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Faroe Islands - When and where to visit
The beauty of the Faroese landscape under fresh snow is breathtaking, yet spring and summer are the best times of year to visit © Erik Christensen, Wikimedia Commons
The weather is maritime, quite changeable and totally dominated by the Gulf Stream which encircles the islands and moderates the climate, giving an annual average range between 3°C in winter and 11°C in summer. In sheltered valleys the temperature can often reach into the high teens; however, the highest temperature ever recorded in the islands is a balmy 22°C. The Faroes also lie in the stormiest part of the North Atlantic, directly in the path of the majority of Atlantic depressions, and as a result are cloudy, wet and windy throughout the year. In winter, temperatures are relatively mild for the high latitude (the Faroes are warmer in winter, for example, than Denmark, 6° of latitude further south), harbours never freeze and although snowfall does occur it is generally short-lived. Winter storms though can rage for days, cutting off some of the smaller islands. Conversely, in summer, days are cool and rather cloudy. Throughout the year, mist (Tórshavn is particularly prone to fog in the summer months) and rain are common, but weather changes are rapid and there are nearly always variable conditions prevailing on different islands. The two main southern islands, Sandoy and Suðuroy, for example, have more sunny days than the northern islands and are generally a shade warmer.
Undoubtedly the best time to be in the Faroes is during the long days of summer. From May to the end of July, when the evenings are light and the weather is at its most stable, the islands show their best side: wild flowers grow amid the deep-green tussocky grass of the valley slopes, the waterfalls glisten against the patchwork of whites and blues of the northern sky and everywhere the air is heavy with the scent of freshly mown hay and full of the calls of thousands of birds. August and September, too, are delightful months to be in the islands; the days are still long and can be pleasantly warm. September, in particular, can be a great time to have the islands to yourself; most other tourists have left and you can hike without seeing a soul and experience the unsullied Faroese nature totally undisturbed. However, the weather now is on the change and the first of the winter storms is never far away. Although autumn, and especially winter, are not ideally suited to tourism in the Faroes, there is nevertheless a certain masochistic pleasure to be gained from being buffeted by winds and rain, the intensity of which you will probably never have experienced before. The downside, of course, is that daylight is scarce at this time of year, and in December and January, it’s already starting to get dark around 14.00–14.30 – it’s black by 14.30–15.00. Under a fresh fall of snow, the elemental beauty of the Faroese landscapes of mountain peaks and deep valleys is certainly breathtaking, but it’s worth remembering that many attractions are closed or inaccessible during the long winter months. Spring brings a new lease of life to the islands, and daffodils and snowdrops are in full bloom in the Faroes way before they even start to peek out of the ground in Iceland, for example, barely an hour’s flight to the north. March and April are incredibly satisfying months to visit the country – not only can you appreciate the fresh leaves on the trees and the newly opened flowers, but the birds are starting to return, a sure sign that spring has arrived.
Turf-roofed buildings are a Faroese icon © VisitFaroeIslands
The Faroe Islands have three things in plenty: vast areas of unspoilt mountainous terrain perfect for hiking; vertical sea cliffs teeming with birdlife ideal for ornithologists; and picturesque villages of wooden houses topped with turf roofs waiting to be discovered. If you have only a couple of days in the Faroes, it makes sense to concentrate on the capital, Tórshavn, and the immediate vicinity, perhaps adding in a visit to the medieval cathedral at Kirkjubøur or a boat trip across to Nólsoy. With three days, it’s definitely worth seeing the spectacular bird cliffs at Vestmanna, a boat tour every visitor to the islands should try to make, and taking a trip anywhere by helicopter, though you should book well in advance to secure a seat. An ideal week’s holiday in the islands could include all the above plus a trip to Mykines to see the puffins and gannets or a visit to Klaksvík and a tour of the northern islands – a hike out to one of the world’s tallest vertical sea cliffs, Enniberg on Viðoy, or an unforgettable boat trip across stormy seas to the island of Fugloy where there are some wonderful coastlines to discover (returning by helicopter if you can), or a hike out to the lighthouse on northern Kalsoy for the best views anywhere in the country. With two weeks at your disposal it’s well worth considering adding Suðuroy to your itinerary. The main towns of Tvøroyri and Vágur are both worth a visit, though you should also try to get to Akraberg, the southernmost point in the Faroes for some dramatic seascapes. Hiking, perhaps on Suðuroy, or alternatively on Vágar, is also something to consider or why not tour the villages of Streymoy and Eysturoy, in particular Saksun, Tjørnuvík and Gjógv? Try, too, to add in a visit to Gásadalur for its dramatic location and picturesque waterfall which cascades into the sea below the village.