Earth : Europe : Scandinavia : Faroe Islands
The Faroe or Faeroe Islands (in Faroese Føroyar) are 18 islands in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Scotland and halfway between Iceland and Norway. The Islands are a self-governing island territory of Denmark, although they politically aim for higher independence. The Islands have a population of nearly 50,000, and a language and culture of their own. When visiting the Faroes you are never more than 5km (3 miles) away from the ocean. The countryside is dominated by steep mountains and there are about 70,000 sheep and some 2 million pairs of seabirds, including the largest colony of storm petrels in the world. The Faroe Islands are undeniably beautiful: green, rugged and wind-swept. Most visitors to the islands come between early July and late August.
The Faroese tourist season is very short. It begins in May and ends by September. Most visitors come between July and August by far. If you would like to avoid the busiest season, it is best to visit the Faroes in late May or early June. The Faroese weather has its own temperament and is a lot like the weather in neighboring regions, just more unpredictable.
One of the main reasons that people visit the Faroe Islands is the incredible nature and scenery. The Faroe Islands turn extraordinarily green during the summertime. The fresh air, the deep blue ocean, the vertical sea cliffs and the green mountains with their picturesque valleys, is something which would amaze anyone who enjoys being surrounded by nature. For generations the locals have lived off the land and the animals that are on the islands as not much grows in this climate.
A part of that culture is grindadráp, a traditional whale hunt when long-finned pilot whales or dolphins are seen between the islands. As nature rules here this can happen at any time and with no notice normally from June through to September on any one of twenty plus beaches around the islands. This traditional hunting is also called the grind. It consists of a driving of a pod of pilot whale or dolphin to the beach with boats. Once they are close enough to the beach, they are killed with hooks and knives. The entire group is killed, which stains the sea red over tens of meters.
There are bus rides, horse trekking, mountain hikes and boat trips which allow you to enjoy the magnificent wild green landscape. Sometimes the summer fog creates a mystical landscape, in which you may vividly imagine the great history and mystical stories belonging to the islands. Some have said that when the landscape is surrounded by this sort of weather it reminds them of the landscape in J.R.R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
The tranquillity of the islands are great if you want to escape from big city madness. The Faroese love to take things easy and are not at all worried about arriving on time. But if you ever find yourself in the mood for a night out in town, you will find that Tórshavn caters for your every need with its great shops, bars, cafés and restaurants.
Because the islands are so close to the Arctic Circle, the amount of daylight varies by season. The sun sets briefly each night in June, so there are several hours of twilight, before the sun comes back up again. During the winter there are no days of complete darkness, but about five hours of daylight.
The Faroes were colonized by Norwegians in the 9th century - according to history the first settler was Grímur Kamban, a Norwegian Viking who made his home in Funningur on Eysturoy in 825. The Faroese population has largely descended from these settlers. Recent DNA analyses have revealed that Y chromosomes, tracing male descent, are 87% Scandinavian. However, the studies also show that mitochondrial DNA, tracing female descent, is 84% Scottish. Today the population is 48,511 (1st November 2010). About 19,870 people live in the metropolitan area which comprises Tórshavn, Kirkjubøur, Velbastaður, Nólsoy, Hestur, Koltur, Hoyvík, Argir, Kaldbak, Kaldbaksbotnur, Kollafjørður, Signabøur and Oyrareingir (Tórshavn Municipality). About 4,700 people live in Klaksvík, the second largest town in the islands. 4,750 people live in Suðuroy, the southernmost islands (1 January 2010) and 1330 people live on Sandoy island (1 January 2010). Faroese is the national language; it is rooted in Old Norse.
The Viking settlers established their own parliament called "ting" around 800. Local tings were established in different parts of the islands. The main ting was established on Tinganes in Tórshavn. About the turn of the millennium the Faroes came under control of the Norwegian king. In 1380 the Faroes along with Orkney, Shetland, Iceland and Greenland, came with Norway into a union with Denmark. At the end of the Napoleonic wars, by the Treaty of Kiel in 1814, Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden, but kept the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. In 1816, two years later, the Faroes were made into a Danish County and the old parliament was abolished. The Danish Governor became the highest authority in the Faroes.
