I’m happy to report that after 12 years of traveling extensively, it’s still possible to have those days where a new place stuns you by it’s beauty, culture, and experiences. Today I landed in the Faroe Islands and fell in love.
I had heard of the Faroe Islands before thanks to the incredible landscape photography that can be done there. It’s one of those places that look incredibly unique and remote, so of course I had it on my radar. But many people have never heard of the islands before, so let’s start at the beginning.
Where are The Faroe Islands?
The Faroe Islands are actually part of Denmark, however they are completely self-governing. The 18 islands are situated between Iceland and Norway and are part of what people call the West Nordic Region. It is a remote, yet beautiful part of the world!
Do People Live on the Faroe Islands?
The islands are home to only 50,000 people—very hearty people! But don’t forget the sheep that dot the landscape, perch on rooftops, and the teeter on the cliffs; they outnumber the locals and are a huge part of the Faroese culture. I think nearly every family had some sheep on the island, which also means there’s a bounty of beautiful hand-knit sweaters too!
This is small town culture at it’s best. You won’t see many people there and there is no rush hour. In fact, there are only three stoplights in all of the Faroe Islands and they are all on the same road! You can even find the prime minister’s phone number in the phone book. And to top it off, the jail/detention center has the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen.
My Faroe Islands Travel
The islands are moody, which makes them sort of sexy in a way. The weather is gray and unpredictable and the landscape is volcanic which provides a hint of danger; dramatic peaks, canyons, and cliffs abound. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew this was a dream destination for landscape photographers. However there’s much more to these islands than photography.
Thanks to my career as a travel blogger I often get experiences that might not be accessible to everyone on press trips. My incredible ride in the Atlantic Airways cockpit for my arrival in the Faroe Islands was one of those inaccessible experiences. I understand that it was a very privileged thing to get to do, however there were many other incredible experiences I had on the Faroe Islands that are accessible to everyone. You can add each of these to your Faroe Islands travel itinerary; in fact I insist that you do!
5 Unique Experiences Anyone Can (and Should) do on the Faroe Islands
Eat at the only Michelin Star Restaurant on the Island
We parked the car, and I got out surveying the area in disbelief. There was nothing around us beside dramatic landscape. There was only a small hjallur (drying house) that was the size of a very small shed. As I stood there confused looking for the Michelin Star restaurant, our guide motioned towards the hjallur. Practically every family in the Faroe Islands has a hjallur. They dry their meat and fish in it naturally throughout the year—a fermentation process unique to the Faroes.
Wind and fermentation drive the food culture on the Faroe Islands. The salty air is a staple you can taste in Faroese food. This unique gastronomy was derived because there is little to no farmable land on the islands. The Faroese had to come up with ways to utilize the fish and the few hearty plants that grew on the lands.
Thanks to a perfect combination of constant low temperatures and wind, and high concentration of salt in the air, the Faroese developed a salt-free method for preserving meat and fish: ræst. This tradition (which translates to fermentation) involves hanging meat and fish out in the open, then in drying houses, where time and the natural elements work their magic. –Visit Faroe Islands
We walked towards the small, brown shed and a man was there to greet us. Poul Andrias Ziska is the first and only chef on the Faroe Islands to be awarded a Michelin Star, a big accomplishment for this young chef. Poul Andrias has put the Faroe Islands on the gastronomy map. He told us we would be eating in the customized hjallur. Koks uses this as a little pop up restaurant big enough for one seating. Poul Andrias has a couple of little burners in the front of the shed and prepares his dishes right there in this rustic shed. The pimped up hjallur is on wheels so they can move it to these beautiful views around the islands!
We sat and ate in the little, cozy wooden structure that looked out over the lake, one of the most unusual and exciting eating experiences I’ve had. We were treated to local beers and regional wines with each course. And at one point we even drank out of a sheep horn. We had course after course of local fermented fish, lamb, and local birds. The Faroese fermentation has a very distinct flavor – a bit like blue cheese. It is an acquired taste, but I love blue cheese so I loved the slightly pungent, sour dishes.
