The stunning Faroe Islands

By Philip Wagenaar

by Philip Wagenaar, M.D.

It was Friday, August 25th, 2006. Our Holland America cruise ship, the MS Amsterdam, had docked an hour before in Tórshavn, the capital of the 18-island Faroe archipelago, under a deep fog cover.

Our tour

Dressed warmly against the cold, my wife, Flory, and I snuggled down in our toasty tour bus as we traveled north on the stunning, winding ridge road toward Nordradalur (North Valley), situated on the southern part of Streymoy, the main island of the group.

Fortunately, the mist, which only 15 minutes earlier had blanketed the isle, had just lifted and we could immerse ourselves in the unbelievably spectacular, rugged landscape.

Dark sheer cliffs and dramatic mountains, with white rivulets running down their sides, stood out against the sparkling emerald valleys with deeply indented fjords.

All of these geological features are remnants of an ancient volcanic plateau.

Numerous small settlements, each with a heralding church spire, hugged sloping dark-green pastures occupied by grazing sheep.

Hamlets and villages, none more than three miles away from the sea, glittered with tidy, multicolored, Scandinavian-type houses, often with an overhanging thatch of lush green grass. The thatch, which changes color with the seasons, requires very little maintenance.


Because of its location in the North Atlantic roughly midway between Scotland and Iceland, the archipelago is battered by frequent high winds and rain, while dense fog obscures the landscape. Despite this, the climate is relatively mild because of the influence of the North Atlantic Drift, a continuation of the warm Gulf Stream.

Maximum summer temperatures usually are not higher than 55°F, while winters are mild. Average annual precipitation is 55.7 inches, with 891 hours of sunshine and 45 days of frost (

Surprisingly, the rough weather can turn into brilliant sunshine in the course of an hour, making both a rain jacket and sunglasses mandatory at all times.

The capital, Tórshavn

While Tórshavn, with 19,000 inhabitants the largest city of the Faroes, is a contemporary town, its old center is well preserved. The municipality was founded in the 10th century and you can still see the building where the Løgting (parliament) used to meet from A.D. 900 until the 20th century. In 1856 it moved to a different edifice, where it remains today. Having no cement, the Faroese used crushed bones and shells as mortar for their structures, a combination which held up quite well.

To learn more, take the guided walks of the Old Town organized by Kunningarstovan, the tourist office in Tórshavn, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. The office also offers guided hiking treks, bus tours and more (

Traveling through and to the archipelago

Despite its topography of mountains, precipitous cliffs and waterfalls, the island of Streymoy has an excellent, modern road network replete with tunnels. From Tórshavn, you can reach all other destinations with ease, either by bus, ferry or both. A rental car is expensive.

The SL Visitor Travel Card is offered by the public transport company Strandfaraskip Landsins for bus and ferry travel throughout the Faroes (400 Danish krone, or about $72, for four days). When arriving by air, buy the card at the Vágar airport on the western island of Vágar for the trip to Tórshavn.

Atlantic Airways and upstart FaroeJet fly year-round from Copenhagen in about two hours.

From April to September, Atlantic Airways also flies to the Faroes twice weekly from London, Stansted. And, of course, cruise ships stop at the archipelago.

Summer is the best time to visit, but note that fog at Vágar can trigger major delays.


In 1035 the Faroes became a part of the Kingdom of Norway. Later, when the Norwegian crown came under the Danish monarchy, the archipelago was governed from Copenhagen. In 1948 it became an autonomous part of Denmark with its own parliament and its own flag.

During World War II, following the German invasion of Denmark, the Faroes were occupied by the British.

The national language is Faroese, which is rooted in Old Norse, the Germanic language spoken until about 1300 by the inhabitants of Scandinavia during the Viking Age.

Additional noteworthy comments

The chief industries of the archipelago are fishing, sheep raising and cloth manufacturing.

Since there are no underground springs, the only source of the archipelago’s drinking water is, you guessed it, the profusion of liquid sunshine.

In order to be self-sufficient in their food supply, whale hunting is essential. The meat, however, is not sold but is given away to the people.

Because of the frequent blustery weather, the islands have no native trees. All of the sturdy conifers, maples and mountain ashes that we saw were planted.

Only about six percent of the total land area of 1,400 square kilometers is arable, leaving enough vegetation yearlong for the 70,000 sheep.

Even from our tour bus, we could discern occasional cairns on the mountainside — a reminder of the ancient stony paths used by the inhabitants to travel between the villages.

Despite the country’s 48,000 residents, the number of cars on the road was staggering. We even happened to pass by a mangled car lying in the ditch. Across the way from this accident, a lonely policeman’s car was flashing its dome light as if shaking its head at the driver’s stupidity.

Tourist information

Helpful tourist information, including area brochures and facts detailing deep-sea fishing, diving, walking and more, is available on the following websites: and

You can contact the Faroe Islands Tourist Board at undir Bryggjubakka 17, P.O. Box 118, FO-110 Tórshavn, Faroe Islands; phone +298 355 800; fax +355 801 or e-mail For tours from the U.S., see

Should you find yourself in the North Atlantic between Scotland and Iceland, the stunning Faroes would make a delightful escape.