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9 Things to Know Before Visiting Faroe Islands

August 4, 2018

The Faroe Islands are truly impressive. While the archipelago has become quite popular in recent years, much of it still seems untouched by tourism, and it will probably stay this way. There are a few aspects of this trip that require you to book in advance, so to make the most of it, you need to know a few things - and that's what I am about to tell you!



Faroe Islands is the ultimate hiking destination



Expect a lot of hiking. You go to Faroe Islands for hiking and if you’re not into nature you should probably spend your holiday elsewhere. But if you do, this is absolutely the place for you. Some of the views on Faroe Islands are simply incredible and the hikes are really rewarding -  Traelanípan, Saksun, Mykines, Funningurn, Gásadalur, Drangarnir, Kalsoy and many more. Most of them are not even difficult, just long. Make sure you pack the right shoes, as it can get quite muddy and slippery. You can often do part of the journey by car, which can be convenient. As of recently, you need to pay a small amount for some hikes (Mykines), which is fair and helps maintain the paths.


One thing to keep in mind is that quite a lot of the land in Faroe Islands is privately owned, even if this means just a small fence circling a vast empty space and the occasional sheep. The problem is that the only way to reach some places is by crossing those lands. With an increasing number of visitors in recent years, some owners have decided to not allow visitors to pass altogether. One example is Drangarnir, which is now technically only accessible by booking a guided hiking tour at an inflated price which runs 3/7 days at a set time. 



Weather can be very unpredictable



This is a big one. Even in peak summer season, the weather in Faroe Islands can be terrible. While Scotland has been experiencing one of the best summers in a long time, just an hour flight away, the Faroe Islands have been chilly, wet, and covered in fog pretty much the entire duration of our stay. This can affect your plans quite a lot. Be careful with helicopter flights in particular, as they would not run in fog. Don’t rely on them and have a back-up plan - we didn’t so had to improvise. Provided that your flights are still running, the main downside of this is you won’t be able to see all the dramatic scenery that Faroe has to offer. Fog is common and it’s unlikely that you would be able to tick all those fantastic views that you’ve seen in photos, especially if your stay is short. Rocks and soil can become slippery so do be careful on some of the hikes.


What is a bit strange is that despite the islands being relatively small in area, the weather can vary a lot from one place to another. So while there is rain and thick fog on one islands, another may be sunny with a clear sky. Another thing to keep in mind is to not give up too easily, because the weather can change drastically in minutes. A thick layer of fog could go away and reveal an amazing scenery - even if only for a few minutes.


The bottom line is weather can affect some aspects of your Faroe trip. If absolutely everything does go according to plan, then you should consider playing the lottery. But don’t let this put you off from visiting.



Helicopter rides are cheap


The helicopter service in Faroe Islands is subsidized by the government, so they are really cheap, as low as 20 Euros for some popular routes. A helicopter ride could cost a lot more elsewhere and it’s surprising that a ferry or a bus with the same destination comes at a similar or even higher price. However, do be mindful. This service is provided mainly so that locals can get around the islands more easily, so don’t go overboard and start using this as your main means of transport. Flights don’t get released until a month in advance, and to keep it a bit of a secret, I will leave it to you to do a little research and figure out exactly when you should book them. Keep in mind some popular routes can sell out very, very fast (we are talking minutes). You technically cannot book a return journey, though you probably would not want to do that anyway, as the helicopter is highly dependent on weather. We booked 2 helicopter rides 2 days apart and both got cancelled, due to heavy fog. Have a back-up plan (ferry/bus).



Most places close on a Sunday


Just something to keep in mind, as this may take you by surprise and, depending on where you are staying, you may have very few options for food. Make sure you do your grocery shopping the day before, as pretty much everything is closed, including supermarket and almost all restaurants. Gas stations are still open and if you are lucky you may come across a restaurant that is actually open (Cafe Zorva in Sørvágur is one of them). So, planning to visit Tórshavn on a Sunday might not be the best idea. Instead go for an activity that involves nature -  which is pretty much everything else - and make sure you have the supplies to fuel your journey.



Driving in the Faroe Islands



There are buses and they do link many different areas, but service is limited. You could in fact get to do some of the best hikes on the islands without renting a car. But not everything. For some places, you absolutely need a car, not to mention you could save so much time and see a lot more. The summer days are long in the north and you can fit many sights into just one day. And it’s more than that. The driving experience itself in Faroe Islands is simply amazing, the roads are so so scenic, and it’s easy and relaxing to drive there, as some of the roads are almost empty. There are many tunnels, some one-way only, and while they may seem a bit scary and claustrophobic, it’s actually a very interesting and exciting experience.


