The Faroe Islands – Heaven for Bikers and Hikers
Atlantic Airways fly direct to Vagar from Edinburgh. The arrival into Vagar airport is spectacular, and the Faroes are a relatively under-visited gem.
Considering how close we are to them, it surprised me when I was planning my visit that nearly everyone I mentioned it to said “where’s that then?”.
The Faroe Islands are one of Europe’s best drone flying destinations, have some of the most dramatic landscapes and geology outside Norway, brilliant empty roads for cycling, biking, and road trips, and sensational fresh local seafood.
Think New Zealand blended with Iceland, and you won’t be far off.
As well as the direct flights from Edinburgh, you can also get there with car or motorcycle by ferry from Denmark, on a service with Smyril Line which offers the chance for a week-long stop in the Faroes before continuing to Iceland.
Atlantic Airways are adding flights from Gatwick, their first London service since 2014. The service will only run during summer, from 23rd June to 11th August.
Last year just 130,000 tourists visited the Faroes. That’s triple the resident population, and the islands are small with limited accommodation, so for the peak summer period you have to book well in advance.
It is one of Europes hidden gems but is on the brink of an Iceland-style explosion in visitor numbers. 2019 saw an increase of 10% over 2018’s visitor numbers.
In July, Hilton will open a Hilton Garden Inn hotel in the capital, Torshavn, which will be the first international hotel chain to set up shop in the Faroes.
With the Hilton Garden Inn Faroe Islands adding 131 rooms and the opportunity to earn and burn Hilton points, finding accommodation in the islands is going to be a lot easier, until the visitor numbers really start taking off.
The hotel has just started taking bookings for October onwards, but is expected to open in July and so rooms for August and September should be coming up just as soon as the hotel decides it will be ready in time.
Rooms are as cheap as £72 per night, and when cash rates rise you can use points. The points price rises when demand is high, so it’s not always the best deal, but there is always a points & cash option too.
The normal points cost is 30,000 per night and varies between 19,000 and 50,000 for a standard room. With my standard valuation of 0.35p per point, 30,000 points is worth about £105, so a comparison to the cash rate is required. Remember though that reward nights (booked with points) are refundable.
With the new flights from Gatwick currently selling at under £100 each way, the imminent new Hilton Garden Inn, and visitor numbers predicted to grow dramatically, this is the perfect moment to book your trip to the Faroe Islands.
Whether for hiking, biking, sailing, climbing, birding, eating, photography, or just isolation, the time to experience the Faroes is now.
Faroe Islands Hotels
When you visit the Faroes by air you’ll arrive into Vagar Airport. The approach is sensational (get a window seat – either side is fine).
It’s some distance to the capital Torshavn. Buses and taxis wait at the airport when a flight is due, but renting a car is the perfect way to get around the Faroe Islands. Hertz and others have car rental at Vagar Airport.
Most likely you’ll start with accommodation in Torshavn.
Until the Hilton Garden Inn opens in July, the best options are to use Hotels.com and collect some credit towards a free night, or Air BnB and try one of the many unusual and unique private houses, many with turf roofs.
If you’re a first time Air BnB user then you can get £25 off your first booking of £55 or more through this link.
Driving in the Faroe Islands
Driving in the Faroes is very safe. It’s safe because there is hardly any traffic. Not only is it very easy to drive around the islands, it’s also very rewarding.
Good tarmac roads wind along the edge of the water at the base of the mountains, snake up the passes, and lead right through the many small towns and villages.
A lot of stretches, such as the road out to the isolated beauty of Saksun church, are single track roads with passing places, but the traffic is so light there is no problem.
Many of the larger islands close to the Capital – Vagar, Streymoy, Eysturoy, and Bordoy – are connected by tunnels and bridges. All over the islands there are road tunnels which are quite an experience. Long, unlit, and often only wide enough for one vehicle.
When you see headlights approaching in the darkness, you must pull over into the nearest passing bay, whichever side of the road it is on.
The only danger might come from driving too fast after dark, or if you’re foolish enough to drive drunk like the owner of the crashed car I photographed. Always be alert for sheep and other wildlife.
The weather can change from calm sunny skies to powerful storms in an instant. Driving conditions can be tricky in heavy rain, but no more so than any other country, and having your own car nearby can be a welcome respite from inclement weather.
There are so many things to see and do, spread all over the islands, and your own car unlocks them all.
You’ll set off to see the church and turf-roofed huts at Saksun, or the cleft gorge at Gjogv, the waterfall at Mulafossur, or the incredible Lake Sorvagsvatn, and they are all brilliant, but you will also be left with memories of some of the most enjoyable driving you can find in Europe.
Cruise around, soaking up the views, and either stop in a town for a coffee and a pastry overlooking the harbour, or just pull up wherever you fancy, pour yourself a coffee from a flask (you did bring a flask, right?), and enjoy nature putting on a show way more impressive than any TV program.
What to do
Many visitors come for the hiking and the wildlife. You can take whale watching tours and sail out to some towering cliffs that are home to vast bird populations. You can easily get away from the crowds because there just aren’t any. For now.
Some come for the seafood. The islands are of course massively dependent on seafood and sheep. Most other things have to be brought in by ship. You will find steakhouses and burger joints in Torshavn, but the beef is all shipped in.
Prices aren’t cheap but the seafood is fresh off the boat and the restaurants in Torshavn are eclectic. Reservations always required.
It’s popular on two wheels. Cyclists can rent bikes in Torshavn. Motorcyclists tend to bring their own on the Smyril Line ferry from Denmark, en route to Iceland. If you are a biker, note that the weather can be wild, so opt for summer, which is of course the peak season and requires early booking.
If you don’t like bikes, and you treasure the quiet and tranquility but don’t mind a little risk of wind and rain, the shoulder seasons are ideal.
Winter is for the very hardy and at risk of disruption to flights and road travel.
If you’re a drone pilot or photographer then the Faroes are one of the very best destinations in Europe. Even a cack-handed and talentless photographer like me can produce something half decent and thoroughly enjoy the endless opportunity.
If you actually have talent, you’ll fill every memory card you own.
Drone photographers will love the freedom to fly around incredible landscapes and picturesque architecture with almost nobody else around to complain about it.
Wherever you go, there is fascinating architecture and history. Torshavn itself offers hours of walking and exploring around the harbour, the Cathedral, and the old buildings of the Tinganes, the Government of the islands.
There’s no shortage of culture, either. For example, check out the Listasavn Foroya, an art and sculpture gallery and museum, set in a beautiful nature park.