The Faroe Islands have become a popular tourist destination for food and nature lovers alike. The islands are technically owned by Denmark (it’s a two hour flight from Copenhagen), but the setting is like nowhere else in Scandinavia. The landscape is filled with breathtaking sights such as waterfalls, gorges, striking mountains, puffins, and lighthouses, and the sea is filled with some of the world’s most delicious fish. Tucked away in this unspoiled, natural paradise is the two Michelin-starred restaurant, Koks. We spent a week exploring this unique destination, going on some spectacular hikes, braving the crazy weather, trying traditional Faroese foods, and, of course, visiting all the best restaurants. Keep reading to see our complete travel guide – what to pack, where to stay, what to eat, things to do, and all our recommendations for a trip to the Faroe Islands.
Welcome to the Faroe Islands
Your plane descends amidst a sea of clouds. You peer out the window hoping for a first glimpse of the islands but all you see is white. Heavy winds rattle the aircraft, and you wonder how the pilot can navigate with such limited visibility. Finally, just seconds before landing, the fog clears. The landscape is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, except maybe in movies. Is this the set of Jurassic Park? Or maybe The Lord of the Rings? Nope, these are the Faroe Islands.
The constantly rolling fog creates an almost mystical element – sometimes you feel completely isolated (as if you’re living inside a cloud), and sometimes the fog breaks to reveal dramatic landscapes. Steep mountains contrast deep valleys, and the fjords are filled with the freshest of fish. Just as the name indicates (Faroe Islands translated means “the sheep islands”), there are sheep everywhere. You’ll find them balancing on the sides of impossibly steep cliffs, frolicking in front of waterfalls, eating grass on the slanted grass roofs of old houses, and sometimes even standing in the middle of the road – drive safely!
Technically, the Faroe Islands belong to the kingdom of Denmark, but geographically they’re located in the Norwegian Sea between Norway, Iceland, and the UK. The Faroese culture, however, is completely independent of its neighbors. They have their own language, which is based on the old language of the Vikings, and they have a lot of unique food traditions, including about twenty different ways to ferment food. For obvious reasons, lamb (especially fermented lamb leg) is a big part of the Faroese diet, as is seafood (and yes, they have fermented fish, too). Traditionally, the Faroese people also eat whale meat and blubber (whale fat) which we found to be an acquired taste.
Hiking in the Faroe Islands
Some important things to note when planning your trip: lots of the most popular hikes on the islands have an entrance fee, and some also require that you hire a tour guide. (Do your research before planning your itinerary!) The terrain in most places is tough and very rocky, and can often be muddy and wet. Pack proper hiking boots – sneakers just won’t cut it. The windchill can make the temperature very cold, so we wore wool sweaters under heavy jackets, warm pants, beanies, and gloves – and we were visiting in August!
No hiking required for this must-see attraction – you can visit this spectacular waterfall after just a five minute walk from your car. Park in the small town of Gasadalur (about a 15 minute drive from the airport) and walk down the road to Múlafossur. This was one of our favorite sights from the trip, the easiest by far to get to, and free of charge. Also worth noting: this is one of the few places on the islands where you can see puffins! These cute little birds hang out on the sides of the cliffs and fly around looking for food.
Sørvágsvatn & Trælanípa
Probably one of the most picturesque places on the Faroe Islands is the Sørvágsvatn lake, which appears to sit on a platform above the ocean, hence its nickname “the lake over the ocean.” This hike costs 200 DKK per person and it takes approximately 45 minutes to walk to the viewpoint (1.5 hours round trip). The hike is not steep at all until the last five minutes, when you climb wooden stairs that zigzag their way up the Trælanípa peak. Climb this mountain to get the best view of the lake, but beware of extremely strong winds. This is a spectacular sight!
Tórshavn to Kirkjubøur
If you’re looking for a more challenging hike, we recommend a trail that starts in Tórshavn and ends up in Kirkjubøur, a small village that is home to the oldest building on the Faroe Islands. If you’re interested in history, this old farmhouse is definitely worth a visit. If the weather is nice, you’ll see sweeping panoramic views of the water. Unfortunately for us, we only saw fog until the last five minutes of the hike. This hike lasts about 1.5 hours and is free of charge.
