Travel

How to spend a weekend in the Faroe Islands

A culinary capital out in the North Atlantic, this is a land of sheep, fog and epic landscapes that offers an adventurous escapeFriday, 3 May 2019

By Josephine Price
Leitisvatn Cliffs

Little changes on the Faroe Islands. This far-flung, self-governing archipelago, part of the Kingdom of Denmark, rises out of the Atlantic between Scotland, Norway and Iceland, and prides itself on maintaining traditions. Just 18 small islands make up this nation; 18 lumps of volcanic rock cloaked in emerald green where rugged coastlines and soaring cliffs enclose hidden lakes, precipitous mountains and tight-knit communities.

The Faroe Islands may stand still in some ways, but in others, it soars ahead, mustering a reputation as a pioneering member of the Nordic dining pack. From Michelin stars in hidden valleys and sushi spots in the city to traditional cooking in the homes of locals, the scale and range of cuisine on offer is impressive for such a small place.


Its culinary advancements, natural bounty and dreamy backdrop invoke pride without arrogance. Life can be tough in the Faroes. Isolated, rugged, treeless and open to the elements, it’s a place where myths and folklore live on, and where sheep outnumber people.


It’s also a place where knitting is still a part of everyday life — you’ll find wool has its own aisle in the supermarket. Known as the ‘gold of the Faroes’ in local proverbs, this wool once clothed the Danish army. More recently, it made a recurring appearance in the hit Scandi noir drama The Killing. Those plentiful sheep make their way onto plates, too: fermented, cured, roasted, boiled. And though the Faroe Islands are a firm fixture on the international foodie radar, this is a destination that’s much more than a culinary escape. Make it your next adventure.

Don't miss

The Múlafossur Waterfall in Gásadalur. The tunnel to this remote village only opened in 2004 — before that, it required a demanding hike over the mountain. Look out for puffins while admiring the waterfall, then stop for home-cured fare at Cafe Fjorooy.

Vantage point

The trek up to Lake Sørvágsvatn is renowned, and for good reason. Paths are easy to follow, not too arduous and the iconic view at the end is both beautiful and mind-boggling — it delivers an optical illusion of the body of water hovering miraculously on a clifftop above the sea.

Island hopping

Catch the twice-daily ferry from Tórshavn to Nólsoy. The 20-minute journey heads from the tiny yet buzzing capital to a quirky island with few cars and plenty of characters. Stop for home-cooked food, local beer, and great G&Ts at Gimburlombini.

Faroese food finds

For Michelin stars
Koks: The experience starts with an aperitif in a former smokehouse; next a 4X4 takes you deeper into the valley before you settle into the cosy restaurant for the main event.

For capital city dining
Skeiva Pakkhús:
Tórshavn’s latest restaurant has gained a reputation with interesting plates such as pickled cod, brown butter and pumpkin seeds.

For local flavour
Heimablídni:
This means ‘home hospitality’ in Faroese — think supper clubs with locals. Visit Harriet and John on Eysturoy island for traditional Sunday lunches.

Go wild

Remote escapes
Reika Adventures is a one-man band taking travellers to the Faroes’ isolated corners. Try wild camping by the archipelago’s most remote lake where you’ll fish for your dinner. If this isn’t fruitful, Reika’s Johannes Hansen offers up dried cod and locally brewed beers round the campfire.

Hit the road
Hire a car and make your way across the islands — six of the 18 are accessible by road. Follow the signposted ‘buttercup routes’ (named after the national flower) for scenic trails up and over the mountaintops. Gjógv and Saksun are the must-see villages. For those that don’t drive, join the hitchhikers (they’re a common sight) or catch one of the local buses — although be warned they’re fairly infrequent.

Sheep on roof

Eyewitness: The end of the line

“I first did this when I was about 10 with my father, and I’ve done it every year since,” says Johannes as we edge up the slippery, mossy hill. I know there’s a sharp drop ahead, but the island’s fabled fog has set in and visibility is poor, to say the least.


Abseiling is a bit of a thing in the Faroe Islands. Like many activities on these remote islands, its origins lie not in thrill-seeking adventurers, but in tales of survival. The archipelago’s rugged landscape may invite the intrepid traveller, but these pursuits are steeped in local tradition. For centuries, abseiling was part of life as islanders lowered themselves over cliff edges on ropes woven from sheep’s wool to seek out prized puffin eggs. Dwindling supplies halted the act and saved the puffins, but the act of abseiling remains very much entrenched in island life for those daring enough to tackle the vertical descents. And with such a selection of sheer cliffs, sea stacks and dramatic gorges, it would seem a pity not to give it a go while I’m here. Or, at least, that’s what I thought yesterday.


My stomach lurches when I see the drop. Below me tumbles a rocky, mossy ravine. The gorge is plucked straight from the pages of a Tolkien novel. Yesterday’s downpour has transformed every crevasse into the source of a new waterfall. Emerald green and jet black rock shimmers beneath.


As we stand on the gorge’s snared edge, the fog starts to clear. Johannes sets up the ropes in a matter of minutes. With practice comes dexterity. He’s done this thousands of times. Johannes was born here on Vágur, the island with the Faroes’ one airport and some of its most remote hiking destinations. His days are filled with hiking, abseiling, climbing and camping. Under his instruction, I buckle up and edge backwards towards the drop. I tentatively cross over the edge and walk myself out until I’m parallel with the cliff and start to walk my way down.


I slip on the next craggy, moss-covered foot hole. I’m blinded by fear for a moment or two, then I pause and remember to breathe as I regain my balance. These cliffs are unyielding and unfriendly. But this is the Faroe Islands. It’s in this drama and seemingly unfriendly landscape that you discover the islands’ beauty.


I let the rope out slowly. It’s exhilarating and I’m not sure I want this to end. At the bottom I unbuckle and shout up to indicate the all clear. I’ve got a moment to myself to take in the gorge once again. But Johannes is down in less than that. He’s done this many times before. reika.fo 

Essentials

The only direct flights from the UK to the Faroe Islands are from Edinburgh, with Atlantic Airways. Travel from other UK airports requires a connecting flight in either Denmark or Iceland. visitfaroeislands.com

Published in the May 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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