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Faroe Islands

Hiking adventure in the green Atlantic archipelago

Story by Northern Adventures November 25th, 2017

Introduction

The Faroe Islands are an archipelago between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic, about halfway between Norway and Iceland, 320 kilometres north-northwest of Scotland. The islands are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. Their area is about 1,400 square kilometres with a population of around 50,030.The Faroes' terrain is rugged, and the islands have a subpolar oceanic climate: windy, wet, cloudy and cool. Despite this island group's northerly latitude, temperatures average above freezing throughout the year because of the Gulf Stream.

Faroe Islands have been on our to-do list for years, however there were always higher priorities of where to travel in the deep north. This year in spring, however, the decision came rather swiftly, and in early summer and in a group of four we travelled to these green islands for a combination of a roadtrip and day/two-day hikes.

The idea for the trip was simple: to use a (rented) car as the main mean of transportation between the islands, and then to pursue various shorter or longer hikes in some wilder places, aiming to camp in the wild if possible (which is, strictly speaking, rather not easy – on the contrary to Scandinavian countries, there are no public wildernesses or common areas in the Faroes, and camping is thus officially only permitted at designated campsites).

Not surprisingly, we found out that the Faroes are a beautiful country, with picturesque remote villages, high cliffs, lots of sea birds, abundant greenery and easy-going slow pace of life. And, of course, with abundant possibilities for hiking.

Arrival

We used Czech Airlines and SAS for the air travel; combining two separate tickets was easier (and cheaper) than trying to find a complete route provided by a single carrier.

In Copenhagen, we stayed overnight in Sleep in Heaven's hostel; have stayed already a few times there and quite like this a bit hipster place with good vibe and young guests.

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Having landed in Tórshavn, we rented a car and headed northwest towards the island of Vágar; with sunny weather forecast for upcoming two days, we wanted to use it to the maximum, and pursue our first two-day hike almost immediately.

In an hour or so, we reached the picturesque village of Sørvágur, and after a short stroll and resupplying in the local supermarket we headed further to the west, admiring the beautiful hamlet of Bøur.

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1) Slættanesgøtan Trail

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We parked our car not far from the entrance to the tunnel leading to Gásadalur, and having changed our clothes, we immediately started to hike on what is often described as the old postal route to this beautiful remote settlement.

Gásadalur has been one of the most isolated villages in the Faroes. It is difficult to get to the village by sea and it was not until 2004 that the village was connected to the rest of the island by road when the tunnel was built. The people of Gásadalur used to walk the coastal path when they had to go to the neighbouring villages to trade or for other errands.

The path was easy to follow and sometimes really well-trodden, and after some effort we finally reached the pass below Gásadalsbrekkan mountain with stunning views of Gásadalur settlement just below us.

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That iconic view of Gásadalur and its Mulafossur waterfall... most likely the most photographed place of the Faroes.

Blessed with sunny weather, we spent quite a time at this beautiful viewpoint, and then enjoyed a coffee and a few cold beers in a newly opened café in the village.

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Having taken a well-deserved rest in Gásadalur, we set out on the trail again, following a narrow footpath leading in the northeast direction through a broad green valley.

It was a beautiful and very pleasant walk across lush green meadows, though quite steep at times.
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It took us a few hours to reach the mountain pass above the now abandoned hamlet of Víkar, and we were immediately stunned be the haunting scenery we saw: two small houses, a meandering river, beautiful meadows and fields, blue ocean... all illuminated by the beautiful late afternoon sunlight.

The history of Víkar is a touching one; this tiny place was only inhabited for about 60 years till 1913, when many of the men from the village were drowned in a fishing accident. Two restored houses of the former settlement remain, and they are apparently in use since we saw a boat going to the settlement.


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We continued hiking to the east following a ridge we climbed, and then descended a bit observing the beautiful bay of Viðvík, finally reaching green meadows at the Reipsá river that is emptying from Fjallavatn lake.

