This post is a continuation of my first post about the Faroe Islands, titled “Some tips on traveling to the Faroe Islands from someone who went there one time and thus is obviously an expert.” Our first trip back in 2016 was only for a few days, and from the moment we left, we had been looking forward to coming back for a longer stay. This time we were there for eight days, and I want to report back some of my thoughts now that I’ve spent a little longer there.
Up front, I’ll admit that we’re already planning our next trip, hopefully for a couple weeks. We had wondered if we’d get bored or sick of it after a week there, but we most definitely did not. I can’t quite articulate while I love it so much, and of course your milage may vary. The combination of absolutely jaw-dropping scenery, isolation, ease of getting around, and dramatic weather all combine to make for a very relaxing vacation that simultaneously feels like an epic adventure. Those two things don’t usually coexist in the same trip, but somehow it works in the Faroes.
This post will probably be more travel diary than tutorial, but as tourism ramps up in the Faroes, I figured my observations could be useful to anyone who might be curious about going there. If you’ve been seeing more travel journalism about the Faroe Islands lately, you’re not alone — Visit Faroe Islands (the national tourism agency) has been doing a great job raising the islands’ profile, and locals expect it to become the next Iceland over the next five years. That being said, it’s not as if the country is wall-to-wall gawkers with selfie sticks… We were definitely visiting outside of the high season, but over the week we were there, we encountered a whole six other tourists.
I’ve read a couple articles decrying the “Instagram tour” of the Faroe Islands – the waterfall at Gásadalur, the Kallur lighthouse, the church at Saksun, etc. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with limiting your stay to a couple days and hitting the main sites. Not everyone is going to fall in love with the place like I have and want to wander aimlessly for weeks at a time, and there’s a reason these places are the greatest hits. Sure, ideally you’ll get off the beaten path, but if you’re in the Faroe Islands in the first place, your path is already relatively unbeaten.
SAS vs. Atlantic Airways: Which one to choose?
Now that SAS flies to the Faroes from Copenhagen, I wanted to compare them to Atlantic Airways (the Faroe Islands’ flag carrier). I posted a full review of Atlantic Airways during the trip, although I’m not going to bother doing the same for SAS. I wouldn’t stress yourself out too much trying to decide which one to fly, since they’re pretty similar in terms of onboard comfort. That said, Atlantic does have some advantages over SAS… First, it’s usually cheaper, and extras (seat selection, baggage, etc) are cheaper too. Atlantic’s on-board service includes free soft drinks, and SAS only gives you free coffee or tea. The service on both is fairly indifferent, but not being Faroese or Danish probably played a part in that.
I should also note that Atlantic almost never cancels flights, whereas SAS has canceled their daily flight a handful of times already this year. Atlantic has more frequencies to Copenhagen, although the timing of the SAS flight worked better for us on this trip. Here’s a little slide-show of photos I took on SAS:
The best thing about SAS’s seat compared to Atlantic is the USB outlet, which is pretty handy. Otherwise, the seat is the exact same Recaro slimline model. Oh, one other thing about SAS: their duty free catalog has this weird “Bukowski” stuffed animal. Does Bukowski mean something else to Scandinavian folks, or did they name a stuffed toy cat after Charles Bukowski? I was curious, but I didn’t want to blow 4500 EuroBonus points on this thing.
I had originally selected a seat on SAS that was just in front of the wing, since I wanted to take a video with the same perspective as the approach video I shot. Unfortunately, SAS canceled my seat assignment without telling me (due to a schedule change), and they’re making it a real pain in the ass to get refunded. I’m still going around with them about it. In my opinion, if I pay for the seat, they should honor it or refund my money, but SAS’s customer service is more of the “f-you, it was non-refundable and we don’t have to honor shit” variety. It’s 30 Euros I’d really like to have back, so I’m still annoyed about it. Long story long, in the video I shot of the take-off, I’m sitting right on the wing instead of just in front of it. Because I’m mad at SAS, the free advertising they get from the giant winglet billboard bugs me too.