In 1849 the Danish parliamentary constitution was made to apply in the Faroe Islands. In 1852 the Faroese parliament was reinstated as a county council, but served mainly as an advisory power. The Danish governor presided at all meetings and was a co-opted member. At the same time the Faroes came to be represented at the Danish parliament. It should be stated that, although the Faroe Islands have recognised the Royal powers, they have never been a part of Denmark. Only the Danish kingdom.
During World War II, Denmark was occupied by the Germans, whilst the Faroes had a friendly occupation by the British. During this time the Faroese parliament carried both the legislative and the fiscal responsibility. The Faroese people had a taste of self-government and a return to status quo seemed impossible.
After a referendum, which led to a very small majority voting for independence, in 1946 negotiations took place between the two countries and the outcome was the Home Rule Act in 1948. The Faroese were from then on responsible for most matters of government. The parliament can legislate on matters of local importance, and Danish laws can be rejected. The parliament has between twenty-seven and thirty-two members. The leader of the cabinet has the status of prime minister. The Faroes are still represented in the Danish parliament by two representatives. Also, since 1970 the Faroes have had independent status in the Nordic Council. Furthermore, the Faroes have their own flag (Merkið). Unlike Denmark, the islands are not a member of the EU and all trade is governed by special treaties.
The Faroe Islands' primary industry is the fishing industry, and the islands have one of the smallest independent economic entities in the world. The fishing industry accounts for over 80% of the total export value of goods, which are mainly processed fish products and fish farming. Tourism is the second largest industry, followed by woollen and other manufactured products. The unemployment rate in the Faroes is extremely low. The Faroese are trying to diversify their economy, but are divided about how to go about it. At present time most Faroese people work at the public sector as teachers, caretakers or having office jobs etc. The rise in the public sector workforce is highlighted by the fact that it is getting less and less popular to work at the fishing industry, and the private sector isn't big enough to support an educated and more demanding workforce.
The weather is maritime and quite unpredictable. It can change quickly and it varies extremely, from moments of brilliant sunshine to misty hill fog, to showers - there can be sunshine on one side of the mountain range, while it's raining on the other side. During the summer the islands are often overcast by summer fog. The Gulf Stream south of the islands tempers the climate. The harbours never freeze and the temperature in winter time is very moderate considering the high latitude. Snowfall occurs, but it is short-lived. The average temperature ranges from 3°C in the wintertime to 11°C during the summer, the temperature can be much higher, but the air is always fresh and clean no matter the season.
With their volcanic origin the 18 islands are rugged and rocky. The average height above sea level for the country is 300m (982 ft). The highest peak, Slættaratindur, is 882m (2883 ft) above sea level. There are 1100km (687 mi) of coastline and no point is more than 5km (3 mi) away from the ocean. Mountains and valleys mostly characterize the inner landscape. The Faroese west coast is characterized by steep slopes and bird cliffs, that in the summertime are full of nesting seabirds such as puffins. Something that first meets the eye of a traveller is the lack of trees in the Faroes. The reason for this are the thousands of sheep that occupy the islands.
The archipelago is composed of 18 islands covering 1399 km2 (545.3 sq miles) and is 113 km (70 miles) long and 75 km (47 miles) wide. 17 islands are inhabited, leaving just one uninhabited island, the smallest island, Lítla Dímum. There are a lot of smaller islets and scerries around the Faroe Islands. Including the 18 islands there are 779 islands, islets and skerries in the Faroe Islands. A large part of these are around the island Suðuroy, which consists of 263 islets and skerries, including the island itself. The precipitous terrain limits habitation to small coastal lowlands. The islands are connected by tunnels, causeways and a regular public ferry service.