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We pitched our tent... and then turned on the main evening program: the sunset.

Being above the pebbled beach of Viðvík, we admired the rugged coast surrounded by magnificent cliffs. Here, the Faroes showed us their wildest and remotest side, and the astonishing scenery somehow reminded us of the beautiful Hornstrandir peninsula, Iceland.

It was a magical "golden light" hour, and we were silently watching how the landscape changes its colours, and how the beautiful evening is slowly transforming into the silent night.

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The following morning was cloudy, however we weren't really upset given the spectacular sunny evening of the previous day. We crossed the Reipsá river barefoot, and started to hike in the northeast direction towards the Skoradalshálsur pass.

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It was a long and tiring journey, however everything turned more optimistic when we reached the pass and were stunned by the rugged east coast of Streymoy island. Further to the east, we enjoyed the view of the remote hamlet of Slættanes.

Slættanes was founded in 1835 and during its best years (1945 to 1950) around 130 people lived in the village, but the average population was around 70. There were 12 houses in Slættanes. However, in 1965 the last inhabitants left the community because of its relatively isolated location.

We continued hiking towards the Tungufelli peak and then descended to the southern end of Fjallavatn lake. From there it was a long though not difficult journey towards Sørvágur, where we finished our hiking endeavour.


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We camped at the place we started our hike at, not far from the Bøur hamlet; sunny weather, a few sheep, and marvellous views during the whole evening all contributed to the peaceful and pleasant closure of the (prolonged) Slættanesgøtan trail.

Retrospectively, this was most likely the most exciting hike of our Faroese adventure, both from weather and scenery perspectives. The iconic view of Gásadalur, the remote and abandoned hamlets of Víkar and Slættanes, and the rugged coast northwest of Fjallavatn lake: one can't dream of a better start to the Faroese exploration.

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2) The Island of Mykines

Mykines has it all. Or nothing… depends on what you prefer. All for those who seek for solitude, end of the world type of a place, wild and rugged scenery, thousands of seabirds.

Only accessible by boat or helicopter and without any car traffic, there are just 11 permanent residents of Mykines village; although there are 40 houses in the settlement, only six are inhabited year-round.

Having known this and with favourable weather forecast, we were more than tempted to spend a few days on the island. So we booked a ferry (book online and in advance!) and set out on an exploration of this most special island of the Faroes.

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The boat journey to Mykines may be a true delight in sunny weather, however it may also be quite bumpy in case of stronger winds that are often accompanied by rain showers:

Mykines island has no roads: access to other parts of the island is on foot, using well-used footpaths. Mykines village, similarly, has no streets, and (asphalt or stony) footpaths weave between the buildings. Residents use all-terrain vehicles to some extent, and agriculture machinery.

The village has a small harbour, though the regularity of ferry services can be disrupted by inclement weather. A small ferry visits one to three times a day from 1 May to 31 August and again in one week of October, when the Faroese schools have holiday (and what I learned when it’s also a sheep slaughter time).

We pitched our tent within a designated area just above the village on a grassy meadow and with a creek nearby, and with fine views across the picturesque settlement.

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Having camped, I set out on a solitary evening stroll above the village, and was immediately amazed by the rugged scenery and hundreds of sea birds, with lovely puffins stealing the show.

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On the second day of our stay, we decided to explore the western part of Mykines, the islet of Mykineshólmur, with several sea stacks clustered at its western end, where a lighthouse was built in 1909.

The islet is famous for its bird colonies, especially puffins, gannets and fulmars; on the steep northern side of the islet, some of the richest bird cliffs in the world are located.

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It was not a long hike to reach the Mykineshólmur islet, though some up and down walks were required.

The islet indeed is a birds' paradise: hundreds of various birds, their sounds and smell, blowing wind, ocean waves... a nature's kingdom.

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Have you seen Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds?

I got similar feelings here especially with terns, though I wasn't completely sure it were those infamous head-attacking birds that were flying above us with loud screams.

