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The Faroes are no longer forgotten. The isolated archipelago popped up all over travel lists and social media feeds in the last several years. Perhaps, you saw a photo of the island’s jagged moss-covered cliffs draped in a moody fog on Instagram, or maybe one of the islands’ grass-roofed homes grabbed your attention. While this remote archipelago of 18 islands, a self-governing region of the Kingdom of Denmark, shares some traits with its Viking cousins Norway and Iceland, these far-flung islands are luring travelers on their own.
More Sheep Than People
While these faraway islands are having a bit of a moment with tourists, you won't have to worry about dodging crowds or tour buses like you might on Iceland’s well-trodden Ring Road—at least not yet. These volcanic islands in the middle of the North Atlantic are sparsely populated with only 50,000 people; in fact, you'll run into more sheep here as they nearly outnumber humans 2 to 1. The name of the archipelago in Faroese (the islands have their own language, but most do speak Danish and English, too)—even means Sheep Islands.
The Faroese owe a lot to their grass-grazing wooly natives, from filling their bellies and keeping them warm in unforgiving weather to even mowing their grass roofs. But especially, the Faroe Islands owe their sheep for putting them on the map. In 2016, the Faroes campaigned to get Google Street View, or rather Sheep View, as the 360-degree solar-powered cameras were strapped onto the backs of the island’s roaming residents.
Far-flung Islands, Yet Now Easier to Get To
While the remote archipelago might have similarly striking landscapes to its more-known Nordic neighbor Iceland, it’s unlikely the Faroe Islands will ever get as crowded with tourists, at least for the time being. Iceland owes much of its rise in popularity to Icelandair’s free stopover program and being only a five-hour flight from U.S. hubs New York City and Washington, D.C. That doesn’t mean the Faroe Islands are difficult to get to. Currently, the national airline Atlantic Airways operates non-stop flights (from one to two hours) from Reykjavik, Copenhagen, and Edinburgh to the Faroe Islands all-year round, and SAS operates non-stop flights from Copenhagen all-year round.
Island Hopping by Car, Ferry, or Helicopter
The best way to get around the Faroe Islands is driving, and nearly every traveler picks up their rental car at the Vágar airport on arrival. The biggest caution for first-time drivers? You’re likely to get distracted—not by traffic, but by the mesmerizing 360-degree views. Soaring, jagged peaks, moss-covered mountains, waterfalls that nearly drop right into the road ahead of you, colorful turf-roofed villages, and shaggy-haired herds of sheep. There’s also endless water in every direction; there isn’t a spot in the Faroes that’s more than three miles away from the ocean.
In recent years, driving around the islands has been made even easier, as the islands are linked by tunnels, both underground and undersea. Some areas you still can’t get to by car, such as the secluded puffin-covered Mykines island, which you can only reach via ferry or helicopter. Atlantic Airwaves’ helicopter service to the more remote villages like Mykines is subsidized by the government for a low fare. The only catch is that it’s not possible to book a roundtrip, so you have to take a ferry one way, and service only runs between May 1 and August 31.
Tiny Villages Atop Dramatic Waterfalls
Once isolated areas in the Faroes are now more accessible, such as the village Gásadalur, which is home to one of the islands’ most spectacular sights, Múlafossur, a waterfall that plunges straight into the North Atlantic Ocean. Prior to 2004, the only way to reach this village was to hike over a 2,000-foot mountain (the postman’s route), take a helicopter, or go by boat and climb the cliffs. The population of Gásadalur was last reported to be 18 people, so the village hopes the tunnel linking it to the rest of the island will help the once-dwindling population increase.
Judging by social media feeds, this tunnel that was blasted through the mountain certainly has increased access for tourists who want to see—and snap—the Múlafossur waterfall in all its glory in person. Driving through the one-lane tunnel feels like a Scary Mountain Disney ride, complete with a rocky facade and the fear of not knowing what lies six-feet ahead. If you see headlights coming toward you, you will need to pull over in the tunnel. You might even want to hold your horn—or your breath— the whole way through.
Fermented Lamb Meets Michelin-star Dining
Fermented lamb, roasted puffin, and wind-dried cod. Eating the traditional dishes in the Faroes is as adventurous and unique an experience as hiking up the island’s volcanic cliffs. While a harsh Nordic climate (it rains over 300 days yearly) and a rugged treeless terrain call for food to be imported, there is now a burgeoning local food movement, and a quite pioneering one at that.
Restaurants only started opening in the Faroes about 15 years ago and it was illegal to serve alcohol in restaurants until 1992. So that makes it even more surprising that on these remote islands you’ll find a Michelin-star restaurant. In 2017, KOKS was awarded the highly sought-after culinary accolade, a first for the Faroes, for its innovative and locally sourced cuisine. Led by 27-year-old Faroese chef Poul Andrias Zisk, KOKS 18-course tasting menu features twists on traditional foods such as cod bladders, whale blubber, and not surprisingly, fermented lamb tallow, and fermented fish.
Supper Clubs in the Homes of the Locals
While restaurant culture is a relatively new development in the Faroes, dining with the locals is not. Heimablídni, or “home hospitality” in Faroese, has been a time-honored tradition of the locals opening their doors and sharing a traditional meal with travelers. These supper clubs, as they’re commonly referred to in English, are informal, intimate, and home-cooked meals offered throughout the islands.
The farmers Anna and Óli Rubeksen offer a popular supper club in their home in Velbastaður. The traditional five-course meal includes lamb raised on their own farm, and the courses are topped off with toasts of schnapps (a tradition for welcoming guests), rhubarb juice, Faroese beer, and dessert of rhubarb and cream. But the island’s signature dish of air-dried mutton? That’s usually only brought out for the locals, mercifully.