The New Yorker calls Koks “The Worlds Most Remote Foodie Destination”, and I couldn’t agree more. I was there prior to the opening of the new location of the restaurant, but Poul Andrias gave us an idea of how it would all work and showed us around the grass roof farm house built in 1741. Sheep and absolutely nothing else surrounded it. Diners will have their first course in the hjallur together and then they will take special LandRover vehicles a short, but bumpy ride, crossing a river, to the farmhouse where the restaurant is situated. This is an all night experience with 17 courses that you can pair with wine if you’d like.
If you like unusual experiences and are a foodie, then make sure you put Koks on your Faroe Islands travel itinerary (but you have to book far in advance!). You will be wowed by this young, artistic chef, and by the entire experience as I was.
Hike in a Seawater Lagoon in Saksun
“Thirteen people live in this village,” our guide Elin told us as we drove into the tiny village of Saksun.
“No, there was a recent addition, a new baby was born so it’s now at 14,” our driver corrected her.
I loved the smallness of this conversation, so unique to remote areas like the Faroe Islands. We stopped in Saksun to not only enjoy the view from the hills but to also do some hiking. The hills dramatically surrounded us and descended into tidal lagoon and ocean below. By any normal standards, this would be the ‘killer view’ for most, however we went down to the Ocean floor to get the most unique experience!
A relatively easy hike/walk with a big payoff, you won’t want to miss this. You can follow the path from the parking area in the lower part of the village down to the North Atlantic where you can watch the waves crash against the shore. But first—you have to know the tide schedule because part of the day this route is inaccessible. When you get to the bottom of the hills, you have to walk across a long black sand beach. This area used to be an inlet of the sea, surrounded by high mountains. The inlet formed a good deep natural harbor, until a storm blocked it with sand. The old harbor is now an inaccessible seawater lagoon! You can go all the way out past the inlet to watch the crashing waves of the North Atlantic!
Eat at a Local’s Home: Heimablídni
The Faroese phrase “heimablídni” translates directly as “home hospitality”, and all across the islands you can enjoy authentic and intimate dining experiences in people’s homes. Anna and Oli welcomed us into their beautiful home, and it was a highlight of my stay in the Faroe Islands.
We sipped our welcome Lívsins vatn aquavit as Oli told us a bit about their family. With 150 sheep roaming the mountains, they are 9th generation farmers, as well as also having professional jobs. They entertained visitors at heimablídni in order to share the Faroese culture that means so much to them.
We were served five incredible courses, paired with local beer, as we watched the sun go down in their beautiful dining room looking out over the ocean. At one point I had to excuse myself to go out and photograph the jaw dropping sunset!
Even though the views were incredible, it was the food and the hospitality that made this experience so special and unique. Faroese food traditions are passed along and protected among families. Oli served us he mother’s bacalao fish over potatoes, boiled egg, and burnt butter. It was heavenly; one of the best dishes I had ever had. But what made it better was Oli telling us the story about how his mom served it every Saturday at his house. She hated fish but she would make it every week because his dad loved fish. Let’s have a collective “awwweeeee,” that’s one for the romantics out there.
They served sustainable, short-traveled food. “The next course traveled from our neighbor’s farm,” Oli said with a smile as he placed a beef salad with parsley and horse radish in front of us. The neighbors apparently raised cows.
After they learned that my grandmother used to make me thin Danish pancakes when I was a kid, we finished the night with something made special for me, pancakes with a rhubarb sauce. I was overjoyed with this gesture. It just solidified to me how important family traditions were in the Faroese culture.
Oli and Anna don’t actually sit down and eat with you, but they are there the whole time serving you and telling you stories, answering questions, and filling your glass; a truly unique experience!