Here on the unpopulated parts of Mykines, it's a true kingdom of these small flying animals...
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Mykines stands for its own when talking about Faroes and exploring the archipelago.

Remote, with neither cars nor roads, green and hilly, and with thousands of birds. A unique place. Being blessed by sunny weather, we really enjoyed the boat ride back to Sørvágur.

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3) From Tjørnuvík To Saksun (And Back)

Having returned from Mykines, we jumped into our car and immediately headed to the northern coast of Streymoy island, towards the small hamlet of Tjørnuvík.

We made a short stop at the highest waterfall of the Faroe Islands, the interesting yet unspectacular Fossdalur, and then briefly visited the small village of Haldarsvík with its unique octagonal church.

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Tjørnuvík is a beautiful and charming end-of-the-world type of a place.

This densely settled village is known for its special hymn singing, the Kingo-songs, which is an ancient hymn tradition that originates from the Danish hymn writer Thomas Kingo. The village has a choir that performs Kingo hymns.

Tjørnuvík also has a nice sandy beach and striking waves that attract many visitors, especially during summer months.

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The footpath to Saksun starts in the village, climbing steeply in the western part of the valley towards the Tjørnuvíksskarð pass, and offering stunning views of the small village and its sandy beach.

Being blessed by the sunny weather yet again, we also enjoyed cup of coffee and a few waffles sold by a friendly local down in the village. What a way to start a day-long hike! :-)
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Saksun is one of the most beautiful places in the Faroe Islands. The place is simply wonderful, with a beautiful lagoon surrounded by sand in the fjord.

Tall mountains give the area an air of mystery, but not least unimaginable beauty. The fjord used to be a good natural harbour, but after a heavy storm in the 1600s, the fjord was blocked with sand.

Having first seen the village and the neighbouring lake from above, we were truly blown away by its extraordinary beauty and admired this unique view for quite a time.

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The beautiful grass-covered church lies to the west of the village. The church was originally built in Tjørnuvík, but in 1858 it was disassembled, carried over the mountains and reassembled in Saksun.

It is a touching and fairy-tale place, especially in the warm evening light and solitude when all day-visitors leave.
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We camped close to a small sandy beach at the mouth of the fjord just behind the sea lagoon in Saksun, and though it became cloudy, it was a pleasant windless night we enjoyed here at the sea.

The following day, we returned back to Tjørnuvík, having hiked more to the east on a pathless grassy terrain, and subsequently on a footpath leading to Haldarsvík.
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4) Gjógv, Trøllanes & Kallur Lighthouse

Having moved to Eysturoy island, we decided to head towards the picturesque outpost of Gjógv, and spent a night here in a small camp. The village is named after a 200-metre long sea-filled gorge that runs north to the sea from the village.

It is a beautiful settlement, and we even enjoyed a warm dinner in the local hotel - quite a welcoming change after a few evenings based on trekking meals diet.
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From Gjógv, we headed further to the east visiting another island, and spent some time in Borðoy's centre, the lovely small town of Klaksvík.

Then we took a short ferry ride to Kalsoy island, and our another hiking adventure began.
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The road tunnels on Faroe Islands tend to be long, narrow, rocky, and sometimes bumpy... not for the faint-hearted!

The hike from Trøllanes to Kallur lighthouse was rather a shorter one, and we were happy to pursue it later in the afternoon, after other visitors left this remote outpost.

The views from the small lighthouse were mesmerizing, though our hopes for sunny evening were soon blown away by grey clouds and occasional light rain. Yet it was a lovely place to spend a night at, and we really enjoyed evening solitude here with beautiful views in all the directions.

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Back in Klaksvík, we returned to the lovely Fríða Kaffihús café for a fine meal, and then spent some time in the atmospheric Roykstovan pub over a few locally-brewed lagers.

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5) Viðareiði, Villingardalsfjall and Cape Enniberg

This was about to be our last day-walk on the Faroe Islands, and we carefully left one the best - and most strenuous - hikes to the very end.

