Island Paradise: Exploring the Stunning Faroe Islands
“Where are the Faroe Islands?” This was the first question that popped into my head when I read through the Voyage of the Vikings cruise itinerary last year, having never heard of the tiny nation before. A quick Google search revealed the Faroe Islands to be an archipelago comprised of 18 small islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, between Iceland and Norway.
I didn’t have any preconceived notions on what to expect, apart from hoping that there would be abundant nature and a peacefulness that I was desperately craving after visiting the bustling European continent.
The Faroe Islands have yet to blow up as a booming tourist destination, most likely due to their remote location, but that made me love them all the more. In fact, the Faroe Islands turned out to be one of the main highlights from the whole trip!
Our ship docked in the capital city Tórshavn, which is located on the largest and most populated island of the archipelago, Streymoy.
After we docked, a free shuttle from the cruise ship pier dropped us off next to the tourist info center. It was quickly decided amongst my family that we wanted to see more than just Tórshavn, and so we approached a local taxi company about possible tours.
We decided to go with Taxi Bil. Hávarður, our guide and driver, was the son of the company's owner and spoke near perfect English.
When booking tours always try to go with a local provider because they know the lay of the land best. The local drivers will sometimes make extra stops at places you wouldn't otherwise get the chance to see.
We zoomed out of Tórshavn in the taxi and stopped just a few minutes outside of town at a popular viewpoint. Here we could see one of the smaller islands, whose tip was topped off by some roaming clouds.
It was after we left this viewpoint that we got our first real glimpse of the landscape of the Faroe Islands. Characterized by high mountains, low valleys, green grassy slopes, countless tall skinny waterfalls, and an abundance of sheep, the breathtaking scenery stretched out as we drove along the winding road.
I gazed out the car window, mesmerized by the scenery, as Hávarður gave us an overview of the Faroe Islands.
Although officially part of Denmark, the Faroe Islands are self-governing, with their own currency, language, and culture.
There has long been a growing independence movement on the islands, but up until now they remain in the Kingdom of Denmark.
The first settlers of the Faroe Islands are believed to be a mix of Irish, Scottish, and Scandinavian descent. It's been speculated that they arrived even before the Vikings.
The people living here today are Faroese; don’t make the mistake of calling them Danish.
After approximately an hour of driving along the coastline of the island of Streymoy, we arrived in the northernmost village, Tjørnuvík.
This tiny village, characterized by its black houses with living grass roofs, is home to about 60 people, and lies in a low valley facing out onto the open ocean.
During the winter months the people of Tjørnuvík experience the sun rising and setting three times a day because of the high mountains surrounding the village!
We took a short break from driving and visited Tjørnuvík’s only store, a gift shop selling handmade crafts by a local woman. We skipped on picking up souvenirs, but didn’t say no to a cup of coffee and some homemade Faroese cookies and waffles!
Wandering closer to the bay, we could see the northern tip of Eysturoy, the second largest island in the archipelago. Off in the distance we could see two massive rock stacks protruding out of the water just off the coast of Eysturoy.
These rocks are named “The Witch and the Giant”, and Hávarður filled us in on the legend surrounding them.
A long, long time ago a huge witch and giant wanted to drag the Faroe Islands over the North Atlantic Ocean to link up with Iceland. They crept over at nighttime and pulled, and pulled, and pulled, realizing that the islands were much heavier than originally anticipated. They were both so focused on their efforts that they lost track of time, and immediately turned to stone as the sun rose the next morning.
Here they have remained as stone stacks ever since, staring out across the ocean towards Iceland.
After leaving Tjørnuvík we crossed a bridge to the neighboring island of Eysturoy where we could see the Witch and the Giant from a different perspective.
On the Faroe Islands there are approximately 100,000 sheep, double that of the human population.
Hávarður informed us that the death penalty still exists on the islands to prevent sheep theft. Apparently if you steal a sheep, you lose your head. Although, he mentioned a beheading hasn’t taken place in over 400 years. I couldn’t tell if he was joking.
Everywhere I looked I could see sheep – on the grassy plateaus, on the mountains, and dangerously close to the side of the road.
Next we arrived in the small village of Gjógv on the northeast coast of Eysturoy, where we were told we could see nesting puffins on the steep cliff walls. These animals were actually one of the main reasons why we booked the tour in the first place.
Although it was already late in the nesting season there were still a few puffins left on the cliffs. From the moment I saw them, I knew they were the strangest bird I had ever seen.
We watched them clumsily flinging themselves off the steep walls, struggling to catch wind for flight, beating their wings madly in an attempt to stay airborne, before almost crashing into the water to hunt for food.
Their attempt to fly back into their nests was equally odd looking and resembled more of a crash landing.
Puffins form long-term relationships. The female lays a single egg and both parents incubate it and feed the chick, or puffling. After breeding puffins winter at sea, usually far from coasts and often spreading south of their breeding range.
My longest camera lens, 110mm, couldn’t really get as close to the puffins as I had hoped. I could really have used a 300mm or 400mm, or something to the extent of what the other tourists were packing around. Next time!
Looking past the puffin cliffs I could see the coastline of Kalsoy, another island part of the Faroese archipelago. I couldn't help but think that the coastline looks similar to that of Kauai – like the Jurassic Park set was transported just south of the Arctic Circle.
As we were walking back from the puffin cliffs to the taxi I couldn't believe how picturesque Gjógv and the surrounding landscape is! I was blown away by how green and lush looking everything is.
Our last stop before heading back to Tórshavn was in the village of Funningur, located on the northwest coast of Eysturoy. It is said that the first Vikings to reach the Faroe Islands settled here. Today, about 70 people live in this sleepy little seaside village.
On the drive back we crossed over a bridge connecting the two main islands, Eysturoy and Streymoy. Hávarður noted that the infamous exploding whale YouTube video was recorded a few years back near this area. If you haven't seen it, check it out, but prepare yourself to see the inside of a whale's stomach!
When we arrived back in Tórshavn, I was nowhere near ready to leave the Faroe Islands.
Seeing this unique landscape for myself really made me feel like an early explorer discovering an untarnished paradise, and one day was not nearly enough time to fully discover everything these beautiful islands contain.
We could have driven for days and days, exploring every single island in the archipelago, going for long hikes in the mountains, meandering through the quaint little villages, and I would still be longing to spend more time here.
One thing is certain, I'll definitely be back.
Planning a trip to the Faroe Islands?
For a definitive guide on what to see and experience, pick up a copy of this Faroe Islands guide book!