Eat with Anna and Oli on the Island of Streymoy
Have a 5-course meal | Minimum of 8 people.
Price per person: DKK 850,-.
Contact: Anna Rubeksen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 00298 216026.
Heimablídni is offered on most islands. Some visits can be ordered by directly contacting people, while others must be ordered through local tourist offices, which are more than happy to assist. You can also book similar experiences on many of the islands by simply going to the Visit Faroe Islands website and seeing what they offer
Experience Hungi in Nolsoy
Hungi is a Faroese term for spontaneously being cozy together. And that’s exactly what we did on the tiny island of Nolsoy one afternoon. This coziness is such a part of the culture that they have a word for it!
We took the ferry from Tórshavn, the capital city, and arrived in Nolsoy harbor. It was a gray day, and the colorful buildings at the harbor were a welcome site. An even more welcoming sight was the visitor center. Why would I be excited about a visitor center on an island of 221 people? Because it wasn’t just a tourist office, it served as a little cafe where you can get village information, food, a glass of wine, or even a gin and tonic!
We went inside to meet Maryann, who welcomed us with a warm coffee and fresh waffles with rhubarb sauce. Note – have you noticed the pattern of rhubarb in the Faroe Islands? Rhubarb everything is just another reason why I love the Islands so much. It’s one of the few hearty enough vegetables to grow in this tough environment.
When you go into a visitor center expecting to just see pamphlets, and instead get coffee, waffles, and a warm greeting—it’s pretty memorable. Maryann sat with us at our table and answered all of our questions, told us about the town, and about Faroe Islands festivals. It felt like more like hanging out at a coffee shop with a friend than it did a visitor center. Hungi!
She was not only welcoming visitors to Nolsoy, she was also an actress and very active in the arts on this tiny island. When I asked her about why she lived on Nolsoy she replied, “You are close but far away. It’s a great escape from city life. It’s quiet, there are no cars, and people walk everywhere. We simply use wheelbarrows to move stuff around.” That explained why there were a stack of wheelbarrows at the dock where we came in on the boat I thought!
Maryann walked us around the quiet pathways of Nolsoy pointing out the little local theatre and telling us stories about the locals. It was an intimate and heartwarming afternoon. There are some places where you just feel incredibly at ease, and for some reason this little island was one of them.
When we got back to the visitor center and she made us Fiska pakki—a pack of fish. It was grilled in packages with onion, potatoes, butter, lemon, and sour cream dressing. I was so surprised by this visitor center experience; anyone can take the ferry over and do this! That’s one of the many things that make the Faroe Islands so special, the locals love showing you their culture and lives. It’s a place where hungi is a way of life!
Sail Around the Highest Sea Cliffs in Europe
There are approximately 110 different species of birds in the Faroe Islands; it’s one of the reasons many people visit. The best way to view this incredible bird life is by boat…yes—by boat. That’s because most of these bird species nest high on the sea cliffs.
The Faroe Islands are notable for having the highest sea cliffs in Europe, and some of the highest in the world. We did a bouncy boat ride out to see the Vestmanna Sea Cliffs in the wild North Atlantic. Home to thousands of sea birds, it’s a site that will make you feel small…and then the waves will make you feel as if you have to throw up. But it’s all worth it!
The captain of the boat maneuvers it within feet of cliffs and through archways. It’s like a roller coaster ride that leaves you with an adrenaline rush! The rock columns rise several hundred feet and they are full of bird life dive bombing off the cliffs to fish for sea life. It’s an incredible ecosystem to experience; there aren’t many places in the world like it.
You can go to other islands to see the birds or visit the Vestmanna bird cliffs.
These are just five of my favorite things we did in our short three days of Faroe Islands travel; you’ll find much more upon visiting. And the locals will welcome you with open arms. When you do visit, realize that you are part of a small exclusive group who get to visit these incredible islands. So make the most of your time there with these unique Faroe Islands activities!