One other thing to note: despite SAS serving FAE, Star Alliance booking engines still don’t recognize it as a destination. United recognizes FAE when you enter it on the search page, but it can’t find any flights there. I wish this would change, since it would be nice to get from the US to the Faroes on a single itinerary.
On the loyalty program front, SAS of course earns points in their EuroBonus program, or you can credit the flight to a Star Alliance partner for a handful of miles. Atlantic flights used to earn EuroBonus points, but they’ve recently started up their own loyalty program that I joined just for the hell of it. Regardless, the earning is so paltry that miles/points aren’t really a reason to choose one over the other.
For the love of god, please rent a car and explore!
If I were going to give someone a single tip, it would be to RENT. A. CAR. The roads are in great condition, and pretty much every road is the most scenic road you’ve ever driven on. I mean…
The snowy weather we had during the trip made some of the narrower mountain roads pretty harrowing, but it wasn’t that bad. Plus, our rental car was one of the few cars we saw around the islands with studded tires, which I appreciated more and more as the trip went on.
Speaking of the rental car, I can’t recommend Unicar.fo highly enough. I wasn’t aware of them during our first trip, so I ended up using Sixt (who, along with Avis and a couple others subcontracts the rentals to Faroese company 62 North). It was over $100 per day for an automatic transmission (I’m lame and never learned to drive stick), which I wasn’t looking forward to on an eight day trip. Unicar came in around half that, and I was able to set the whole thing up over email before the trip. They emailed me a few days before I arrived with instructions on how to pick up the car, so I was able to hit the road straight from baggage claim, without having to wait in line to check in at the desk.
Our agenda for this trip was pretty much just to drive around, and it was everything we hoped for. We hit some of the same spots we went the first time, since they looked much different in the snow. My favorite place in the Faroes is still Viðareiði — I even learned how to pronounce it this time (it’s kind of like “Vee-yah-rye-yah” but you roll the “r”). The snow had melted somewhat by the time we made it out there, but it was still insanely dramatic.
Renting a car also enables you to stay in a small village rather than in Tórshavn. Nothing against Tórshavn, but we both feel that the point of the Faroes is the scenery and the isolation that the little villages provide, so we’ve never felt a big pull to stay in the capital, even though it’s a vibrant, picturesque mini-city.
AirBNB has really taken off in the last couple years, too. When we first went, all the AirBNB listings were concentrated in the main towns (Soravágur near the airport, Tórshavn, and Klaksvík) except for a few places scattered around the islands. Now, it’s possible to find an empty house pretty much anywhere (although not in Viðareiði just yet — it’s on my wishlist for next time), and after spending a week in the tiny village of Elduvík (population 16), I’m even more resolute in my affinity for the AirBNB route. Even if you prefer the hospitality offered by a hotel, I really encourage you to spend a couple nights in a village, since the experience is totally unique.
Get up close and personal with the scenery.
Unlike a lot of places, you can see most of what the Faroes have to offer from the car. It’s not necessary to hike into the interior of the islands to get the best scenery, although leaving the car behind and immersing yourself in the Faroese wilderness is an experience like nothing else.
I arranged a guided hike with Pól Sundskarð, who runs the Hiking.fo site and offers guided trips throughout the islands. It wasn’t cheap (2500 DKK for the day, although I think that can be split among multiple people), but I had such an amazing time, I didn’t care. Plus, and I say this with no exaggeration, if I had tried to do this hike by myself, I would 100% be a frozen corpse on a Faroese mountain right now.
Our original plan had been to hike to the Enniberg sea cliffs above Viðareiði, although the weather wasn’t cooperating, so we agreed the day before to switch to a hike above/around the little village of Tjørnuvík. Tjørnuvík is one of the most scenic spots in the Faroes, since it is surrounded on three sides by mountains and sits at the end of a scenic beach that overlooks the famous sea stacks near Eiði.