You may save some cash if you don’t book the car for the entire duration of your stay - you might not need that. Check local companies (we went for Unicar) which may offer better rates. It might be cheaper to pick up the car at their headquarters (a short, cheap bus ride away) rather than the airport. What is most important is to book your car well in advance! Cars are in high demand in peak season and you mind not find any if you leave it to the last minute. We booked our car 1-2 months before our mid-July stay (we weren't sure whether we should rent or not) and options were already very limited.




Flights may get cancelled


There are two airlines that fly in and out of Faroe Islands: SAS and Atlantic Airways (the local airline). At the time of writing, Atlantic Airways is better equipped to take-off and land in fog conditions than SAS and they run more flights. It has often happened during the past year that an Atlantic Airways flight would depart while a SAS one would get cancelled. In this case, you may be left stranded on the islands for days. While you may be provided with accommodation and food, you would not be able to rent a car last-minute which would limit you. Not to mention that you would most likely have seen what you wanted to see already and had other plans after the trip, which would be affected. Fog is a common phenomenon in the Faroe Islands and can last for days in a row. Alternatives (ferry or last-minute Atlantic Airways flight to mainland Europe) are usually very expensive. Things may change, but for now, my advice would be to book with Atlantic Airways if you can.



Visit Faroe Islands during the bird breeding season (or not!)



Faroe Islands is a popular destination for bird watching, with around 110 species of birds flying there every year to nest and breed during the summer months. The puffin is by far the bird that people show most interest in. While there are a few places on the island where they nest, not all are easily or at all accessible to visitors. The island of Mykines, with its 125,000 pairs of puffins, is *the* place for this. You will find most puffins in the area between the village and the lighthouse, just before crossing the bridge. Don’t forget your telephoto lens. It is the perfect spot for photography and you can get very close to them without steering off path, which you should not do because you could step on their nests (they are underground). Each pair lays one egg per year, don’t ruin it for them!


While March or September may be “good” times to visit the islands weather-wise, it is not a good time to see puffins. In fact, you would not see any at all. The puffins nest sometime between April and July/August and spend the rest of the year on the open sea. Don’t expect to be able to arrange this visit upon your arrival, and book in advance - though you might get lucky if they schedule additional ferries. You can get to the island by ferry or helicopter.


There is a downside to visiting during bird season, which is that you won’t really be able to fly your drone as much as you would have hoped to, given that these islands are so empty and have such dramatic scenery. On Faroe Islands, you are never too far from the sea and the coastline is the best material after all. That’s also where the birds like to hang out. Some species are very territorial. They will start making noises, circle your drone and may attack it (we did meet a couple who got their propellers destroyed). You might want to try visiting outwith the summer months to get all that drone footage you wanted.



Look for accommodation outside of the capital


Torshavn is probably the first place you would look for accommodation when coming to the Faroe Islands. That is where most of the hotels are after all. But it may be convenient to base your stay elsewhere. For example, if you don’t plan of getting a car for the entire duration of your stay with airport pick-up and drop-off, you depend on the bus service and there aren’t always enough seats for everyone. You could also get a taxi, but it’s more expensive. However, Sørvágur is just a 20min walk away from the airport and a nice little town to stay in. The location is ideal and not just due to its proximity to the airport - it’s also close to some of the best hiking trails in the Faroe Islands as well as the Mykines ferry. There are a couple local car rental companies based in Vágar, which have better prices. It can be refreshing to live in a small quiet town and the accommodation may work out cheaper as well. Try Airbnb and stay with a local family. Options are limited so book well in advance.



Check bus/ferry timetables


If you rely on public transport, check the timetables in advance to make sure your trip is feasible and doesn’t leave you stranded in a small village.

With the airport transfer, buses are in sync with the flights, but don't always meet demand. For example, there is one bus leaving the airport at 2pm, meant to serve 2-3 flights. If you don’t get on that bus, you would have to wait another 2h for the next one - or take a taxi.

All buses in the capital Tórshavn are free to use for all.



Tags: edinburgh, weather, europe, scotland, winter, beast from the east

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An Edinburgh-based couple sharing a passion for travel and photography. 6 years together, 21 countries and counting!

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