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The Ultimate Guide to the Faroe Islands

Your Complete Guide to the Faroe Islands

Far-flung and spellbinding, the Faroe Islands rise dramatically from the swirling waters of the North Atlantic… 18 wild, windswept islands wrapped in a filigree of waves and guarded by towering sea cliffs. Seabirds far outnumber people, there are more hiking trails than roads, while turf-roofed buildings and Viking remains hint at a long, intriguing history…

Read our ultimate guide to find the answers to your most commonly asked questions about the fascinating Faroes.

Where are the Faroe Islands?

The Faroe Islands are located in the North Atlantic Ocean, roughly halfway between Scotland and Iceland at 62o00’N and 06o47’W. Flushed by the Gulf Stream, the volcanic archipelago has an area of 1,399 square kilometres – although no point in the Faroe Islands is further than 5km from the sea. Around 260km to the south, the closest neighbour to the Faroe Islands is North Rona, a tiny island lying 72km north of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.

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Where are the Faroe Islands?

The Faroe Islands are located in the North Atlantic Ocean, roughly halfway between Scotland and Iceland at 62o00’N and 06o47’W. Flushed by the Gulf Stream, the volcanic archipelago has an area of 1,399 square kilometres – although no point in the Faroe Islands is further than 5km from the sea. Around 260km to the south, the closest neighbour to the Faroe Islands is North Rona, a tiny island lying 72km north of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.

As the crow – or gannet – flies, the Faroe Islands are roughly 420km from Thurso, the northernmost town on mainland Scotland. Lerwick, the main town and port in the Shetland Islands, is 334km from Tórshavn, capital of the Faroe Islands. Closer still, the remote island of North Rona (72km north of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides) is 262km south of the Faroe Islands. None of these places, however, will help you reach the Faroe Islands. The closest international airport in Scotland serving Tórshavn is Edinburgh, roughly 700km away. Also offering direct flights to the Faroe Islands, Reykjavík is 800km to the northwest; the Norwegian city of Bergen is 674km to the east, while Birmingham, London and Copenhagen are about 1,100km, 1240km and 1,310km to the south respectively.

How long is the ferry from Iceland to Faroe Islands?

Operated by Smyril Line, the ferry Norröna connects the Danish seaport of Hirtshals with the Faroe Islands and Iceland. It takes 14.5-16.5hrs to make the crossing between Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland and Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands. This is based on high-season summer sailings between June and August. During autumn (September and October), sailing times are slightly longer – 19-19.5hrs. For the summer 2021 schedule, the Norröna departs Tórshavn at 18:00 on Wednesday, arriving in Seyðisfjörður at 08:30 the following morning. The ferry then leaves Seyðisfjörður two hours later, arriving back in Tórshavn at 03:00 on Friday.

What are the Faroe Islands known for?

Eighteen wild, windswept islands rising from the North Atlantic, the Faroes are renowned for their dramatic scenery. Towering sea cliffs, brooding mountains and secret fjords provide a spectacular backdrop to the islands’ equally riveting wildlife, history and culture. Millions of seabirds breed in the Faroe Islands, and sheep outnumber people 70,000 to 50,000. The islands are well known for their Viking heritage, dating from the ninth century, while rural traditions are embodied in turf-roofed farms, the iconic Faroese knitted jumper and internationally acclaimed gastronomy based on fresh local ingredients.

Streymoy, the largest and most populated of the Faroe Islands, is best known for the historic capital, Tórshavn, and the 600m-tall Vestmanna cliffs, thronging with seabirds.

Eysturoy boasts the tallest peak in the archipelago – 882m Slættaratindur – and the old Viking settlement of Eidi. The six Northern Islands (known as Norðoyggjar) have some of the Faroes’ most breathtaking scenery, with mountains and sea cliffs attracting hikers, birdwatchers and photographers. Another iconic sight, the Múlafossur waterfall can be found on the island of Vagar, while tiny Mykines island is well known for its gannets and puffins.

For things that you might not know about the Faroe Islands, read our blog ‘Did you know this about the Faroes?’

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How many days do you need in the Faroe Islands?

A five-day visit to the Faroes provides enough time for a rewarding introduction to the islands. This
Essential Faroe Islands holiday, for example, is based on the two main islands of Streymoy and Eysturoy, with plenty of time to visit must-see sites such as Tórshavn’s old town and the turf-roofed farmhouse at Kirkjubøur. With the added freedom of self-drive, it also allows you to venture to the Northern Isles to explore Viking heritage and hiking trails. With a whole week to explore the Faroe Islands, you can island-hop through more of the archipelago. This seven-night Classic Faroe Islands  holiday features the islands of Vágar, Streymoy, Eysturoy and Borðoy, with time for optional visits to Mykines, Sandoy or Nólsoy, with ample time for hiking, birdwatching and sightseeing. Plan a 10-day or two-week island odyssey if you’re looking for full immersion in Faroese culture, or if you’re a particularly keen hiker, photographer or birdwatcher.

What is the capital of the Faroe Islands?

The capital of the Faroe Islands is Tórshavn. One of the world’s smallest capitals, it is home to over a third of the Faroese population of around 50,000 people. Located in the south of Streymoy island, Tórshavn was founded in AD 850 when Norse Vikings established their parliament on the Tinganes peninsula – a narrow strip of land jutting into what is now the harbour at the core of the city. Jumbled with traditional red-painted, turf-roofed houses, the Tinganes district is also the site of Torshavn’s Lutheran cathedral, which dates from the Middle Ages. The harbourfront, Vastbotnur, is one of the best places to soak up the city’s maritime atmosphere, sipping a coffee at a pavement cafe while watching fishing boats return with their catch. On a hill next to the port, the 16th-century Skansin Fort offers a good view across the city. Located in Hoyvík, just to the north of the city, the National Museum delves into the geology, botany, zoology, archaeology, folklore and history of the Faroe Islands. Among the cultural treasures on display are the original Faroese rowing boat, the full collection of legendary 15th century Kirkjubøur benches and various findings from the Viking era. The nearby turf-roofed farm of Hoyvíksgarður recreates rural life from a bygone era.

