Faroe Islands Itinerary: 10 Days of Things to Do
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Faroe Islands Itinerary: 10 Days of Things to Do

Jul 03, 2023

9 items in this article 1 item on sale!

9 items in this article 1 item on sale!

Everyone knows that person who spends weeks sniffing around travel blogs, going deep into Tripadvisor rabbit holes, collecting Google docs from friends of friends, and creating A Beautiful Mind–style spreadsheets to come up with the best vacations and itineraries possible. In this recurring series, we find those people who’ve done all the work for you and have them walk us through a particularly wonderful, especially well-thought-out vacation they took that you can actually steal.

My partner of 21 years and husband of one, Andrew, and I recently returned from our honeymoon in the Faroe Islands, a self-governing nation under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark. It would have been an incredibly romantic trip had we not been traveling with our high-drama, 16.5-month-old son, Julian, a contrarian Aquarius through and through. Even still, the remote North Atlantic archipelago — home to wild, windswept landscapes and more sheep than people — seemed like the perfect place to take an exuberant (read: irrational) toddler. If and when he had meltdowns, no one could hear him but us.

To ease the jet lag of Julian’s first transatlantic flight, we bookended our weeklong road trip with three nights in Iceland, a country I’ve visited seven times (including when Jules was 12 weeks in utero) and Andy hadn’t been to in 15 years (my, how it’s changed). We started planning the vacation in March, about four months before our departure, and I’m grateful we didn’t wait a minute longer. June through August is the high season in both Iceland and the Faroes, and the latter, especially, suffers from a dearth of accommodations.

The trip was challenging in all of the ways you’d imagine traveling with a totally unreasonable, ferociously teething toddler might be, but it was also rewarding. Our days were filled with black-sand beaches, cliff walks with puffins, and barbecued lamb pop-ups. With Atlantic Airways introducing its first direct flight between New York City and Vágar this August, the Faroe Islands are more accessible than ever and still only 1/10,000th as touristed as Iceland (for now, anyway).

We booked an overnight flight from our hometown of Minneapolis to Reykjavík, wishfully thinking Julian might sleep for most of it. Oh, the lies we tell ourselves. This kid spent five out of six hours screaming, squirming, practicing his opera scales, and trying to slap the godforsaken seat-back screens, which should really have a toddler blackout mode. By the time we landed, the whole family was sleep deprived and cranky. The customs line stretched for what looked like miles, but thankfully an angelic airport worker ushered us into a fast-track immigration line for travelers with children under 5. (Iceland: So civilized, so kind to families!) After picking up our rental car, we booked it straight to Brauð & Co., a beloved Icelandic bakery with eight locations — including one in a gas station. The fresh-baked muesli-flecked cinnamon rolls were exactly the balm we needed to mend our broken spirits.

After checking into our Airbnb early, a modest one-bedroom flat across from Reykjavík’s landmark Lutheran parish Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgrímstorg 1), we drove 45 minutes to Thingvellir National Park (806 Selfoss), a UNESCO World Heritage site and the location that the country’s ancient parliament first convened in year 930.

Situated on the tectonic plate boundary of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the park is full of breathtaking gorges and fissures. We stopped at Þórufoss, a 59-foot waterfall on the river Laxá í Kjós, used as a filming location in Game of Thrones, and, despite Julian’s protests, made it to Helgufoss, a petite waterfall tucked into the perennially green Mosfellsdalur valley.

We were starving on the drive back to Reykjavík; fish and chips from Frystihúsið at the waterfront food hall Hlemmur Mathöll (Laugavegur 107) was just the ticket: classic and fresh as all get out. Julian stole most of Andy’s fries, but he didn’t care — at least Jules was eating. Exhausted, we ended the night early swaying deliriously to an organist pounding away inside Hallgrímskirkja.

Thank god for blackout curtains. The jet lag was real and our family slept until 9 a.m. before bouncing over to DEIG café at Le Kock hotel (Tryggvagata 14) for hot bagel sandwiches. The Churchill — bagel meets egg patty, beer ham, cheddar cheese, and mayo — is excellent fuel for the full day we had planned on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, a region in western Iceland that has eluded us on previous visits. The drive out and back takes at least 2.5 hours each way, and that’s assuming you don’t stop — which of course is impossible given how pretty it is.

Near the farming hamlet of Buðir, we schlepped up to Bjarnarfoss, a towering waterfall that couldn’t impress Julian less. We photographed the Instagram-famous black wooden church Búðakirkja (356 Buðir), which isn’t nearly as isolated in real life as it looks in pictures, but of course we perpetuated the myth by cutting the parking lot filled with tour buses out of the frame. After romping through the fields of green surrounding the church, we headed for the basalt columns and a natural stone arch at the Arnarstapi Cliff viewpoint and gorgeous Djúpalónssandur, a.k.a. Black Lava Pearl Beach, which was empty except for two women walking hand in hand and the rusted-iron remains of a British trawler that wrecked there in 1948. The wind was blowing like crazy, chilling us to the bone, and Julian had an epic meltdown. (He’s still teething, which didn’t help.) My dejected husband and I exchanged weary glances; was taking a familymoon a horrible mistake?

