• Faroe Islands
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  • Faroe Islands
    © Galyna Andrushko / 123RF
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Explore the Faroe Islands, nature's isolated haven

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
It's one of Europe's finest natural destinations, the Nordic Queen of ecotourism where birds and wildlife overwhelmingly outnumber humans. Soaring to almost 3,000ft at their highest point, these islands will take you on nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, past endless untouched landscapes and little houses made of coloured wood.

Travel guide

The 'Sheep' Islands

Most commonly known for being home to more sheep than humans, the Danish-owned Faroe Islands offer up 18 little pockets of unadulterated nature to those who journey into their midst. Impressive green cliffs plunge into rocky seas, whilst up above the sun manages to direct the odd ray through an otherwise impenetrable layer of clouds. Hike, sail or sheep-watch; this archipelago is about embracing nature at every turn.

Meet the Faroese

It may belong to Denmark, but with its own flag and language this archipelago is far from a slave to Danish culture. Isolated from the rest of Europe (and poignantly lacking EU membership), mysterious and distinctly Faroese, these islands allow you to discover a Nordic way of life that has been heavily influenced by its geographic extremes for centuries.

Centre point

Streymoy is the archipelago's main island, home to capital Torshavn and abundant history and natural history museums. Journey to the north of the island, through a constant stream of gorgeous little villages, and you'll come across the little town of Kvivik, where ancient Viking houses were discovered and can now be visited.

Nature on Vagar

The island of Vagar, with its craggy cliffs, holds sprawling lakes and green valleys to attract the most dedicated of hikers. Its largest lake, Sorvagsvatn, is one of the island's wonders - perched perilously close to a cliff edge and looking very much like one day soon it will plunge into the sea below. You can also use Vagar as a base to explore the entirely uninhabited island of Litla Dimun, which often manages to stick its head out above the clouds and offer fantastic views.

Cave adventures

Amongst the islands' most impressive natural sights are their coastal caves. Along the fringes of the islands of Nolsoy and Hestur, the sea has carved immense caverns from the cliffs, often eating into inky-black tunnels. The only way to access these caves is by boat, with regular departures from Torshavn. Once at the very back of the caves, natural light is almost at zero but the acoustics are turned up to incredible, often serving as a place for recording music.

Puffin population

More than three hundred species of bird live on the Faroe Islands, including its famous population of puffins. The western isle of Mykines holds the largest numbers of these black-and-white beauties, along with the island's roughly 20 inhabitants and several hundred sheep.

Our Editorial team's advice

Take at least a week to explore the Faroe Islands, leaving enough time for a visit to the capital Torshavn as well as the plentiful hiking trails and boat trips to different parts of the archipelago. You'll need warm clothes and a good waterproof, even during the summer, especially if you intend to venture off land.

These islands may be an off-the-beaten-track location, but infrastructure here wants for nothing. Roads are safe and well-maintained; ferries make regular inter-isle connections and though hotels are few and far between, you'll find comfort and a pleasant welcome in them all.

Music is a huge part of life on the Faroe Islands, so take the time to enjoy some of the local sounds if you can. They host several music festivals and free live concerts in the summer, whilst the stunning Nordic House offers a wide variety of musical events and promotion of Faroese culture.

The period between June and September is usually the best time to visit, avoiding the worst of the rain and low temperatures. Many visitors opt for an organised trip, which includes visits to the islands' main attractions and also leaves time for exploring individually.

Direct flights to the Faroe Islands from the UK are virtually non-existent, but you'll find plenty of connection options with roughly a six-hour flight time. UK citizens are required to present a valid passport on arrival but visas are not necessary.

pros

  • +Not too many tourists yet.
  • +Beautiful, authentic and unspoilt nature.
  • +Known to have the best sushi outside of Japan.
  • +Live music every day.

cons

  • -The climate strongly limits the tourist season
  • -Limited accommodation
  • -Whale and dolphin hunting use cruel techniques.

Traditions

One of the archipelago's best known celebrations is Olavsoka, the country's national holiday which takes place towards the end of July and commemorates the death of Saint Olaf, king of Norway in the 11th century. Locals in the capital, along with government ministers, disguise themselves in fancy dress, cheer on organised boat races and dance along to traditional music.

Dolphin and whale hunting is a traditional sport which continues on the islands, despite constant opposition from animal welfare groups. Though the Faroese authorities have sought to make whaling more humane in recent years, around 1,000 whales and dolphins are killed each year in questionable conditions.

Food

Excellent fresh fish can be found all year round, especially haddock, plaice and halibut. These are often served with chips, in homage to the UK's favourite dish, and local beer. Be sure to try Foroya Bjor, product of the country's oldest brewery.

Don't be scared to try one of the local culinary specialties: the puffin. It is generally served as a first course, and is best smoked. Other regional specialties include lamb sausage, whale fat, dried cod and hot onion and liver pâté, often served with homemade bread, butter and cheese.

Souvenirs

The Faroe Islands have about twice as many sheep as people, and the wool they produce (the sheep, not the people...) is of excellent quality. A special treatment makes the wool waterproof, thus perfectly adapted to the climate. Stock up on quality jumpers, hats and socks; you will certainly have the opportunity to use them while on holiday here!

Seeing as the Faroe Islands are not part of the European Union, you can reclaim VAT (25%) on purchases exceeding 300 FOK (roughly £33). Fill in the refund cheque (available from affiliated shops) and have it validated by the customs authorities at the airport.