Adventure Travel

The Things That Shocked Me About The Faroe Islands Denmark

The weird thing about me is that sometimes I consciously don’t do much research on places I’m visiting for the first time. Sometimes I research or plan lightly, but I love surprises. This started with my work in photography. I really tried to develop my eye and my shooting style. This led to me intentionally avoiding images of places I had visited before so as not to copy or focus too much on that one shot. Strange, I know. But I’m a strange person. Join in.

The pleasure of encountering a magical place without much expectation is one of my favorite feelings. This is much more difficult these days as we seem to spend our entire lives online in a public space.

Before visiting the Faroe Islands and working with Adventure Canada, I had some idea of what simply being active in the travel world on social media might look like. Big mountains. No trees. Crazy Islands. Turf houses. Sheep. Puffins.

It was a bit like Iceland, but also different. Wow, me. There were so many things that surprised me during my visit to the Faroe Islands.

surprising things Faroe Islands

One of the things I loved most about the Faroe Islands was how enigmatic they were; It was like a mystery trying to unravel. I’m always curious, reading, thinking and asking a lot of questions. I learned a lot during a week there on the North Atlantic Saga expedition trip. One of the amazing things about Adventure Canada is that they invest heavily in local guides and convey the culture of a place in a friendly, not strange way. There are lots of lectures on board about the people and places we visit and we spend a lot of time with locals.

But let me be honest, there is no doubt: the Faroe Islands are kind of strange. Mysterious and unexpected, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and I’m still trying to understand it.

But what can you expect? Remote, wild and quite difficult to reach means that many of its cultural aspects and history have remained unchanged over the centuries. It was only recently that tourism was booming and I noticed that the Faroe Islands were balancing their past and present in many ways.

Here are some things I was surprised to learn while visiting the Faroe Islands. Enjoy!


Faroe Islands

1. Faroe Island Sea Cliffs

I was reading a book about the Faroe Islands, The Land of Maybe, and there was a morbid but hilarious anecdote (my favorite anecdote) from a foreign author. He spent time with the staunch elders of the Faroe Islands as they practiced the traditional art of collecting bird eggs and chicks from the steep sea cliffs. Basically, they tie a rope to a man as he slides down the cliff while the others hold on. Basically they’re tough, I know, modern Vikings.

They all wore thick wool sweaters and thick pants and mocked the author in his shiny Goretex jacket and waterproof pants. They said, “Dude, you can’t wear that.” It has no traction; If you slip on the grass, you’ll slip off the cliffs.”

In fact, I learned that more than 70% of the territory of the Faroe Islands is more than 200 meters above sea level. The archipelago, consisting of 18 large islands, seems to have just been torn from the seabed, with huge cliffs almost everywhere. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t such a dramatic and wild landscape. And of course, you know who loves big cliffs? Birds. Especially the puffins.

surprising things Faroe Islands

surprising things Faroe Islands

2. An Irish Legacy Pioneers of the Faroe Isles

The Faroe Islands seem very Scandinavian and therefore must be Viking by default in the minds of non-Scandinavians like us.

And that’s definitely true. Norsemen are believed to have arrived and settled in the Faroe Islands in the 9th or 10th century. Under the Kingdom of Norway until 1380, when they passed to the Kingdom of Denmark, where they have lived ever since. I know this is a fast and loose story, but just go with it. Today the Faroe Islands are “self-governing” under the rule of Denmark.

Recent archaeological discoveries have brought new insights and shown that there had been Gaelic settlers here since 500 AD. Burnt barley, peat and sheep DNA show that humans were here much earlier than initially thought. There are also stories of traveling Irish monks from this period describing the Faroe Islands. This is just one of the many surprising things I learned during my visit to the Faroe Islands.

surprising things Faroe Islands

3. Life on the Faroe Islands

Oh man, I could be way off the mark here, but I don’t think I am. Please chime in with your thoughts. I spoke with many Faroese people and observed even more, spending my evenings reading about the Faroes, and I realized that it’s actually quite a conservative country. Or perhaps it appears really conservative compared to the rest of Scandinavia, which decidedly isn’t. Chalk it up to my experience of growing up in the Bible Belt, but I can spot conservatives a mile away. It was one of the biggest things that I was surprised to learn while visiting the Faroe Islands.