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What does Torshavn mean?

Tórshavn, capital of the Faroe Islands, literally means ‘Thor’s Harbour’ and is named after the Nordic God of Thunder (Old Norse: Þórr). According to Norse mythology, Thor (son of Odin and Jörð) embodied strength, power and virility and is typically depicted as a brawny, hammer-wielding god, riding across the sky in a goat-drawn chariot, slaying giants with thunder and lightning. Despite Thor’s recent revival as a Marvel character, the original god reached his peak of popularity during the late Viking Age, which explains why Norse settlers arriving in the Faroe Islands during the ninth century might have chosen the name Tórshavn when they stepped ashore and established the island’s parliament. The name Føroyar (Faroe Islands), meanwhile, is derived from the Old Norse for Sheep Islands.

How many Faroes Islands are there?

If you include all of the archipelago’s islets and skerries, there are an estimated 779 islands in the Faroes, however only 18 are recognised as ‘major’ islands. These range from uninhabited Lítla Dímun (just under a square kilometre in area) to Streymoy – home to around 25,000 people (half the islands’ population) and covering an area of 373.5 square kilometres.

Do they speak English in the Faroe Islands?

Although the national language of the Faroe Islands is Faroese and the official second language is Danish, English is also taught in schools and spoken by most people. Derived from Old Norse, Faroese is closely related to Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish – you may well notice some familiar phrases, such as “takk” (thank you) and “hey” (hello). Should you need it, “Dugir tú eingilskt?” (Du-weer too ain-dj-eelst?) is Faroese for “Do you speak English?”.

Are the Faroe Islands expensive?

Although the Nordic countries have a reputation for being expensive, the Faroe Islands are not as pricey as you might expect. While eating out in a good restaurant in Tórshavn may well give your wallet a bashing, there are also more affordable dining options, such as fish and chips or pizza. Although car hire is quite expensive, fuel is generally cheaper than UK prices, while buses in Tórshavn are free of charge. In fact, public transport is heavily subsidised in the Faroes – a return ferry ticket between Sørvágur and Mykines for example, only costs around £12. Admission to the National Museum near Torshavn costs around £7 per adult, while a two-hour boat trip to the Vestmanna seabird cliffs is around £35-40 per adult.

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Can you see the northern lights in the Faroe Islands?

The auroral oval – a doughnut-shaped ring above the Earth’s Geomagnetic North Pole where the northern lights appear – generally lies at around 65-70 degrees north. Although the Faroe Islands are located at 62o00’N, they are still close enough to the auroral oval for you to witness the aurora borealis. However, latitude is just one factor influencing your chances of a successful sighting. You also need to pick the right time of year. The northern lights are only visible between the autumn and spring equinoxes when the nights are long and dark. You also need clear skies. Winter can be breathtakingly beautiful in the Faroe Islands, but cloud-bearing Atlantic weather fronts can frustrate your chances of seeing the northern lights. Boost your chances by spending as long as you can in the islands. Check the local aurora forecast and base yourself away from the city lights of Tórshavn – the aurora borealis appears more intense when there is no artificial light pollution.

Are the Faroe Islands worth visiting?

Definitely! Although the Faroe Islands are becoming increasingly popular, they are still regarded as one of Europe’s least explored destinations. Easy to reach by plane or ferry, the archipelago offers a wild and rugged mid-Atlantic escape, rich in culture and history and full of potential for an island-hopping self-drive, a hiking adventure or a birdwatching odyssey.

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What’s the weather like in the Faroe Islands?

If ever that old cliché, “expect all four seasons in a single day” might actually ring true, it’s in the Faroe Islands. Way out in the North Atlantic, this craggy, wave-beaten archipelago is a paradise for puffins, sheep – and humans with the right clothing. The tourist office claims, “We do not have bad weather – just a lot of weather!” That’s another way of saying, “Come prepared” for days that start sunny and calm, but send you scuttling for cover by lunchtime with an Atlantic storm nipping at your heels. Cue another cliché that seems particularly apt for the Faroes: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”

Despite its northerly latitude (61.89°N) it rarely gets bitterly cold in the Faroe Islands. In summer the average temperature is 13°C, while winters are mild with an average temperature of 3°C. The climate is not only strongly influenced by the warming effects of the Gulf Stream, but the islands’ Mid-Atlantic location can also create highly changeable weather. Combine this with local variations in topography and wind and you can be standing on one island in dazzling sunshine while watching the neighbouring one being pummelled by horizontal sleet. Precipitation, in one form or another, is something that the Faroese are used to. Even if you’re visiting in mid-summer, don’t forget to carry a windproof and rainproof jacket with you. The wettest month is January when you can expect rain or snow on around 22 days. By contrast, July is one of the driest months with an average of 13 days’ precipitation. Some of this will be in the form of showers and sunshine, while other days can be stubborn mist and drizzle – many people argue that the latter actually brings out the best in the brooding, elemental beauty of these enigmatic isles.

Interested in the Faroe Islands? Learn more about our Faroe Islands experiences here, or speak to our travel specialists on 01737 214250.