While its tourist numbers are increasing, the Faroe Islands remain one of Europe’s best-kept secrets © Federica Violin, Shutterstock
Attention all shipping. The Met Office issued the following gale warning to shipping at 17.25 GMT on Monday 23 January. Fair Isle, Faroes, southeast Iceland: northerly gale force 8 expected soon, veering northeasterly, increasing storm force 10 later.
Shipping forecast, BBC Radio
If you’ve found your way to this page because you’re curious to learn more about the Faroe Islands then you’re in good company. In travel circles, it seems as if everyone’s talking about the Faroes at the moment. But don’t take our word for it – influential British publications such as The Guardian, The Financial Times and the Sunday Telegraph are all recommending their readers to visit the Faroe Islands this year.
Why’s that, you might ask? The answer’s easy to find – the Faroes are still one of the least-explored corners of Europe. People looking for that unspoilt and genuine yet frustratingly elusive destination might just have struck lucky. This windswept archipelago of 18 islands far out in the North Atlantic has never been more open to tourism – new hotels are being built, trendy new bars and restaurants are opening their doors and there’s an upbeat and positive vibe about the place. In short, get here now and explore the ravishing beauty of these islands for yourself whilst tourist numbers are still relatively low.
True, the number of tourists is on the rise – by around 10% each year over the past five years. In 2019 over 60,000 holidaymakers are expected to to visit the Faroes, in addition to around 50,000 short-stay cruise passengers. Given the growing popularity of the Faroes as a tourist destination, the national airline, Atlantic Airways, is now not only in competition with long-established Scandinavian flag carrier, SAS, on the popular Denmark-Faroes run, but is also starting direct flights to Paris this summer and, pending approval by American authorities, non-stop flights to New York.
Given that 2018 was another record-breaking year at Vágar airport on the Faroes with 378,000 passengers passing through the islands’ only air terminal, you might be wondering if the Faroes are heading in the same direction as Iceland, albeit from a much lower base. Those in the know are aware that Iceland is well on the way to drowning under the ever-growing wave of tourists and that Reykjavík is no longer the genial place it once was because of the invasion. If so, be assured that the Faroese are keeping a close eye on what’s happening in Iceland and are keen to avoid the mistakes their greedy northern neighbours have made.
The mixture of changeable weather and harsh landscape makes the Faroe Islands one of a kind © Nick Fox, Shutterstock
Ever since mistakenly studying Swedish at university (I actually signed up to do Spanish but went to the wrong lecture room), I have been fascinated by the Nordic countries. Although they share a common history and culture, they are remarkably different from each other and a visit to one Nordic nation only whets the appetite to learn more about the others. Despite the Faroes being the least well known of the Nordic family, like many people, I felt I somehow knew them before I even went there. Their name was buried somewhere in my subconscious after all those mentions of the shipping forecast on the radio. However, it was with a certain degree of trepidation that I approached the docks in Aberdeen one stormy afternoon in 1992 and set eyes on the alarmingly small boat that was to take me across the North Atlantic to the Faroes: all that talk of northerly gale force 8, increasing to storm force 10 later, certainly gave me second thoughts. Indeed, Smyril bobbed like a cork on the truly enormous waves all the way up to Tórshavn. After arrival, I ate dinner with friends and watched as dense banks of fog rolled their way up the street outside our window, engulfing cars and entire houses. Later, the fog was to vanish as quickly as it had appeared, giving way to brilliant sunshine which bathed Tórshavn and the surrounding hillsides in the golden light that is so typical of the northern sky in late spring. I soon realised that I was somewhere quite extraordinary; the combination of wild weather and unforgiving landscape in the Faroe Islands is like nowhere else. After that first trip to the Faroes, I soon became a devoted fan of these 18 remote, windswept islands lost in the North Atlantic and quickly added them to my list of special places. I hope you will, too.