Here are my reasons. First off, everyone here has approximately one billion children. The average birth rate is 2.5 kids. Almost everyone I met mentioned that they had between four and six kids. Like EVERYONE. Are they even still having children in the rest of Scandinavia? Jokes aside, but seriously, it’s well known the more economically developed a country, the fewer kids they have, and the Nordic countries lead the way, with their birth rates steadily declining. The Faroe Islands retain highly restrictive abortion laws, too. I’ll just leave that little tidbit there.

It also struck me that the Faroes were actively religious in a way you don’t see in Scandinavian or European countries anymore. Probably goes hand in hand with the above. There is also a gender imbalance in the Faroes, with far more men than women. Probably because it’s so small and remote, many, many women leave the Faroes to live and work abroad, never coming back. Actually, a lot of young people leave and don’t return, though the population decline has begun reversing.

All of this leads to my next point:

surprising things Faroe Islands

4. The majority of individuals tend to favor whaling

I think the most obvious proof of how conservative the Faroe Islands are is their stance on whaling, i.e. H. they are all for it in the name of “culture.”

Oh man, I have so much to say about this that deserves its own post, but after so much research, deep thought and careful consideration, I believe that whaling should stop in the Faroe Islands. I support local subsistence whaling, something I learned a lot about in the Arctic. This is not what is happening in the Faroe Islands. In summary, whaling continues in the Faroe Islands because they don’t want to be told that they can’t do it.

I was really shocked when I talked to so many people here about the grindadráp, also known as grind (rhymes with wind), the traditional practice of driving pods of whales and dolphins into bays and slaughtering them all for only certain parts eat. Almost everyone I spoke to supports the grind, calling it an important cultural, practical and traditional practice. Those who opposed it only opposed it on medical grounds, because bacon and meat contain toxic levels of mercury and other pollutants

I do not take this stance lightly. I don’t often visit a place and loudly object to a cultural practice.

But make no mistake, the Faroe Islands are white and privileged. They have the highest GDP per capita in Europe and are massively financed by Denmark. In fact, it is one of the richest countries in the world. You can buy Ben and Jerry’s in their supermarkets and they have better road infrastructure than we do in New Zealand. In fact, the grind was dying, and it wasn’t until Sea Shepherd started fighting it that its popularity began to resurgence, with loads of young men signing up for workshops on how to literally grind Word kills whales so they can preserve “their culture” against global resistance.

Will it affect my attitude towards visiting the Faroe Islands? Not really. It’s a great country, and if I refused to visit places based on a practice I disagree with, I would never leave my house. I can give you examples like this for literally every place I have ever visited.

Anyway, I have a lot more to say about it, but I didn’t expect the grind to be so popular. I was really surprised to learn this while visiting the Faroe Islands. A big part of me really thought it was a niche that would perhaps be delegated to old people and die out like other controversial practices in other countries. I was wrong.

surprising things Faroe Islands

5. Puffins: A Surprisingly Petite Seabird

Phew, that was hard. Let’s go back to something lighter. Puffins.

Another thing I was surprised to learn when I visited the Faroe Islands was the cutest birds ever. I saw puffins in Iceland and when we were in Scotland before sailing to the Faroe Islands. But I didn’t see any close-up. They were always flying, on the water, or living their best lives on bird cliffs. Disclosure: You can usually see them up close in these places; I just didn’t do it. Plus, every photo of puffins is super close; They appear large, especially when their beaks are full of fish, like northern penguins.

It wasn’t until I got closer to them in the Faroe Islands that I realized they were tiny. They are only about 30 cm tall. They are small. Another thing I learned was that baby puffins are called pufflings. I died. How sweet.

puffins Faroe Islands

6. Tórshavn cute and calm city

The capital of the Faroe Islands is Tórshavn, and it really is a cute little town. Tórshavn is home to a third of the Faroese population, around 14,000 people, and is named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder.

