A Viking island paradise
Exploring the stunning Faroe Islands, Norway’s cousins to the west
“Where are the Faroe Islands?” This was the first question that popped into my head when I read through the Voyage of the Vikings cruise itinerary, having never heard of the tiny nation before. A quick Google search revealed the Faroe Islands to be an archipelago comprising 18 small islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, between Iceland and Norway.
I didn’t have any preconceived notions on what to expect, apart from hoping that there would be abundant nature and a peacefulness that I was desperately craving after visiting the bustling European continent.
Our ship docked in the capital city Tórshavn, which is located on the largest and most populated island of the archipelago, Streymoy.
After we docked, a free shuttle from the cruise ship pier dropped us off next to the tourist info center. It was quickly decided amongst my family that we wanted to see more than just Tórshavn, and so we approached a local taxi company about possible tours.
We decided to go with Taxi Bil. Hávarður, our guide and driver, was the son of the company’s owner and spoke near perfect English.
When booking tours, always try to go with a local provider because they know the lay of the land best. The local drivers will sometimes make extra stops at places you wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to see.
We zoomed out of Tórshavn in the taxi and stopped just a few minutes outside of town at a popular viewpoint. Here we could see one of the smaller islands, whose tip was topped off by some roaming clouds.
It was after we left this viewpoint that we got our first real glimpse of the landscape of the Faroe Islands. Characterized by high mountains, low valleys, green grassy slopes, countless tall skinny waterfalls, and an abundance of sheep, the breathtaking scenery stretched out as we drove along the winding road.
I gazed out the car window, mesmerized by the scenery, as Hávarður gave us an overview of the islands he calls home.
Although officially part of Denmark, the Faroe Islands are self-governing, with their own currency, language, and culture. There has long been a growing independence movement on the islands, but up until now they remain in the Kingdom of Denmark.
The first settlers of the Faroe Islands are believed to be a mix of Irish, Scottish, and Scandinavian descent. It’s been speculated that they arrived even before the Vikings. The people living here today are Faroese; don’t make the mistake of calling them Danish.
After approximately an hour of driving along the coastline of the island of Streymoy, we arrived in the northernmost village, Tjørnuvík.
This tiny village, characterized by its black houses with living grass roofs, is home to about 60 people and lies in a low valley facing out onto the open ocean. During the winter months, the people of Tjørnuvík experience the sun rising and setting three times a day because of the high mountains surrounding the village!
Wandering closer to the bay, we could see the northern tip of Eysturoy, the second largest island in the archipelago. Off in the distance, we could see two massive rock stacks protruding out of the water just off the coast of Eysturoy. These rocks are named “The Witch and the Giant,” and Hávarður filled us in on the legend surrounding them:
A long, long time ago a huge witch and giant wanted to drag the Faroe Islands over the North Atlantic Ocean to link up with Iceland. They crept over at nighttime and pulled, and pulled, and pulled, realizing that the islands were much heavier than originally anticipated. They were both so focused on their efforts that they lost track of time and immediately turned to stone as the sun rose the next morning.
Here they have remained as stone stacks ever since, staring out across the ocean towards Iceland.
After leaving Tjørnuvík, we crossed a bridge to the neighboring island of Eysturoy where we could see the Witch and the Giant from a different perspective.
On the Faroe Islands, there are approximately 100,000 sheep, double that of the human population. Everywhere I looked I could see sheep—on the grassy plateaus, on the mountains, and dangerously close to the side of the road.
Next we arrived in the small village of Gjógv on the northeast coast of Eysturoy, where we were told we could see nesting puffins on the steep cliff walls. These animals were actually one of the main reasons why we booked the tour in the first place.
Although it was already late in the nesting season, there were still a few puffins left on the cliffs. From the moment I saw them, I knew they were the strangest birds I had ever seen.
We watched them clumsily flinging themselves off the steep walls, struggling to catch wind for flight, beating their wings madly in an attempt to stay airborne, before almost crashing into the water to hunt for food. Their attempt to fly back into their nests was equally odd looking and resembled more of a crash landing.
Looking past the puffin cliffs, I could see the coastline of Kalsoy, another island part of the Faroese archipelago. I couldn’t help but think that the coastline looks similar to that of Kauai—like the Jurassic Park set was transported just south of the Arctic Circle.
Our last stop before heading back to Tórshavn was in the village of Funningur, located on the northwest coast of Eysturoy. It is said that the first Vikings to reach the Faroe Islands settled here. Today, about 70 people live in this sleepy little seaside village.
When we arrived back in Tórshavn, I was nowhere near ready to leave the Faroe Islands. Seeing this unique landscape for myself really made me feel like an early explorer discovering an untarnished paradise, and one day was not nearly enough time to fully discover everything these beautiful islands contain.
We could have driven for days and days, exploring every single island in the archipelago, going for long hikes in the mountains, meandering through the quaint little villages, and I would still be longing to spend more time here.
One thing is certain—I’ll definitely be back.
Elisabeth Beyer is a German-Canadian travel writer and blogger based on the west coast of Canada. She loves to explore different cultures and destinations, favoring natural landscapes to big cities. You can read more about her travels at her personal blog www.sidetrackedtravelblog.com.
This article appeared in the Sept. 23, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.