With a dramatic landscape as intricately charming as it is awe-inspiring, the Faroe Islands (a nation located between Iceland and Norway), provide a destination unlike any other. Situated in the North Atlantic, the archipelago is comprised of 18 separate islands (many of which can be visited) covered in steep, sheer mountains and carpeted with grass and vibrant wildflowers. The allure of the outdoors may be a primary motivation for most visitors, yet this small country has far more to offer—from cafés and bars, to museums and more. A rarity, the Faroes have been left largely untouched by the outside world. But that doesn't mean they're without modern amenities (WiFi is everywhere)—it does mean, however, that delving into the culture makes for a completely one-of-a-kind and extraordinary experience.
The city of Tórshavn stakes claim to the title of smallest national capital. Colorful houses rest side by side along the harbor. A stroll through the old town reveals one of the last remaining European cities constructed from wood, with buildings dating back hundreds of years; and every so often a house has a roof lush with tall grass. Newer sections of town invoke crisp Nordic design. And while you can do it all on foot, public transportation is always an option; easy and reliable. But as magical as each city, town and village happens to be, it's what lies between the settlements, that contains the most unreal mysticism. Old winding roads, a stray shack and 70,000 sheep (almost 20,000 more sheep than island residents). Whether you're planning on visiting their annual music festival, G!, or just want to scope out something remote, the Faroes command exploration.
The Nordic House
Stunning architecture aside, Norðurlandahúsið or, The Nordic House, is a hub of Faroese (and other Nordic nations') cultures, located on a hill with a lovely view in Tórshavn. From film screenings to orchestral works, speakers and dance performances, the entire venue is dedicated to intelligent entertainment. The Nordic House also sports a gallery space, with local artists on display year round. And just through the front doors, there's a lovely café and dining area that takes full advantage of the wide-sweeping view.
The number one export from the Faroe Islands is, quite naturally, fish—a protein the Faroese also happen to know how to prepare quite well. Situated in a tiny alley in the old town neighborhood of Tórshavn, the newly opened Barbara serves traditional Faroese food, in a rustic, warm setting. The restaurant is luxuriant, but not overpriced—and with the freshest fish cooked in historically important ways, it's guaranteed to be a remarkable culinary experience.
A hip watering hole for the younger generation, Sirkus is as charming as it can be boisterous. Whether you're seeking Faroese schnapps or their famous, locally made beer Föroya Bjór, it's a must-stop spot in the capital city with a lot of charm and very good energy.
A café and then some, Öström is a perfect place to grab coffee and enjoy a harbor view, or browse any of the Faroese apparel and design objects on offer. There are also small bites for those who have built up an appetite. Upstairs features a large gallery space, housing the work of local artists. It's cozy and delightful downstairs, and inspiring upstairs.
Tutl Record Shop
More than just a record store, Tutl happens to be the biggest label in the Faroe Islands, putting out albums spanning folk to doom metal. The store is a great space to find out what's being released and talk to people in the know, flip through CDs and in this venue in the capital city, it's also a place for in-store performances.
There's no point in visiting the Faroe Islands and not getting on a boat. The Norðlýsið is a wondrous tall ship, owned by a charismatic captain. With the purchase of a ticket, you can sail the islands, fish for cod and mackerel, and maybe even eat what you catch—as it can be cooked in the galley below. A boat ride is filled with stories that accompany the sea waves. It's a powerful experience on the open ocean, with a different view altogether of the Faroes' splendor.
For hikers, there might not be an experience more beautiful than visiting the remote island of Mykines. A ferry ride away from Tórshavn, the journey is an full day-trip in the least. The island is considered to be a bird paradise, with hundreds of migratory seabirds—not to mention puffins. Mykines exemplifies the remote beauty of the Faroes. There's a stone forest, and a 560-meter hike up Knúku. Flowing water graces the landscape, and the entire scene is absolutely stunning. Guided tours can be arranged, whether it's through the tiny village or into the wonders of nature.
Mykines image by Kimberley Coole, Sirkus image courtesy of Sirkus, all other photos by David Graver