The historic downtown by the harbor is incredibly cute and full of traditional colorful boats. Houses with grass roofs mix with bright buildings in the city center and it is one of the few places in the Faroe Islands where you can see trees. There are modern cafes, cute shops and great views, perfect for strolling. From a distance you can see that there is a lot of growth and development in Tórshavn.

What fascinated me was that in 850 AD the Norsemen set up their parliament here in Tinganes, a peninsula right on the water, and made Tórshavn their capital. Be sure to stroll around down here.

buildings
Faroe Islands

7. Great Infrastructure Fareo Island

Because it was such a remote location and so difficult to get to over such a long period of time, I found the infrastructure to be really impressive. It was one of the greatest things I experienced during my visit to the Faroe Islands.

It’s clear that a lot of money has been put into improving the accessibility of the Faroe Islands for locals and visitors. The islands have a great road network with an elaborate network of bridges and tunnels connecting them. There are also regular flights, ferries and even underwater tunnels. It drives me nuts considering where I live in New Zealand that it *literally* takes a year to build a roundabout.

The Faroe Islands are also leaders (pun intended) when it comes to producing sustainable electricity. More than half of their electricity comes from renewable energy sources. Pretty cool.

lake view Faroe Islands

roads Faroe Islands

8. Pretty Tasty And Fermented sheep 

I understand that most of you probably won’t agree with me on this, but I actually liked all the fermented and air-dried foods around the Faroe Islands. The only positive thing about having a top chef as a partner was the improvement in my (already snobbish) palette. Taste is everything and the taste of Skerpikjøt will blow you away.

Skerpikjøt is a common dish in the Faroe Islands, a leg of mutton wind-dried in the harsh North Atlantic winds. Yummy. They are hung in special drying sheds called hjallur, where a specific curing process takes place over many months. Then they are usually served sliced on bread. I tried it a few times in the Faroe Islands, and while many of the passengers politely took a small bite, coughed and hid the rest, I ate about ten times.

The same goes for another traditional Faroese dish, air-dried fish (usually cod) called æstur fiskur. You often see them hanging in front of houses in the villages, swaying in the wind like some kind of smelly wind chime. Yummy.

Skerpikjøt Faroe Islands

sheeps  Faroe Islands

fish
 Faroe Islands

Skerpikjøt Faroe Islands

9. All Around Just Greenery No Tree

There are no two ways about it; It is very windy on the Faroe Islands. In fact, they are one of the windiest places in Europe. There are also a lot of sheep. The strong winds blow sea salt into the air and make it difficult to grow trees here. Overall, there are no native forests in the Faroe Islands, although there is evidence that there were once trees here before humans came (with sheep grazing).

There are really no trees left these days. Some are planted around Tórshavn and other settlements, but generally the land here is bog, moss and grass. It lends credence to the saying: If you ever get lost in the Arctic, just get up.

faroe island

10. Faroe Island Is better than you imagine

There were so many things that surprised me during my visit to the Faroe Islands. All in all, I really enjoyed the Faroe Islands and would come back in a heartbeat. It’s such a spectacular place, incredibly interesting and unlike anywhere else in the world. The spectacular landscapes full of treeless mountains, sheer sea cliffs, impressive waterfalls and an incredible amount of birds make it the ideal destination for those drawn to the wilderness.

Incredibly fascinating, the Faroe Islands struck me as a place that only gets more interesting with each visit. I can’t wait to go back!

Have you ever been to the Faroe Islands? Does anything surprise you too? Spill.


Faroe Islands


 Faroe Islands

About author

Articles

Hayes, a travel writer, crafts tales that transport readers across the globe. His stories are more than descriptions; they’re experiences, filled with rich details and personal insights. With Hayes, every destination becomes an adventure. Join him, and see the world through his words, one journey at a time.
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