In the Faroe Islands, dramatic topography and an otherworldly sense of mystery
By Jeanine Barone,
Where: Faroe Islands
When to go: May to September
Why to go: A door-left-unlocked destination with dramatic topography (narrow fjords, plummeting waterfalls, soaring cliffs) and an otherworldly sense of magic and mystery, where thick fog rolls across verdant slopes that briefly disappear behind a gauzy veil.
Logistics: Atlantic Airways, the national airline, flies direct from Keflavik International Airport in Iceland. The most efficient way to get around the 17 inhabited North Atlantic islands is by combining a car rental (from Vagar Airport) with ferries and the occasional (inexpensive) helicopter. (You can reserve only a single, one-way chopper ticket per day.) You will drive causeways and up-to-seven-mile-long tunnels. A few are dark, one-lane thoroughfares, with pull-in points for dealing with oncoming traffic.
Money: The currency is the krona. While most major businesses in the capital (Torshavn) and elsewhere on the larger islands accept credit cards (especially Visa), establishments on the smaller, outlying islands may not. (American Express is rarely accepted anywhere.) Bring cash. You’ll find ATMs even in remote villages.
Paperwork: U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to visit the Faroe Islands for fewer than 90 days. Your passport must be valid for at least three months after you leave the United States.
Language: Faroese is the national language, and Danish is the official second language. Most everyone, however, also speaks English, especially younger people. Menus at upscale restaurants and cafes are often in Faroese and English as are signs for hiking trails and place names. Surprise residents by learning these Faroese phrases: godan dag (good day/hi) and takk fyri (thank you).
Health: All visitors from the United States are required to get a PCR coronavirus test upon arrival at the airport and self-quarantine until they get the results. A second test four days later is recommended but not required. If you’re unvaccinated, you must self-quarantine for 10 days or get a second negative test four days later. Since the regimen differs for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, bring vaccine certification with you.
Crime is pretty much nonexistent. The only concern: unpredictable weather — dense fog and blustery winds — when driving, hiking or engaging in water-based activities.
Prevailing myth: This rural archipelago can seem frozen in time, as if the entire population were made up of sheep herders and fishermen. In fact, although fish and sheep’s wool are key to the economy, the Faroese are technologically advanced — with a vibrant capital — successfully melding the traditional with the modern, including contemporary art, design, fashion and architecture.
Photos by Ingrid Hofstra
The mahogany clam dish from Koks in Leynavatn, left. Skerpikjot, or dried lamb, it a popular part of the Faroese diet.
Itinerary for first-timers: Plan on staying at least four days and visiting the six islands (Vagar, Streymoy, Eysturoy, Kunoy, Vidoy and Bordoy) connected by roads. (Operate out of Torshavn, on Streymoy.) From the airport, on Vagar, stop in the scenic, historic hamlet of Bour, with its wee lanes and black-painted church. Mulafossur is Vagar’s much photographed waterfall, plunging hundreds of feet to the sea. Walkable Torshavn has cafes, galleries and shopping emporia. Scope out the art and cultural events at the National Gallery of the Faroe Islands
, Nordic House and the Steinprent workshop and gallery, where you can watch demonstrations of traditional lithography. It’s an easy two-hour hike from Torshavn to Kirkjubour, an ancient seaside village. If you have time and want to experience a placid, tiny island, take a ferry to Nolsoy. On Eysturoy, with its arresting offshore sea stacks (rock formations), another memorable sight is the dramatic, 650-foot-long gorge in the 400-year-old village of Gjogv. You may even spot seals.
Itineraries for repeat visitors: Spend more time on Eysturoy, which is sliced by rugged fjords, and Streymoy (including Torshavn), which is the largest of the islands. Take a boat trip from Streymoy to the 2,300-foot-high Vestmanna Sea Cliffs, where thousands of puffins and other seabirds nest. Another spot for puffin lovers is Mykines, an island accessible by boat or helicopter from Vagar. Visit a few of the other outer islands (Kalsoy, Svinoy, Fugloy, Koltur), which requires coordination with ferry or helicopter transfers but provides opportunities for hiking, birding, visiting museums and photographing postcard-worthy scenery.
Eat this: Traditional, strongly flavored, fermented lamb and codfish; salmon ceviche and grilled salmon; fish soup and langoustine (like lobster); braised lamb; and rhubarb-based desserts. For a splurge: the New Nordic cuisine served at two Michelin-starred Koks restaurants.
Special events: Music plays an outsize role in Faroese culture, and the eclectic local music scene is always buzzing. No matter your genre preference, summertime music festivals are sure to enthrall. Stages are set up on beaches and in bars, churches, concert halls and other venues. Participating musicians, composers and songwriters are not just from the Faroes but from around the world. The G! Festival (canceled for 2021, but on for next year), Summartonar and Summarfestivalurin are the highlights.
Photos by Ingrid Hofstra
Sheep’s wool is used for Faroese knitwear and has been extremely important for the islands over the years.
Cultural sensitivities: Don’t refer to the Faroese as Danes — they’re not. The Faroe Islands is a self-governing part of Denmark. In addition to their language, they have their own flag and cultural and civic norms. Avoid criticizing the periodic whale hunts; whale has long been a food source here. When visiting Tinganes, the old part of Torshavn, with its thatch-roofed traditional dwellings, respect the homeowners’ privacy. And don’t fly drones over this or any other inhabited area.
Souvenirs: Traditional fisherman’s sweaters or, beyond the tried-and-true, fashion-forward wool cardigans and hoodies; ceramics with landscape-inspired colors; bold-hued visual art; and Faroese music.
Fun quote: “In just a couple of my books, more people are murdered than in the last 500 years of Faroese history,” says author Jógvan Isaksen, who has written almost two dozen crime novels centered on the Faroe Islands.
Barone is a writer based in New York. Her website is jthetravelauthority.com.
Please NotePotential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.
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