The forgotten Faroes are just a short flight from the UK, yet they’re way off the standard traveller’s radar. Adrift in the frothing swells of the north Atlantic, this mysterious 18-piece jigsaw puzzle of islands is at once ancient and very modern. Multicoloured cottages and grass-roofed wooden churches add focus to the grandly stark, treeless moorlands. Timeless networks of cairn-marked footpaths crisscross craggy layer-cake mountains. But even the tiniest once-inaccessible hamlets are now linked by a remarkable series of road-tunnels. And even as you bob around the dramatic fjords on a 70-year-old wooden sloop, your mobile phone is never likely to lose its signal.
The Faroes are a paradise for fell-walkers and ornithologists who accept the pyrotechnically unpredictable climate. Designer-mown by shaggy sheep, fields are blissfully bouncy under-foot. Pastures gleam with the greener-than-green hue of divine billiard tables. Peeping puffins, dive-bombing skuas and wheeling fulmars glide over dizzying chasms. Wave-battered headlands end in plunging cliffs that are as breathtaking as the wild winds that threaten to blow unwary hikers off them. Streymoy is the biggest island of the group, and home to the capital Tórshavn, as well as dramatic scenery galore and the unmissable bird cliffs of Vestmanna. While the Southern Islands aren't quite so dramatic in terms of landscape, islands like Suðuroy and Skúvoy are appealingly low on tourists and high on friendliness.
The proud, stoical Faroese character has been forged from Viking blood, Christian piety, Scandinavian openness and an awe for the humbling nature that’s all around. Few communities this small are so alive with art and the Faroes’ incredibly vibrant music scene is nothing short of astonishing. So even if the weather proves uncooperative, this self-assured little demi-nation is likely to surprise and delight even the most cynical traveller.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Faroe Islands.
The magnificent boat tours to the wild Vestmanna bird cliffs of northwestern Streymoy are probably the highlight of a visit to the Faroe Islands. When the weather's fine, you sail from Vestmanna along the west coast of Streymoy to towering cliffs and sea stacks that teem with fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and, occasionally, puffins.
The excellent Føroya Fornminnissavn is split between two sites in the Hoyvík suburb, 3km north of centre. The main site at Brekkutún 6 beautifully displays Faroese artefacts from the Viking Age to the 19th-century with helpfully illustrative photos and notes. In the downstairs treasure room, the 15th-century Kirkjubøur pew-ends include a much-photographed carving of the Virgin Mary meeting Elisabeth (mother of John the Baptist).
The excellent Føroya Fornminnissavn (Historical Museum) is split between two sites in the Hoyvík suburb, 3km(1.86mi) north of central Tórshavn. The main site (Brekkutún 6) beautifully displays Faroese artefacts from the Viking Age to the 19th-century with helpfully illustrative photos and notes.
Kirkjubøur was the episcopal centre of the island in medieval times. Today it's just a scattering of chalet-like wood-and-stone houses. St Olav's Church, built in 1111, was dedicated to the king who had formulated Norway's Christian code during the previous century; the ruins of Magnus Cathedral are hidden behind it.
Viðarlundin, a wonderfully wild park where trees and sculptures mingle, leads to the bright and airy Listasavn Føroya. Its excellent collection of Faroese modern and contemporary art includes moving, death-haunted canvasses by the great Sámal Joensen-Mikines, allegorical cartoons by William Heinesen and Tita Vinther's entertainingly woolly Rain.
On Nólsoy Island, carless Nólsoy village isn't especially picturesque but makes a strikingly peaceful contrast to bustling Tórshavn, whose Tinganes peninsula looks especially picturesque as you pass by on the ferry Ritan, 20 minutes, three to five daily). The village celebrates a big Ovastevnu festival in mid-August.
The city's tiny but charming historical core is Tinganes, a little peninsula delightfully jumbled with pretty turf-roofed cottages and historic red-painted stone-and-timber buildings. Most date from after the devastating 1673 fire. Guides can explain the history of each structure but random strolling is enough for most visitors.
Beyond the desert of asphalt that surrounds the modern transport terminal lie the turf-softened bastions of the ruined Skansin Fort. It's topped by a little lighthouse and four 18th-century cannons. Although rather underwhelming, a five-minute visit is justified by the patchily attractive views.
Around an hour's walk from Nólsoy village, a storm petrel colony is claimed to be the world's biggest. They're best observed at dusk. Guided bird tours including basic accommodation are organised through the village hostel-café Kaffistovan.