Next time on the Faroe Islands, we hope to hike to see the arch of Drangarnir – this hike costs 550 DKK per person and requires a tour guide, and at the time of our trip it was only available to book on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. You can see this arch from afar, however, when driving out to Gasadalur. Next trip we also hope to visit the Kallur lighthouse, by way of a striking hike over the tops of mountains. (Note: this hike requires a ferry which should be booked in advance.)
The Best Restaurants on the Faroe Islands
95% of the restaurants and hotels on the Faroe Islands are located in the capital of Tórshavn – this is definitely where you want to be staying during your trip. We stayed on the outskirts of the city at Hotel Føroyar, which is a long, grass-roofed building perched atop the hill with a view down towards the harbor. Aside from a striking panoramic view, don’t expect much from this hotel – it’s technically four stars, but it felt very basic in terms of amenities and hospitality.
Heima í Havn
Charming old houses have been repurposed into restaurants on the quaint cobblestoned street that used to be the main street in Tórshavn. This area is called Heima í Havn (translated: home in the harbor). Nowadays, it feels more like a back alley or a passageway than a street, a bit like a cozy Faroese version of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. (There’s no butterbeer here, but there is a Mikkeller bar if you’re thirsty.) We tried two of the eateries in this cluster of turf-roofed houses: Áarstova, the lamb house, and Barbara, the fish house. The old-fashioned interiors have been designed to match the historic houses, with hardwood floors, wooden tables, framed photos on the walls, antiques, and candlelight. At Áarstova, we wholeheartedly recommend the leg of Faroese lamb – extremely tender meat, practically falling off the bone, and with no lamby flavor. At restaurant Barbara, fresh Faroese seafood is on display – we loved the langoustine with saffron vinaigrette as well as the signature fish soup with scallops and cod.
Where to Eat in Tórshavn
Situated on the waterfront (around the corner from Heima í Havn) is The Tarv Grillhouse, a Basque-style grill restaurant. Dry-aged steaks are the main attraction here, but be sure to also try some of the appetizers like grilled skate and Faroese scallops. The Tarv is one of the few restaurants in town that actually serves natural wine, and their cocktails are also well-balanced and refreshing.
If you’re craving Danish smørrebrød, Bitin is a pretty good option – the shrimp open-faced sandwich was our favorite. If you’re looking for ramen, Suppugarðurin has a decent bowl – but, to be honest, the broth left us craving the umami-rich soup at Slurp, and the noodles were slightly thicker than we like. Breyðvirkið makes the city’s best sourdough bread and pastries (the tebirkes was our favorite), and Brell Café brews the best cup of coffee. (This no-frills coffee shop supplies beans to restaurant Koks as well.) A few of the restaurants we wanted to try were Corona-closed during our visit. We hope to visit Fútastova (a French upscale restaurant), Ræst (which serves fermented Faroese specialties), as well as the sushi restaurant Etika on our next trip.
If you’re a destination diner, like us, the main reason you’re visiting the Faroe Islands is probably to eat at two Michelin-starred restaurant Koks. The restaurant is located about a thirty minute drive from Tórshavn, but when your taxi drops you off you’ll start to wonder if you’re in the right place. All you see in front of you is a lake with trout fishermen standing along the water, and an old fermentation shack. Just when you’re about to turn back to the taxi, a friendly face opens the door of the small house and welcomes you inside. The wooden building looks a lot like a sauna – inside, there are benches covered with animal furs and a window facing the lake. You enjoy your first snack and a beer (or kombucha) here, and then you hear a car honk. Outside, a Jeep straight out of Indiana Jones awaits to drive you up to the restaurant. The bumpy road signals just what kind of adventure you’re about to embark on.
About five minutes later, you arrive at an old farmhouse, complete with sheep and chickens and a crackling fire pit. The chefs welcome you at the door, you step inside the wooden cottage (watch your head!), and you sit down to eat over 20 courses. Without giving too much away (you’ll have to stay tuned to our YouTube channel for a full video of the meal!), we can reveal that you’ll taste a few servings of traditional Faroese fermented foods, such as fermented lamb leg and fermented fish. But, have no fear, any challenging flavors are well-masked by chef Poul Andrias Ziska’s creamy potatoes and delicious cheese sauces. This restaurant is one-of-a-kind, and indeed worth a special journey to the Faroe Islands. Watch our video below and see more photos of Koks here.
Have you been to the Faroe Islands? Please leave a comment below.