The hike basically climbed up from Tjørnuvík to the ridge of the mountain directly behind it, and from there we planned to hike out to a scenic overlook. However, once we got up to around 500 meters, we were in full whiteout conditions, with stronger wind than I’ve ever experienced in my life. There were times where I had to turn my back to the wind and dig my trekking poles into the ground to avoid being knocked over. I had to make sure to keep up with Pól, since if he got too far ahead of me, I wouldn’t have been able to see him. (I should note that he’s a very professional guide, so he never would have let this happen.)
Our planned return route was blocked by weather, so we considered heading to Saksun instead, although the conditions were too dangerous for that route as well. It was funny that Pól asked, “is this okay with you?” whenever he suggested we not take routes that were too dangerous, since I was already so far out of my comfort zone that I didn’t even want to think about what “too dangerous” entailed. For instance, here’s a photo he took of me hiking up a steep, wet pitch without a defined trail. One slip and I would have fallen quite a ways.
There were definitely times where I had to push past my fear of heights, but that only added to the exhilaration once I was able to admire the scenery from the altitude I had gained.
Finally, here’s a quick panorama video I shot after we descended back out of the whiteout.
Okay, thanks for indulging my vacation photos. The point of all this is that a) I highly recommend venturing into the Faroese wilderness on foot if you can, and b) hire Pól as a guide, since there’s a very real chance you’ll die if you go off hiking on your own. (Seriously, there are tourist deaths every year due to people underestimating the terrain and/or the weather.)
The one main guidebook for the Faroe Islands overclaims how “extreme” they are.
I realize this probably contradicts some of what I’ve written, but one thing I’ve noticed about the Bradt guide to the Faroe Islands (which is the only one published in English) is that the author really wants you to know that the Faroes are extreme in every way. Sure, the first time I flew in I went through the strongest turbulence I’ve ever experienced, but it was only marginally worse than turbulence above Seattle a couple months later, so it’s not like it’s a unique global phenomenon.
The wind is strong, but the wind is strong in Wellington, New Zealand too. The weather is pretty nuts, but it was actually around 10-15 degrees warmer there than it was in Amsterdam. It’s remote, but it’s a two hour flight from mainland Europe, so you aren’t actually that far from “civilization.” (That’s in quotes because obviously the Faroe Islands is civilized. I only point this out because I’ve talked to people who balk at going there because they don’t like the idea of being so remote.)
The Faroes definitely pique my sense of adventure, but as I mentioned above, it’s also perfectly possible to have a very relaxing, serene time there even amidst all the scenery and weather. I’m just so happy that Justine and I took the plunge and went to the Faroes on our last trip, since it’s a destination that keeps on giving even on repeat trips.
That being said, I don’t want to give the impression that you’ll miss out if you don’t spend a week here. Even if you’re tacking a couple days onto a trip to Iceland or Denmark, I guarantee you’ll get your money’s worth.
(I guess I should mention the whaling before I wrap this up, since every article I’ve ever seen about the Faroes that doesn’t mention the whaling is besieged by comments asking WHAT ABOUT THE WHALING?! Whaling exists in the Faroe Islands, and it is done in a very brutal, grisly manner in full view of whoever wants to see. They don’t hide it in a cove like in Taiji, but if you’ve seen The Cove, you get the idea. I’m not interested in getting into a debate about it, except to note that the Faroese don’t hunt endangered species, and the amount per year that the kill is a tiny fraction of a percentage of the overall population. I also think it’s patently ridiculous to shun an entire country because some people in that country engage in behavior that you find abhorrent. I guess I’m kind of confused how the whaling is often given as this huge overarching reason not to visit the Faroe Islands when here in the US, horrific animal torture is a cornerstone of our agricultural industry. I mean shit, as a vegetarian/vegan, if I refused to travel to countries that treated animals in a way that wasn’t consistent with my values, I’d have to live alone on an island.)
Have you been to the Faroes? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments. If you have any Faroe-related questions, I’m happy to answer them too, since I’m such an amazing expert and everything. (In reality, I just like talking about this place — as you could probably tell from this post — so I wouldn’t mind continuing the conversation over email.)
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