From Klaksvík, we drove further to the northeast towards Viðoy island and the small settlement of Viðareiði, where the trail to Villingardalsfjall, the third highest mountain of the Faroese at 841 m., begins.

Viðareiði is an ancient settlement. Precisely when it was established is unknown, but it is believed to be from about 1350 to 1400. It may, however, be older. The church was established in 1892.

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It was quite a long and strenuous climb all the way up to Villingardalsfjall, and we took a rest a few times to catch our breath. The reward we got for our efforts was magical: beautiful views of the village and high cliffs of the surrounding islands.

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We continued hiking to the north towards the promontory of a steep cliff Enniberg.

It is often said among the Faroese that Enniberg, with its 754 metres, is the highest promontory in Europe (indeed, the world) facing the open sea. Whether this is true is not known with certainty, but it is fabulous, beautiful and steep at any rate.

It was a long and steep walk in both the directions, however definitely worth the effort - we got to the top of the Faroese world, with stunning views across neighbouring islands and open sea.

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6) Tórshavn & Kirkjubøur

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The Faroese capital is a small picturesque town, with its most beautiful part being located around the lovely harbour.

We decided to dedicate a day to the exploration of this colourful town, and were strolling through its compact centre, narrow streets and small houses for a few hours.

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With the small cosy restaurants at the harbour being fully booked for the weekend, we spent two evenings in the laidback Sirkus Föroyar – a warm, inviting and atmospheric place located in Vágsbotnur in the heart of Tórshavn.

On the ground floor one may find Bjórkovin (the Beer Cove), which is the first craft beer bar in the Faroes – serving a special selection of mainly Icelandic beer (Borg Brugghús produce was my rather expensive favourite) as well as specialities from around the world and always with fresh product.

During weekends Sirkus becomes a music and party hub in Tórshavn nightlife with live bands and local DJ’s spinning unique flavours.

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Having realized there as also a small aquarium (Føroya Sjósavn) in the outskirts of the town, after some hesitation we decided to visit it - it is a rather small and unappealing place far from being spectacular, and thus it was a children play with small sea creatures that we liked here most:

Then we bravely ventured into Listasavn Føroya (National Gallery of the Faroe Islands), which is an art museum in Tórshavn for mostly permanent exhibits of Faroese arts.

Here, the rather sombre paintings of Sámuel Joensen-Mikines (who was not surprisingly born on Mykines) became our instant favourites, together with artistic produce of Edward Fuglø, author of Colony (these "birdman" creatures below).

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Later in the evening, we visited the magical hamlet of Kirkjubøur, the southernmost village on Streymoy island.

This is the site of the country's most important historical site with the ruins of the Magnus Cathedral from around 1300, the Saint Olav's Church (Olavskirkjan), from 12th century and the old farmhouse Kirkjubøargarður from 11th century.

In 1832, a runestone was found near the Magnus Cathedral in Kirkjubøur. The stone which is referred to as the Kirkjubøur stone dates back to the Viking Age.

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Afterword

With a week and a half, we managed to explore majority of Faroe Islands, and enjoyed hiking across its rugged landscape several times. We also liked small picturesque towns and villages that are spread across the archipelago, and cosy cafes and bars we didn't hesitate to visit whenever possible.

Faroe Islands remain an untouched land off-the-beaten path and off the tourist radar, and its unspoiled nature together with laidback atmosphere will appeal to those who prefer solitude to crowds and noise.

Hiking-wise, Mykines together with 2-days long Slættanesgøtan trail including Gásadalur village do stand out; here, one may still feel how isolated these islands once were, and how brave their inhabitants had to be to withstand harsh living conditions here in the middle of the northern Atlantic.


Footnote: All images are exclusive property and may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, transmitted, manipulated or used in any way without permission of the photographer (tomas.zrna@gmail.com).
Faroe Islands