Towns and villages
Right until the late 19th century, people spent most of their lives in the same village. Towns didn't start to appear until very late. For instance, the capital, Tórshavn, only counted about 100 inhabitants in 1900, whereas today the number has escalated into nearly 20,000. In the Faroe Islands the traditional village was to a certain extent self-sufficient. Historically there was a limit to how many families it could support. When the fishing industry took off in 1872, it was the beginning of the end for the traditional way of life in the small villages as fishing replaced farming and the growing population chose to settle in the fast growing towns instead.
Even so, today there are still over a hundred villages in the Faroe Islands. Nearly every single one of them is situated near the ocean, and to new visitors they may all seem to be very much alike. The houses are either painted in bright colours or the traditional black, whilst the roofs are often turf covered. The buildings are usually built very close to each other, which is very cosy. Every village is surrounded by a cultivated infield, and surrounding it is the uncultivated outfield. In most places the sheep occupy the outfield throughout the whole year.
If you do not normally need a visa for Denmark, you can visit the Faroe Islands visa-free for 90 days in a half year. If you do need a visa for Denmark, be sure to inform the embassy when you apply that you'll be visiting the Faroe Islands, as Schengen-area visas issued for the mainland do not apply to the Faroe Islands (or Greenland).
Be aware that summer fog is a problem when flying to the Faroes in the summer months. The planes cannot land in this weather and will often divert to Iceland where you will stay until the weather clears. This also means that flights out of the Faroes can be disrupted too. Allow yourself a few days either side of your visit to the Faroes in case of flight delays.
Due to the recession, Smyril Line is not currently running to Scrabster or Bergen. All passengers to/from the UK and Norway must now go via Denmark. Also, the passage from/to Iceland is not available during winter season.
Getting to the Faroes by boat takes longer than by plane but has the advantage of allowing you to take your own vehicle. Single passage is priced between 129 Euro in off-season and 185 Euro in high season (2017).
For people arriving by yachts, there are several harbors around the islands. The best are found in the capital Tórshavn, Klaksvík, Tvøroyri, Vágur, Vestmanna, Sørvágur, Miðvágur, Runavík, and Fuglafjørður.
The Faroe Islands are a small country and getting around is easy. All of the Islands are connected by a public transport system.
Travelling between Islands
The two largest islands, Streymoy and Eysturoy, are connected by a bridge, Sundabrúgvin, or the Channel Bridge. Since 2002 a sub-sea tunnel connects the island of Vágar with Streymoy and since 2006 a sub-sea tunnel connects Borðoy to Eysturoy. These are toll tunnels and you have to pay when driving from Vágar to Streymoy and from Borðoy to Eysturoy. Road causeways connect Borðoy with Viðoy and Kunoy. The other main Islands Sandoy and Suðuroy have excellent car-ferry connections to Streymoy, making motoring in the Faroes easy and pleasant. The ferry Smyril M/F has 2-3 daily departures from Tórshavn, sailing to Krambatangi ferry port in Suðuroy. The ferry Teistin M/F has around 8 daily departures from Gamlarætt ferry port to Skopun on Sandoy island. Teistin has also a few departures to Hestur island, but only on request. Gamlarætt is located on the west coast of Streymoy, not far from Tórshavn and near the villages Kirkjubøur and Velbastaður. Ritan M/F has 5-7 daily departures from Tórshavn to Nólsoy. M/F Sam has up to 7 daily departures from Klaksvík to Syðradalur on Kalsoy island. M/F Ritan has 3 daily departures from Hvannasund on Viðoy island to the islands Svínoy and Fugloy in summertime, less in wintertime. The ship Brynhild has 2 daily departures in summertime from Sørvágur on Vágar island to Mykines island. Strandfaraskip Landsins, the Faroese public transport service, publishes an annual timetable (Ferðaætlan ) containing details of all ferry and bus schedules. It is available from the Passenger Terminal in Tórshavn, and all tourist information centres. When using a car ferry please note that it is not possible to make advanced bookings. You should be at the pier no later than 20 minutes before scheduled departure, and on Friday and Sunday evenings it is advisable to be ahead of time if you want to secure a place for the car.
