little did he know, he would soon be hosting an entire movie crew for the filming of the 25th film in the popular secret agent James Bond series, “No Time to Die.”
The filming was top secret and Johannus assisted with everything from monitoring weather forecasts to coordinating ferry crossings for the crew and equipment. His starring behind the scenes role in the film’s production earned him the endearing nickname, the “King of Kalsoy” from the production team.
Rumors abounded during filming of 007’s possible demise and, sure enough, that dramatic scene unfolded right there on Kalsoy. (Of course, in the film, it’s an imaginary island and neither Kalsoy nor the Faroes are mentioned.) Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic delayed the release of No Time to Die from 2019 until late 2021.
After the film’s eventual release, Johannus had the idea to erect a gravestone in the spot where 007 fell. Created in cooperation with the tourism company “Guide to Faroe Islands,” it was an effort to draw more tourists to Kalsoy and it certainly seems to be working.
In fact, when we inquired at our hotel about the ferry to the island, we were advised to arrive at least 2 hours before departure to ensure a spot for our car. Unfortunately, with our limited time, that meant we had to skip a visit to Kalsoy (I doubt Johannus could have squeezed us in for a guided hike on short notice anyway!).
But my friend who visited the island a few years ago and did the lighthouse hike with Johannus said it was the best part of the entire trip. So, if you do decide to visit during the popular summer months, it’s best to book with Johannus in advance and don’t forget to queue early for the ferry.
4. The Village of Gjogv
Nestled between a dramatic gorge and verdant mountain peaks, the seaside village of Gjorv is a great place to get a look at a traditional Faroese village.
Located in the northern part of Eysturoy island, the narrow winding road to reach the village is worth the effort. Puffins nest here from late May to August (though we didn’t spot any, darn it!)
5. Visit the Puffins on Mykines
Puffins are one of the most numerous bird species here and more than a million breed on the islands’ grassy slopes during the summer months.
The island of Mykines is one of the most beautiful spots in all of the Faroe Islands. With only 10 year-round inhabitants, it’s also the best spot for puffin viewing. The island’s rich bird life is truly a bird watcher’s paradise.
The 45-minute ferry to the island runs from Sorvagur and leaves at 10:20am and returns at 5:05pm. Get there at least an hour early if you want to get a spot for your car. The popular hike to the lighthouse is 5-6 miles round-trip and takes 3-4 hours.
Note: The path to the lighthouse is closed for 2022 due to a landslide in Mykines in October 2021. Hiking trails to other areas on the island are still open.
6. Drive the incredible Eysturoy Subsea Tunnel
The 3 subsea tunnels that connect the Faroe Islands are a true marvel of engineering. But the new Eysturoy Tunnel will completely blow your mind. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere in the world.
It’s not just a tunnel, it boasts the world’s first undersea roundabout, nicknamed the “jellyfish.” It also features a pretty impressive underwater art installation.
I mean, how can you not take a drive through this engineering wonder? At 11km (7 miles) long, the tunnel opened in 2020 and connects the two most populous islands – Eysturoy and Streymoy.
Bonus: The roundabout means you can keep circling until you’ve seen enough (we were not the only tourists who made more than a few loops around taking pictures!).
7. Visit Kirkjubour
Hike the historic route from Torshavn (or just make the 10-minute drive like we did!) to the Faroe Islands’ most important historic site. Located on the island of Streymoy, the tranquil sod-roofed village of Kirkjubour is home to the ruins of the Magnus Cathedral.
Located at the northern tip of Streymoy island, the isolated village of Tjornuvik is one of the Faroes most unique sights. The steep road to reach the village can be quite an adventure, especially in the busy summer months.
Luckily, shuttles now operate in the summer from nearby Haldorsvik. Park your car, board the shuttle and let the experienced Faroese driver take the stress out of this potentially harrowing drive.
9. Fossa Waterfall
The Faroese word for waterfall, Fossa is the easiest of all hikes in the Faroes. In fact, there’s no hike at all, you can literally just drive right up to it. To get there, plug “Haldarsvik” into Google Maps.
