Which volcanic archipelago is halfway between Iceland and Norway, with rugged, unspoiled landscapes and a distinctive Scandinavian culture? The Faroe Islands, of course.
The Faroe Islands are still relatively unknown to most travelers, but were listed in the top 5 island destinations for travelers in this National Geographic survey.
The Faroes encompass eighteen islands and hundreds of smaller islets that are an autonomous part of the Danish Kingdom. This former Norwegian colony has a proud unique national heritage which considers itself to be similar to the Icelandic people.
The Faroese were Vikings once and have just under 50,000 citizens on the 17 inhabited islands. Most residents of the Faroes congregate around small towns of a thousand or so people due to the precipitous island terrain which limits habitation to small areas along the coasts. Faroe Islands' capital Tórshavn was founded in the ninth century by Norwegian Vikings, and is the only actual city in this island nation, with just over 17,000 inhabitants.
Faroese people are known to be hospitable and friendly, and live modern suburban lives interspersed with outings to the islands' extraordinary landscapes as seen in this recent magical Faroe Islands tourism video.
Adventure in Rugged, Beautiful Landscapes
The Faroe Islands lie just south of the Arctic Circle and have an unpredictable but mild maritime climate due to proximity to the Gulf Stream. A considerable amount of precipitation gives the landscape a vivid green color in the summers and often leaves a blanket of fog that creates peaceful, but dramatic landscapes.
The Faroe Islands archipelago grew out of the North Atlantic Ocean from volcanic eruptions 55 million years ago creating layers of basalt (volcanic) rock. Today, due to movement of tectonic plates, the Faroes are far away from active volcanic regions, such as those in Iceland, but still have interesting geologic formations, such as sea stacks, arches, and precipitously rising mountainous islands originating from the more tumultuous volcanic era.
On the official Faroe Island government website, the landscapes of the islands are described thus: “giant slices of tiered basalt, tilted to one side and covered in green with heavy clouds, encircling mountains and rocky cliffs … while up from the water jut massive, looming sea stacks.”
The westernmost island of Mykines is home to a unique rocky remnant of the distant volcanic era in the form of a stone forest, consisting of 55-meter high columns of volcanic basalt. Legend has it that the King of Norway wanted to tax the people for having a forest there, so they lied about having a forest, and it consequently turned to stone.
The Faroese people live in harmony with nature, exploring the over 1000 km of coastline on islands where you are never more than 5 km (3 miles) from the coast at any point. Jagged and harsh coastlines are balanced by soft green highlands dotted with sheep and grass-covered residences nestled in sleepy coves.
Natural Tranquility on Unspoiled Lands
Visitors will find a variety of natural experiences on the Faroe Islands from dramatic steep mountain slopes to the wildness of the ocean all around, as well as peaceful fishing villages nestled under broad expanses of green-carpeted hillsides.
The weather is mild, but unpredictable, except for precipitation which takes place on an average of 280 days per year. This amount of rain causes waterfalls to continuously flow down mountains and cliff sides. Yes, it’s going to rain while you’re there, but don’t let that keep you from enjoying the beautiful landscapes.
Faroe Island coastlines are primarily made up of sea cliffs which are the highest in all of Europe. The highest cliff, Cape Enniberg, towers 700 meters over the ocean, looking out over the Norwegian Sea.
These sea cliffs provide shelter for over a hundred species of seabirds such as puffins, petrels, guillemots, and the national bird, the tjaldur (oystercatcher) whose yearly arrival on the islands coincides with spring. Many of the islands are a birdwatcher’s paradise, where high cliff ledges and steep sloped grasslands provide reliable nesting places and abundant food sources for colonies of seabirds.
The tourist season on Faroe Islands, called Føroyar in Faroese, lasts from May through September when the weather is comfortable without being overly wet. One enthusiastic and comedic homage to the islands, called the Faroe Islands Rap is from a visitor praising his “favorite archipelago,” while also commenting on the weather: "The weather's so mysterious, no two days are the same. Sometimes wet and windy, sometimes just the rain."
Føroyar feels far-flung in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean but it is not far from mainland Europe -- only two hours away by plane. These peaceful, charming islands are still relatively unknown to tourists, so travelers looking to get away from the masses and be inspired by nature will have an easy time finding what they desire. It’s no wonder the official tourist board calls the Faroe Islands “Unspoiled, Unexplored, Unbelievable.”