The Faroe Islands, an Atlantic archipelago almost equidistant from Iceland, Norway and Scotland, were created around 60 million years ago by volcanic eruptions, which explains their stark and sharp topography. An early visitor may have been the Irish monk St. Brendan in the sixth century, who described an “island of the sheep” and a “paradise of birds.” Vikings from Norway settled permanently in the ninth century and, in 1035, the Faroes were absorbed by the Kingdom of Norway. Subsequently, they became part of the dual Denmark–Norway kingdom until its dissolution in 1814. Following a referendum on independence in 1946, the Faroes were granted autonomy, while remaining a part of Denmark.
Prior to a visit, it’s a good idea to plot a daily itinerary and to make necessary reservations (including a rental car). Some activities can be done independently, but many need a guide or the help of a local company. For those that require a local operator, we recommend MM Tours.
Be sure to bring comfortable hiking shoes, a windbreaker, a hat and lightweight foul-weather gear, because the weather can change dramatically during the course of a day. Pack clothing that can be layered, including fleece wear. And bring all the photography equipment and supplies you may need, as prices in the Faroes are often much higher than those in the United States.
Things on no account to miss:
This tiny traditional village has houses with timber walls and turf roofs and is set around a deep gorge on the island of Eysturoy. It is one of the most atmospheric of all the Faroese settlements; the surrounding scenery is spectacular.
A 15-minute drive from Tórshavn, this pretty little seaside village is one of the most historic settlements in the Faroes. The ruins of the St. Magnus Cathedral and St. Olav’s Church (Olavskirkjan) are steeped in the history of the Norsemen, while the adjacent sheep farm has been in the Patursson family since the 11th century and constitutes a fascinating time capsule of Faroese history.
The second-largest town in the Faroes in located on the island of Borðoy. The striking Christianskirkjan (Christian’s Church) was designed by Danish architect Peter Koch and consecrated in 1963. Its neo-Nordic style and the use of indigenous materials, including basalt, introduced a new style of Faroese architecture, which became a cultural rallying point. The church is dedicated to the memory of the Faroese sailors who lost their lives during World War II and has a 19th-century wooden boat hanging from the ceiling (not pictured).
Other sites of interest in this cheerful little town, built around two fjords at the base of extinct volcanoes, include the Norðoya Fornminnasavn museum, which displays fishing equipment, kitchen utensils and other tools, along with a collection of historical photographs. Just outside town, there are Viking-era remains at Úti í Grøv. Hiking paths to the Hálsur lookout and Klakkur peak offer views across the straits to Kunoy and Kalsoy islands.
This stunningly beautiful 200-foot-high waterfall drops into the sea from a steep cliff at the edge of rolling green moors. For more information on hiking in the Faroes, check out hiking.fo, which provides an excellent introduction to self-guided walks in the islands.
Off the western coast of Vágar, the little island of Mykines has only 10 year-round inhabitants. It offers world-class bird-watching, with huge colonies of puffins, gannets and other seabirds. It’s also a terrific place for hiking and has a historic lighthouse. Access to the island is by ferry from Sørvágur or via helicopter. You can visit the island independently, but the small-group tours to Mykines organized by MM Tours are highly recommended.
Reached by ferry, the southernmost island of the Faroes has one of the archipelago’s rare beaches. The best way of discovering Sandoy is to join a small-group day trip, which includes such attractions as the historic villages of Sandur, with its 11th-century black church, and Húsavík, which has the oldest stone houses with turf roofs in the islands.
Defying geology and geography, this spectacular high-altitude lake seems to float at the edge of the sea. It is located on the island of Vágar, between the municipalities of Sørvágur and Vágar.
The most interesting part of the Faroes’ largest town, Tørshavn, is Tinganes, the last surviving quarter of traditional turf-roofed, tar-caulked, red-painted wooden cottages. Most of them date to 1673, when the town was extensively rebuilt after a devastating fire.
The national museum of the Faroe Islands offers fascinating insight into the history of the islands and the character of the Faroese. Along with whale skeletons and Viking boats, objects like children’s toys made from dried fish bladders evoke the ingenuity and self-sufficiency of the islanders. A set of carved medieval wooden pew ends, representing the 12 apostles, displays the historic local aesthetic.