Rising dramatically from the waves of the wild North Atlantic, the Faroe Islands sit roughly at the midway point between Scotland, Norway and Iceland. Famed for their remoteness and breath-taking beauty, while visiting these 18 islands I booked a guided day trip to Norðoyar, the northern-most islands of the archipelago. Rumoured to have some of the most spectacular views anywhere in the Faroes, I also hoped this day trip would let me delve deeper into Faroese history and culture.
At a glance:
Faroe Islands / Føroyar / Færøerne
Capital: Tórshavn (Thorshavn in Danish)
Currency: Faroese Króna (DKK)
Area: 1,399 km2
National Day: July 29th
National Anthem: Tú Alfagra Land Mítt – Thou Fairest Land of Mine
Highest Point: Slættaratindur – 880 metres (2,890 ft)
Famous for: stunning landscapes, sea birds, whaling
Famous Faroese People:
- Tróndur í Gøtu (Viking chieftain)
- Andreas William Heinesen (writer, poet, artist)
- Eivør Pálsdóttir (singer)
- Gunnar Nielsen (footballer)
- The name Faroe Islands is thought to come from the Old Norse words for sheep ‘fær’ and islands ‘oyar’. Sheep can be seen grazing across the islands and it’s thought that there at least 20,000 more sheep than people living in the Faroes!
- During the summer months, the Faroe Islands become home to an estimated 5 million seabirds that come here to nest and rear their young. As well as fulmars, gannets, terns, oystercatchers and puffins, some estimates suggest over 200 bird species can be found here.
- Tinganes in central Tórshavn has been home to the Faroese government for centuries. The Viking parliament is thought to have met here as early as the year 825, making it one of the oldest government meeting places in the world.
- In December 1941, the SS Sauternes was bringing supplies to British troops stationed on the Faroe Islands and got caught in a storm. Though the ship was instructed to head to the safe harbour at Fuglafjørður, the ship mistakenly headed to the similarly named Fugloyarfjørður, a firth near the open sea. The Sauternes sank there, claiming the lives of everyone on board.
- The Faroe Islands currently do not take part in the Eurovision Song Contest. Their national broadcaster has been seeking full EBU membership since 2010, with a view to taking part at the contest. Singers from the Faroe Islands have attempted to represent Denmark, Sweden and Iceland over the years, but to date no singers of Faroese origin have appeared on the Eurovision stage.
There are 2 official languages in the Faroe Islands, Faroese and Danish. As Danish was long used for all official purposes, Faroese wasn’t written down for nearly 3 centuries and only become official in 1948.The geographic remoteness of the islands has helped preserved the character of the language and just like its close relative Icelandic, Faroese strongly resembles Old Norse. Given its ancient origins and the fact that spelling was standardised in the mid-19th century and based on etymological principles rather than phonetics, getting to grips with Faroese can seem daunting – especially with places names such as Viðareiði (viyareyeh), Kirkjubøur (chichbuh) and Vágar (vorwah). Though most everyone speaks English, trying out a little Faroese will go a long way!
|Hello||Góðan dagin||go-wan day-ah|
|Please||Gerið so væl||djeh-ree so vaehl|
|How much does this cost?||Hvussu nógv kostar tað?||kvus-seh nehgv kos-tur tae|
|Do you speak English?||Dugir tú enskt?||du-vir too engskt|
|I don’t understand||Eg skilji ikki||yeh shil-yeh ee-che|
|Will it be windy and rainy tomorrow?||Verður tað vindur og regn í morgin?||vehr-ur tae vin-dur or reng oy mor-jin|
Vágar Airport is the only airport in the Faroe Islands and is 46 kilometres north-west of Tórshavn. There is a bus route connecting the airport to the capital, taking about 40 minutes, but it doesn’t run to meet all incoming flights. A bus from Tórshavn will take about an hour and a half to Klaksvík, but note that trying to follow this itinerary by yourself using public transport would be almost impossible as a day trip – much better to go with an organised tour instead!