Sub Sea Tunnel Fares
Vehicles up to 3500 kg and up to 6 m, DKK 130. Vehicles between 6 and 12,5 m, DKK 350. You shouldn´t pay your fare any later than three days after using the sub sea tunnel. You may pay at any petrol station on the islands. Otherwise an invoice will be sent to the car owner.
The first motor road connecting two villages wasn’t built until 1916, and travellers were limited to mountain paths and rowing boats. Nevertheless, today driving is easy with an excellent 600-km network of well maintained tarmaced roads and tunnels. The density of cars is one of the highest in Europe.
The numerous road tunnels in the Faroe Islands mean that drivers of large vehicles must plan their routes by finding out in advance which tunnel they can enter. Driving is on the right and most road signs follow international standards. Headlights must be on when driving and the use of seat belts is required. The speed limit is 80 kph (50 mph) outside towns and villages, and 50 kph (30 mph) in the towns and villages. For cars with trailers, the speed limit is 50 kph and for caravans the speed limit is 60 kph. The consequences for speeding are severe. Sheep graze freely on both sides of the main roads, so they will cross at their own will. Also they may hide from bad weather just inside the tunnels, which causes many collisions each year.
Parking in the towns of Tórshavn, Klaksvík and Runavík is restricted. Parking discs must be displayed in the lower right hand corner of the front windscreen showing the time you parked your car. These display discs are available at no charge from banks and the tourist offices. There is a fine of DKK 200 for parking violations.
Car rentals at Vágar airport may be reserved through usual travel websites such as Orbitz or Expedia.
Passenger road transport is run by private companies, but is coordinated by a public body.
The inter-town bus system (Bygdaleiðir), has together with the public ferry company established a coherent and well-developed public transport system which takes in all settlements on the islands. This means that there are bus services to all places - maybe not often, but every day!
Bygdaleiðir´s buses are in the colour of blue. A schedule (Ferðaætlan) listing the various timetables for the inter-town buses (and ferries) may be purchased from the tourist office, as well as the central bus station near the harbour in Tórshavn. Transport is quite expensive, so check for student discount or multiple-ride-cards. Students as well as children and pensioners are eligible for discounts on fares provided they show a student or pensioner identity card. There is a four day travel card meant for tourists which is valid for all buses and ferries. It is well worth its price if you are planning to get around the islands by public transport.
The buses are equipped with radios. If you are planning to change buses, do tell the driver in advance, as he will make sure the other bus waits for you.
The capital Tórshavn offers a local bus service (Bussleiðin) with four routes that reach most area of the town which is free. The red coloured-buses operate every half-hour during the day through out the week and hourly on weekday evenings. The buses don´t operate on Saturday or on Sunday evening which can be inconvenient for tourists. Route maps and schedules may be obtained on the buses, at Kiosk Steinatún in the centre of town, or at Kunningarstovan, the local tourist information in Tórshavn.
You can splurge, and take a helicopter to all the faraway places - for example to Mykines, the picturesque island far west. Atlantic Airways offers a helicopter service to selected towns and villages throughout the Faroes. Contact Atlantic Airways directly at phone no. 341060. Booking is required. The service is intended for locals and as such tourists can only book one way of a journey but you can use the ferry and bus services to make the return journey.
The service may be affected by the weather -- a heavy overcast with low clouds, for example may cause the flights to be cancelled.
The native and official language of the Faroes is Faroese, which is a West Nordic or West Scandinavian language. It is one of three insular Scandinavian languages descended from the Old Norse language spoken in Scandinavia in the Viking Age, the others being Icelandic and the extinct Norn, which is presumed to have been mutually intelligible with Faroese. Speakers of modern Scandinavian languages such as Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic may be able to puzzle out the written language, though spoken Faroese is generally not mutually intelligible with these languages.
Until the 15th century, Faroese had a similar orthography to Icelandic and Norwegian, but after the Reformation 1538, the ruling Danes outlawed its use in schools, churches and official documents. The islanders continued to use the language in ballads, folktales, and everyday life. This maintained a rich spoken tradition, but for 300 years the language was not written.
