The fairy-tale Faroe Islands
Making remote tourism much less remote
Not even the 18 remote islands suspended between Iceland and Scotland could avoid COVID-19. What to do? The Faroe Islands Tourist Board reimagined how travelers could visit from afar, using technology and popular gaming tools: “We have created a new remote tourism tool, the first of its kind. Via a mobile [phone], tablet or PC, … with a local Faroese, who will act as your eyes and body on a virtual exploratory tour.”
The visitor controls the movements of the guide, who wears a camera. You can ride on horseback, sail, or control a helicopter. And the tourists can be cheeky, as you can see on a video clip, when the guide is asked to “jump” repeatedly. All in all, there were 22 tour options, and the last one took place on June 22.
Don’t feel bad if you missed out, as they have stored all the experiences, which are available to the public on the Visit Faroe Islands Facebook page. Look under videos, and you’ll have the opportunity to control the guide for a minute.
Of course, the goal of this project is to get you to visit in person, so their website also includes a compilation of helpful links. The categories include: Accommodations, Activities, Culture & Attractions, and, interestingly, Christmas. They also promote themselves as “Family-friendly Faroes” and prove it with four videos of one family’s travels there.
I asked one of their remote travel guides, Levi Hanssen, about this unique idea and his experience as a guide.
Victoria Hofmo: Why did you choose to become a travel guide?
Levi Hanssen: All Remote Tourism guides are staffat Visit Faroe Islands. The COVID-19 pandemic meant we had some extra time on our hands. That time was put to good use working on our Remote Tourism campaign, for example, as guides.
VH: Can an argument be made that this virtual experience is as unique as traveling to the Faroe Islands in person? If so, what makes it so unique?
LH: Visiting the Faroe Islands through our virtual tours will never be able to fully substitute for the in-person experience, but our hope is that it has whet people’s appetite to visit and given them a small taste of what it’s like to experience the Faroe Islands.
When it comes to virtual experience, though, we feel ours is unique in that it offers people the fun, interactive tool of controlling the guide in real time. This is completely unique and original.
VH: What are the top things the virtual visitors wish to see and do?
LH: Most virtual visitors want to experience our nature and the breathtaking views from our mountaintops.
VH: What are some things you would recommend to see and do that are often overlooked or unknown to visitors?
LH: There are a few areas that have become popular, and rightly so, for their beauty. We would recommend that visitors explore further by going to places less explored that we think are just as beautiful. These can be found in all parts of the country.
VH: What is the silliest request you have had from a virtual visitor?
LH: Virtual visitors can’t communicate directly to the guide other than by controlling their actions. However, those following along on the live streams on Facebook and Instagram have left comments asking the guides to talk to locals, run after sheep, and jump in the ocean, for example.
VH: Is there anything you’d like to add?
LH: We are thrilled that over 700,000 virtual tourists have followed along on our 22 virtual tours. That is more than six times the in-person tourists in the whole of 2019. COVID-19 posed a real challenge to our tourism industry. Our wish is that people, through our Remote Tourism campaign, have felt inspired to visit our country and, ultimately, decide to visit at some point.
Denmark has its Little Mermaid, but the Faroes, an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark, have Kópakonan, the Seal Woman. A character from a local folktale, she behaves much like the Celtic seal people, the Selkie. Her statue can be visited in Mikladalur on the island of Kalsoy.
Other magical touches can be found in the landscape, in their sea stacks, coastal rocks formations carved by wave and wind erosion. There are many to admire, but one in particular intrigues, Drangarnir. Like a sea dragon, its sharp spikes jut into the surf.
Be mesmerized by the resident chattering puffin colonies. Another surprise is that one can scuba dive here in the Faroes. Instead of heading to the tropics, submerse yourself in the cold waters to be enchanted by their wonders.
Much is made about the islands’ natural attractions, but they are not without human-made delights. The charming capital, Tórshavn, offers thatched roofs, winding walkways, and spectacular views. It was founded in the ninth century as the center of government, the ting.
The Listasavn Føroya, the National Art Museum, provides a great way to see the breadth of Faroese art from classic landscapes to contemporary pieces made from traditional textiles, such as Faroese wool.
One amazing standout, “The Great Blue” by Tróndur Patursson, a local artist educated in Norway. The entire installation is made of glass and mirrors. When you can walk into it, you experience the feeling of floating on the sea as you can see almost 2,330 feet up and down.
Staying in style
There are many choices when it comes to accommodations, but still it is recommended to book early. As one example, I chose a lovely apartment that Lonely Planet calls “A Green Pearl in the Heart of Tórshavn.” Submerged in lush surroundings, there you can ruminate while sipping a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
And bring your appetite. I was surprised to see how many dining choices the city offers. Raest offers traditional dishes. The word itself means fermented and references a necessary preservation technique.
Etika, the only sushi restaurant in the Faroes, melds Japanese and Faroese styles, very intriguing as the islands have an abundance of natural ingredients from the sea’s bounty.
People usually head to these northern islands in the summer months, but the winter offers opportunities to embrace authentic experiences.
At Christmastime, the main shopping center in Tórshavn offers a winter woodland wonderland, the Christmas Village for children and adults alike. Locals ice skate, as the town is illuminated with lights, candles, and glowing fir trees.
If you have the courage, you can take a brisk—a very brisk—swim in the ocean with other brave residents of Tórshavn.
Stay for New Year’s in the Faroes to see their mini Up Helly Aa (Fire in Winter). Like the celebration in the Shetlands, people process with fire torches then set a Viking ship on fire. All ends in a glorious blaze.
One thing that struck me were the fees for hiking. This is unusual for Scandinavia, which is known for its “right to roam” philosophy. But there is a reason behind them: they are collected for the upkeep of sites. You have been forewarned.
The Faroe Islands Visitor Center’s goal was to have folks visit remotely, so they would be enticed to come in person. They have succeeded. I am certainly convinced. So, why not consider the Faroe Islands for your next vacation—check out their website and dream: visitfaroeislands.com/remote-tourism.
Further reading: “A Viking island paradise: Exploring the stunning Faroe Islands, Norway’s cousins to the west,” Elizabeth Beyer, The Norwegian American, Sept. 23, 2016.
This article originally appeared in the July 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.