Earlier this year, my partner and I took a slightly unusual trip. Spurred on by a TV documentary we watched by pure chance, we booked the cruiseferry highlighted on the show unsure of what we had gotten ourselves into. Sailing from Denmark to Iceland, via the Faroe Islands, and back, the week was fun, interesting and certainly an experience I’ll never forget. Today I want to share my experiences visiting the home country for the cruiseferry, the Faroe Islands. These small bits of land in the North Atlantic have become increasingly popular among travelers in recent years and I was excited for my first visit to this purportedly picturesque nation. I wasn’t disappointed; my time spent in the Faroe Islands was just as fascinating as I had hoped, which is why today I want to share what those experiences were really like.
Getting there – Smyril Line
A cruiseferry, including the ship on which I sailed – Norröna – combines features of both a traditional ferry service and a cruise ship. In this case the Norröna, which is operated by the Smyril Line, operates every week between Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and then back again. The schedule is always the same and it provides a very real service, especially to Faroese companies who need to ship goods to and from the islands. But it’s unlike any other ferry I’ve seen, because it’s also a fully functioning cruise ship. Able to accommodate more than 1,400 people, throughout the year tourists board the ship either as a simple conveyance or to enjoy a full week at sea, experiencing the North Atlantic in a very unusual way. This isn’t your typical cruise ship though, not even close. Leave behind those images of waterslides and enrichment activities, and instead replace it with a more bare bones version of the modern leisure cruise.
Two Chances in the Faroe Islands
One of the most surprising inclusions on our cruise were the incredible excursions at each port of call. Daylong, immersive and fun experiences were included in the price of our fare, and in the Faroe Islands that meant two different opportunities to explore this beautiful part of the world.
The first tour of the trip started in the capital city of Torshavn. The Vikings first established their island parliament here in the 9th century, and ever since this sleepy city has been the center of life on the Faroe Islands. Home to about half of the Islands’ 50,000 people, it’s not only the most important city in the Faroe Islands, it’s one of the most striking as well. Our local guide was a character, and his unique perspective on Torshavn and the entire country truly made the experience much more special than it might have otherwise been. Walking around the city center, he shared the history of the city, but also personal stories and remembrances of his long life there. I was a little surprised by how much I liked Torshavn, the small homes and turf-covered buildings all added to the other-worldliness of my time there. But it was only the start of a long day exploring this remote country.
After Torshavn, we boarded a bus to visit a small town along the coast, Kirkjubøur. This small village on the southwest coast of Streymoy offers a stunning view of two neighboring islands, Hestur and Koltur. In the Middle Ages it was home to the Faroese Episcopal See, making this unlikely spot the spiritual and cultural hub of the Faroe Islands. Today only a few buildings make up this historic spot, and we spent the rest of the day exploring not only the village, but the rocky coastline as well. Stave homes (including the world’s oldest inhabited wooden house) the ruins of an old cathedral and a modern church were the official highlights, but for me just being there was the real thrill. I’ve been traveling to Iceland for several years now and I experienced that same sense of wonder and adventure in the Faroe Islands as I do in Iceland. I love visiting remote spots around the world, but especially in the North Atlantic where the people are kind and the views incredible.
Following a two-day stop in Iceland, we sailed back towards Denmark and spent another day in the Faroe Islands. Rather than repeat the first excursion, a completely new experience was offered to the guests and I couldn’t wait for the day to start. The drive to the village of Gjogv was just as enjoyable as the visit itself. The geology and physical immensity of the Faroe Islands is unlike any other place I’ve been, and spending 45 minutes or so on the road admiring that harsh yet stunning scenery was as important a part of the day as anything else I did. But the highlight of course was the romantic town of Gjogv. A popular summer weekend spot for the Faroese, Gjogv is best known for its picturesque scenery dotted with colorful old homes and a natural harbor protected by a massive gorge, which is what the name Gjogv translates to in English.
After enjoying some cake at a local guesthouse, I went out to wander around the town, seeing what I could discover. While small, there’s a lot to love in Gjogv and I quickly found myself getting lost in its beauty, both man made and natural. I soon understood why it’s a popular getaway destination for locals, there’s just something undeniably special about this unlikely town on the edge of the world.
And that’s really what visiting the Faroe Islands felt like; experiencing life on the fringes. The country is remote and there are only a couple of different ways to get there, which means tourism has thankfully been slow to develop. While it has similar cultural and natural highlights to Iceland, not nearly as many people visit, which allows tourists like me the opportunity to see more of what really makes it tick. It was also just a fun experience, and in travel sometimes that’s enough.
Sailing around the North Atlantic aboard a cruiseferry was an unusual trip for me, but one I’m so thankful I booked. The experience was unlike any other and allowed me the unique opportunity to see parts of the North Atlantic not commonly admired, all from the very special vantage point of being on the water.