In 1854, Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb published a written standard for Modern Faroese that exists to this day. He produced an orthography consistent with a continuous written tradition extending back to Old Norse. The letter ð, for example, has no specific phonemes attached to it. Also, although the letter 'm' corresponds to the bilabial nasal as it does in English, it corresponds to the alveolar nasal (English 'n') in the dative ending -um (rhymes wth English loon).
In 1937, Faroese replaced Danish as the official school language, in 1938 as the church language, and in 1948 as national language by the Home Rule Act of the Faroes. Today, Danish is considered a foreign language, though it is a required subject for students from third grade; thus Danish is almost universally spoken (albeit frequently with a distinct local accent).
Nearly everybody speaks English, at least to some extent, however in some remote places you may be likely to encounter people who only speak Faroese and Danish. Other Nordic languages are also understood, especially Norwegian due to the islands' geographical proximity to Norway.
The Faroese currency is the Faroese króna abbreviated kr. It is not an independent currency, but a version of the Danish krone, hence they are equal in value. The coins come in 25 (currently being taken out of usage) and 50 oyra (one quarter and one half of a Króna, respectively), 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 króna. Paper notes come in 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 króna. The exchange value on notes is equivalent to the Danish krone, and there is no service charge on exchange, as Danish notes are usually as acceptable as the Faroese króna, even though they are not intended as legal tender, throughout the country. Before leaving Faroe Islands you should exchange the Faroese notes to either Danish notes or other foreign currency since Faroese notes are usually not known by banks outside Denmark.
You should note that almost everything in the Faroe Islands is expensive. All consumer sales include 25% VAT (sales tax) but displayed prices are, by law, required to include any tax or extra cost, so they are always exact. If you are from outside Scandinavia you can have some of your VAT refunded  when leaving the country.
Opening hours in the Faroes are longer than they used to be, but many smaller stores still close early on Saturday (usually at 2PM ) and nearly everything is closed on Sundays.
Tórshavn is the obvious choice for shopping. But both Runavík and especially Klaksvik have some nice stores where you can buy clothes and other nick nacks.
It is very modern to wear wool and woolen clothing on the Faroe Islands. You definitely will find trendy sweaters, jackets and (cheaper) hats, shawls and gloves. Check out the shops "Sirri" and "Guðrun og Guðrun". There is only one proper shopping center - SMS (Sølumiðstøð). Here is the largest supermarket, Miklagarður. There are different shops and a couple of chains - Burger King, Bath and Body Works, Vero Moda ect. For womens clothing Yasmin is a great shop to check out. The Shopping Center has glass art-work by artist Tróndur Patursson, who is very popular both in the Faroes and abroad.
There are a few second hand shops in Tórshavn. Circus down by the harbour sells cool clothing from Iceland - a bit pricy, but worth checking out.
Remember to ask for tax free and get 15% back when you leave Faroe Islands.
Most traditional Faroese cuisine involves meat, either lamb or fish. The traditional Faroese kitchen mainly owes its food traditions to the archipelago´s harsh climate. This is due to the fact that in earlier days the food culture on the islands was not very extensive. It is hard to find a Faroese dish on the menu of a restaurant, but it is possible at certain restaurants and hotels.
Distinctive Faroese foods include:
There is an increased number of restaurants in Tórshavn (the capital), a few good ones are mentioned below. In general, though, there are very limited dining selections in Tórshavn. Outside Tórshavn, the quality and quantity of the restaurants declines greatly.
There is no McDonalds on the Faroes, but Burger King has arrived. In Tórshavn you can find fast food restaurants at the shopping centre SMS and City Burger is situated in the Town center.
All over the Faroes you will find gas-stations, Effo and Magn. Nearly every gas-station will serve fast-food, espescially sausages.
The legal drinking age in the Faroes is eighteen. The Faroese love to party, and drinking is much more popular than doing drugs. There are two brands of Faroese beer: Føroya Bjór and Okkara. Føroya Bjór is well established and is the oldest of the two breweries. It has picked up occasional awards abroad. Okkara was recently established and can only be bought in cans.
