Ultra Vires


Travel with Tsui: Review of the Faroe Islands

Our travel columnist travels to Iceland’s little cousin

Photo credit: Emily Tsui (2L JD/MGA)

Tourist boards of the world have Instagram to thank for bringing visitors to previously undiscovered places. The Faroe Islands, a self-governing autonomous region of Denmark, is no exception, much to the chagrin of many of the 50,000 reclusive locals who pine for a renaissance of the Viking days when they could fend off invaders with force. Although it seems to currently be “hipster Iceland”, everyone, including myself, was attracted to this group of eighteen mountainous islands for its rugged beauty.

The Faroe Islands are located in the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Norway. Behind the curtains of rain lie its dramatic landscapes. Its volcanic history has given the islands tall mountains, rocky cliffs, and breathtaking waterfalls. The Islands are a photographer’s and hiker’s heaven (and an acrophobic person’s worst nightmare).

The three largest islands are connected by long subsea tunnels that feel like driving through an endless bunker. The rest are connected by perilous unlit one-way tunnels, ferries, or by government-subsidized helicopter. At about 110 Danish krone (DKK) a helicopter ride, or about $22, I suspect it is one of the best deals on scenic flights in the world.

But the deals stop there. Everything else on these islands is prohibitively expensive—especially if you do everything by the book and with the advice of tourist boards. The barriers are comically numerous: there’s no “right to roam” (unlike Norway) meaning that there’s no free accommodation by way of wild camping, no sleeping in cars since all of the land is private (and there’s no unauthorized parking), and there’s restricted access to certain hiking trails.

However, my nine days of travel across the islands were incredible, and I travelled without an infraction (luckily) by just renting a car and sleeping in it. Conveniently, the sparsely populated islands have a lot of empty parking lots at night.

And, the tourist boards appear to have forgotten the true gem of the islands: the kommuna. These are public facilities that include super warm showers, drinking water, and sinks to clean backpacking cooking equipment. The trailhead at Kalsoy (and the website describing the lighthouse trek) had zero indication that it was restricted access, so it wasn’t until the next day when I was making use of the tourist office’s free WiFi that I discovered that a guide was required. It cost 440 DKK, or about $100 per person. Oops.

Photo credit: Emily Tsui (2L JD/MGA)

Once you make it there, in every direction lies a remarkably beautiful landscape. Almost every thirty kilometers in the northern islands is connected to a hiking route, many with their own associated Faroese myth. From the famous “lake above the water” (Sørvágsvatn) to one of the highest promontories in the world (Cape Enniberg) to Mykines, the island of over a million puffins (try telling a Faroese person that puffins are going extinct, and they will serve you one for your next meal), it’s easy to see why even a small picture on a phone would entice anybody to go explore.

However, no trip is ever complete without a Couchsurfing experience. My Couchsurfing host, a kind and deeply religious local from Tórshavn, offered to take me sailing in exchange for work as a deckhand. I informed him that I couldn’t tell port from starboard, but he didn’t seem to care, and he brought me on board. He took an old Faroese schooner made from Canadian oak to a water-access-only cave in Hestur, and a group of onboard musicians disembarked. The cave was nature’s amplifier, and the music rang with a depth and range I had never experienced before. At the captain’s behest, the trip ended with a taste of the controversial whale blubber (not recommended), whale jerky (slightly better), and ræst, a wind-chilled molded fish that was surprisingly delicious.

For anybody going to Iceland, Scotland, or Scandinavia, the Faroe Islands is an absolute must for slightly off-the-beaten-path travellers who like to drive, hike, take photographs, birdwatch, and have a new culinary experience.

Photo credit: Emily Tsui (2L JD/MGA)


Recent Stories