If you’re making the drive up to Tjornuvik, it’s hard to miss this spectacular 2-tiered waterfall on your left as you head north. Luckily there are plenty of places to pull off the road and appreciate its beauty for a while. At 140 meters high, it’s the tallest waterfall in the Faroe Islands.
10. Hike to Lake Sorvagsvatn
Make the 1-hour hike to the viewpoint for the islands’ most dramatic lake. Located on Vagar island, Lake Sorvagsvatn seems suspended over the sea below. It’s an optical illusion you won’t want to miss. And like Mulafossur, it’s just a short hop from the airport. It’s also possible to kayak on the lake.
11. Take a Day Trip to Suderoy Island
The most southerly of the Faroe Islands, it takes a little more time to reach Suderoy island. But if you have the time, it makes a terrific day trip. The island is a 2-hour ferry ride from Torshavn so it’s best to get an early start if you want to have plenty of time to explore.
12. The Island of Nolsoy
Accessed by a scenic 20-minute ferry ride from Torshavn, the island of Nolsoy is another fun day trip. Don’t miss a stop in the island’s info center which doubles as a café. Here, you can arrange a hiking tour to the Nolsoy lighthouse. On the day of our visit we stumbled upon a music festival taking place on the island.
What else could we do? We bought tickets and enjoyed a fabulous afternoon of local music without another tourist to be seen. It was a lovely day and we even had the opportunity to chat with several Faroese families about the simple joys of life on the islands.
This tiny, remote village occupies one of the most serenely peaceful spots in all of the Faroe Islands. Home to just 11 residents, the village rests on the banks of a gorgeous lagoon, surrounded in every direction by stunning waterfalls.
With a pristine white church and just a handful of turf roofed cabins, it’s truly like something out of a Hollywood fairy tale.
14. Try the local Faroese Cuisine
Here are a few foods & drinks you have to try:
- Faroe Salmon – World-renowned for its superior quality, Faroe salmon features prominently on the menus of many top notch restaurants around the world.
- Rhubarb – One of the few hearty crops that grows successfully in the rugged Faroese climate, rhubarb is featured in lots of Faroese dishes, desserts, and beverages.
- Nykur Vodka – Made from Faroese spring water and named for a mythical beast of the Faroes’ lakes, this small batch vodka is certified EU organic and a real treat for evening refreshment.
- Slupp Beer – This local brew is the beer of the Faroe Islands.
Best places to sample Faroese cuisine:
- Aarstova – Authentic Faroe Islands cuisine in a traditional house with fish drying outside. Expensive but worth it. Reservations in the summer months are a must.
- Paname Café – Favorite place for a quick stop. Connected to a bookstore and gift shop. Freshly baked cookies and croissants and excellent coffee. They also serve wine.
- KOKS – This two star Michelin restaurant was once named the world’s most remote foodie destination by the New York Times. It’s true fine dining in the Faroes with a price tag to match. If you’re visiting in the summer months, make reservations by March. Note: KOKS has currently relocated to Greenland for the 2022 and 2023 summer seasons but is expected to return.
- ROKS – Sister restaurant to KOKS, ROKS will help fill the culinary void while KOKS is in Greenland. Also in the Michelin guide, ROKS serves up a laid-back atmosphere with a focus on high-quality Faroese seafood.
- The TARV Grillhouse – Excellent grilled salmon and espresso martinis to write home about. Tip: Order the mushrooms as a side.
15. Meet the local wildlife
From abundant bird life to curious sheep, you’ll find it all in the Faroe Islands. The sheep are literally everywhere (including in the middle of the road, so watch out!). And they are the absolute cutest.
I mean, seriously. Just look at these two characters right here…
Keep an eye out for Highland Cattle. These cinnamon-hued shaggy beasts are a Faroese attraction in their own right and can be spotted all over the island. I spied these on the way from the airport to Mulafossur but they can also be found in Kirkjubour, Gasadalur and near other villages.
Wrapping up a fantastic visit to the Faroe Islands!
And there you have it, 15 wildly wonderful things to see and do in the Faroe Islands.
My advice? Hurry up and get there before the rest of the world discovers the magical beauty of these remote islands.