Alcoholic drinks are very expensive. Light beer may be purchased in shops and unlicensed restaurants and cafés. Stronger beer, wine and spirits can only be purchased in the Government Monopoly stores in major towns and in licensed restaurants, cafés and bars etc.
Government Monopoly Stores
Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins, Hoyvíksvegur 51, FO-100 Tórshavn
Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins Heiðavegur, FO-600 Saltangará
Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins Bøgøta 38, FO-700 Klaksvík
Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins á Mølini, FO-220 Skálavík
Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins Drelnes, FO-800 Tvøroyri
Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins Norðuri á heiðum, FO-370 Miðvágur
There are few bars and nightclubs outside of the capital. Rokkstoavn is the only bar in Klaksvík. In Tórshavn the real Nightlife is down by the harbour. Here you can find the bar Cirkus Føroyar, where musicians hang out. Hvonn is at Hotel Tórshavn again situated by the harbour, across the street from Cirkus. Most young people come here during the Weekends.
The bar Café Natúr is close by. Every wednesday there is a pub quiz at Café Natúr. The wooden interiors is similar to English / Irish pubs, and have live music (usually in the form of a singer / guitarist).
In the Another place is Cleopatra right in the town center which has a restaurant on the lower floor, with the main bar on the next floor up. The entrance to the bar is up some green felt stairs.
A nightclub is Rex, at third floor in the same building as "Havnar Bio", the cinema. You need to be 21 to get in.
For young people the nightclub Deep is a place to visit. It is the same as in most European cities. You have to be eighteen to get in.
For a coffee go to the Western harbour "Vágsbotn" - just below Tórshavn Dome and have a cup of coffee at café Kaffihúsið. Kaffihúsi is located down by the sea and has a very nice atmosphere.
The Café Dugni is located in the middle of town. Bill Clinton had a cup of coffee there when he visited the islands a few years back. At dugni you can buy Faroes handicrafts while having coffee and home made faroese cookies at the same time.
Other Cafés include Café Kaspar at hotel Hafnia, and Baresso at the shoppingcenter SMS. Hvonn is one of the most popular places at night, keeping it sophisticated and clean, and also includes a brasserie.
The youth Hostels of the Faroes are spread across the islands. The limited geographical size of the Faroes ensures that the next Youth Hostel is always well within one day’s walking distance allowing visitors to travel from one Youth Hostel to the next one at will.
Accommodation is mostly in 2 to 6 rooms of limited size but of good standard. There are few dormitory accommodations at the Faroese Youth Hostels, with one exception being at Bládýpi which has 2 dorms, as well as apartments. Most of the Youth Hostels don´t have a regular reception with daily opening hours, so be sure to make arrangements with your host by e-mail or phone before arriving at the hostel.
Prices vary slightly with the cheapest being around 200 DKK per night/person for adults. Variable discounts for children 2-11 years old. YHF members get a 20 DKK discount while groups get special discounts. Two of the most popular hostels here are Bládýpi and Skansin, and they can be reached at their website
Unemployment is the lowest in Scandinavia.
There are emergency wards at the hospital in Tórshavn, Klaksvík on Borðoy and Tvøroyri on Suðuroy. Doctors around the islands provide emergency assistance. A lot of hospital staff are residents of Denmark who spend periods on the Faroes to supplement the local health staff. The coast guard and Atlantic Airways have helicopters that may be used in emergencies. Police stations are found in most parts of the Country.
Citizens of the Nordic countries and the UK are covered by their own national health insurance. It is advisable for citizens of other countries to take out travel health insurance.
Emergency or Fire
For breakdown and immediate help on the two larger islands Streymoy and Eysturoy, contact the Fire Station in Tórshavn, telephone number 302100. It is advisable to arrange for insurance coverage for your car to save you the worry of a spoilt holiday due to unexpected garage bills.
There is widespread cellular phone and Internet access. Many tourists use the Town library or the National library to go online. They are both in Tórshavn.