What to do:
Set around a U-shaped bend on the island of Borðoy, the town of Klaksvík is second only to Tórshavn in terms of size and is considered capital of the Northern Islands. Able to trace its heritage back to the time of the Vikings, nowadays it’s one of the Faroes’ main fishing ports, a fact illustrated by the large Fishing Hook sculpture in the centre of the roundabout as you approach town. Despite its much older appearance, the stony Christianskirkjan was built in 1963 and takes inspiration Old Nordic architecture such as the halls of the Vikings. Dedicated to the Faroese sailors who lost their lives during the Second World War, the church’s simple interior centres around a 7 metre-high painting that formerly hung in the cathedral of Viborg in Denmark. Look out as well for the granite baptism font, which is believed to be pagan in origin and over 4,000 years old. Back outside, it’s only a short stroll to Klaksvík’s ever busy harbour, where you can admire ships of all descriptions and take in the awesome views of the almost pyramid-shaped mountains that frame the town’s skyline.
Heading further north and across the causeway, the name Viðoy means ‘wood island’ and comes from the driftwood that washes ashore here. Occupying a narrow piece of land between two mountains, the village of Viðareiði is the northern-most village in all the Faroes and is renowned for its natural beauty. Built in 1892, the white Viðareiði Kirkja is made from stones taken from the coast and replaces an older church that was destroyed by a storm in the 17th century. The church’s graveyard also had to be moved as the same storm brought much of its contents back to the surface and swept it out to sea. Many will tell you several coffins washed up 8km away in the village of Hvannasund, only to be reburied Viðareiði. Inside, church’s impressive collection of silverware was a gift from the British Royal Navy to thank the villagers of Viðareiði for their help in rescuing the crew of the Marwood which shipwrecked off the Faroes in January 1847. The silver crucifix over the altar was donated by Hamburg merchant Thomas Köppen in 1551, making it one of the oldest altar pieces anywhere on the islands.
Although Kunoy is the 3rd largest of the Northern Islands, there are only 2 villages here and combined they have a population of under 150 people. One of the most rugged islands in the entire archipelago, much of the island towers over 800 metres and 6 of the 10 tallest peaks of the Faroes can be found here. The island’s sleepy namesake village Kunoy is less than 12km from Klaksvík, but feels incredibly remote – and was once even more so, as the tunnel to its closest neighbour Haraldssund only opened in 1988! This isolation may account for why it is thought to be among the most picturesque villages in the Faroe Islands, especially with its impressive views across to Kalsoy. On the other side of the mountains, the island’s third village Skarð was abandoned in 1919 following the loss of its entire male population during a storm some 6 years earlier. Given the steep terrain, taking the roughly 3 hour hike from Kunoy to Skarð is strongly discouraged without a local guide, but it’s worth noting that once upon a time the villagers of Skarð would make this strenuous trip every Sunday to reach the church in Kunoy!
The western-most of all the Northern Islands, auspicious Kalsoy is bathed in legends. Right at its northern tip, the village of Trøllanes has a population of just 12, though it was once believed that many trolls lived in the boulders that fell here from the mountains. A short drive away from Trøllanes, Mikladalur is the setting of one of the Faroe Island’s most well-known folk stories. According to legend, a young farmer fell in love with the human form of a shape-shifting selkie and stole her seal skin to prevent her from returning to the sea. Marrying her and keeping her skin locked in a chest, she only escaped years later when the farmer accidently left the key at home. Emerging from the surf and looking towards the land, the bronze statue of Kópakonan or the Seal Woman was unveiled in 2014 as a monument to this tale. Though the striking weather-worn staute is imposing at 2.5 metres tall, the waves that crash over her have been known to reach over 10 metres in height – very fitting considering the Seal Woman’s wrath. The story goes that after her pups and mate were killed by hunters, the Kópakonan swore revenge on the men of Mikladalur – even today, inexplicable and fatal accidents are often attributed to her curse.
The Faroe Islands are incredible in the truest sense of the word. You can’t help but feel humbled by the raw power and splendour of nature here as you walk through a world that feels as yet untouched by mankind. I asked a local during this trip if he ever got bored of these awe-inspiring views: watching the clouds and light wheel across the windswept mountains and wild sea. He simply said: “No. This is paradise,”
A big thank you to Eyðun Húsgarð and MM Tours for taking me on a truly unforgettable journey around Norðoyar. It really was an amazing day trip! Also a big thank you to Hjørdis for being my host in the Faroes and for all her information and help – takk fyri!
For a more in-depth guide to planning day trips, as well as sightseeing tips and trivia for 30 European countries, Europe in a Day – Day Trips to the Continent is available exclusively on Amazon for Kindle and also smartphones, tablets and computers with the free Kindle Reading App.
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