Julian’s bedtime came and went, he was still screaming his fool head off in the back seat, and we had woefully underestimated how long the drive would take. There was no way we were making it back to Reykjavík before midnight, let alone in time for dinner, so we stopped at a random gas station to find food. The hot dogs — snappy Icelandic lamb topped with raw and crispy fried onions, ketchup, rémoulade, and a sweet brown mustard called Pylsusinnep — were delicious and all the pick-me-up we needed to keep going despite Julian’s batshit toddler hysterics. (Have a kid, they said. It will be fun, they said.)

Because we were visiting in June, it stayed light out well past 1 a.m. After Julian calmed down, we took advantage of the extra hours by shooting sweet family photos along an empty black-sand beach near the small fishing town of Grundarfjörður. A rainbow stretched like fairy magic over Kirkjufellsfoss, a gushing waterfall backdropped by Kirkjufell Mountain, another Game of Thrones–famous site. Despite getting my first international speeding ticket on the way back to Reykjavík (which, by the way, the cute, tatted-up cop let me pay on the spot for a significantly reduced fee, tapping my credit card on the kind of touchless payment machine usually seen in restaurants), it was a perfectly imperfect ending to an up-and-down day.

Our 85-minute Atlantic Airways flight from Reykjavík to Vágar was only a quarter full — a blessing with a maniacal toddler in tow. We picked up our rental car from RentYourCar.fo, which looks scammy but is actually a legit local rental-car company, only to discover that the standard automatic was far too small to fit two adults, a baby, a car seat, a stroller, a hiking backpack, and two suitcases. The company kindly upgraded us to a Renault Captur, which was still a tight squeeze but at least workable. (Note to self: Stop being so cheap.)

The Faroe Islands hit you like a ton of bricks. Not ten minutes after we left the airport, we spotted the quaint village of Bøur (population: 74) with its turf-roofed houses, 158-year-old church, and knockout views of the dramatic Drangarnir sea stacks. Continuing west, we made our way to the isolated cliffside village of Gásadalur, home to 14 residents and the majestic Múlafossur Waterfall, one of the most photographed spots in the country. The weather was blue-skies sunny and mid-60s — a rarity in the Faroes, as we were reminded throughout our travels. We hiked a mile or so around the falls, observing the puffins nestled into the cliffs. Even Julian was tickled by their funny orange beaks, and he has no idea what’s going on ever.

Aiming the car east, we made our first of many stops at a Bónus supermarket for car and toddler snacks. This was followed by a visit to the red-roofed Sandavágs church, built in 1917, in Sandavágur.

Our hotel for the next two nights was Hotel Føroyar (45 Oyggjarvegur), located in the capital of Tórshavn on the island of Streymoy. To get there in the most scenic way possible, we took the old mountain road Oyggjarvegur, whose Middle-earth landscapes were nothing short of gobsmacking. Even Julian’s nails-on-chalkboard whining couldn’t bring us down. We ordered fish and chips to go from Fisk og Kips in Tórshavn and ate in our spacious family suite at Føroyar — a beacon of minimalist calm amid all his tantrum-ing. (Amen for concrete walls.)

I’m pretty sure the concept of a “familymoon” — honeymoon plus one — was a joke manufactured by the travel industry. The truth is, there is no romance or connection deepening where young children are involved — only a desperate attempt to hang onto or rekindle some tiny shred of your pre-baby existence/personality/relationship. The stressors of traveling with a 16.5-month-old — at least our 16.5-month-old — were constant and unrelenting, especially when he refused to go the $&%# to sleep with the midnight sun. It’s only natural then, under this extreme duress, to take your frustrations out on the only other adult in the room (the husband) — but that’s no good, either. Too often we forget to step back from the situation and just laugh at the absurdity of it all. We all need a bit of space and grace. In practice, that means taking turns — things we used to do together as a couple we now do separately so that at least one of us can have some fun while the other minds our miniature dictator. This morning belonged to me: I booked Rasul, an indulgent steam-room mud-scrub treatment with a textured glove, at Ress Spa at Hotel Føroyar, and the alone time was divine.

We sat down for a light lunch at Bitin (12 Niels Finsens gøta), which specializes in “new-style Nordic sandwiches” like an open-faced fried herring with kohlrabi, mustard-spiked mayo, horseradish, and salted egg yolk, and then hoofed it around this compact capital of 13,000 with a stroller. We admired the model ships suspended from a bright blue ceiling at Havnar Kirkja (265H+V85 Bryggjubakki), a hillside cathedral established in 1788; shopped for salmon-skin baby slippers and locally made ceramics at the well-curated boutique Öström (18 Skálatrøð); and ogled the hip, hand-knitted wool sweaters at Guðrun & Guðrun (13 Niels Finsens gøta).

Now it was my husband’s turn for a little alone time: I took Julian on a long drive to Norðradalur, an ancient 15-person farming village on the western coast of Streymoy, while Andy dined solo on an epic 12-course tasting menu at Ræst (Gongin 8), a fermentation-focused restaurant from the mad geniuses behind the temporarily relocated KOKS. The parade of dishes included a pear and horseradish shot; seaweed bouillon with chamomile, mahogany clam, and smoked horse mussel; and oyggjar, which the chefs poetically described as “a universe of fermented sheep guts.” What we couldn’t experience together as a couple we could still share through storytelling at least, and maybe that’s the best one can hope for from a familymoon.

After checking out of Hotel Føroyar, we headed to Listasavn Føroya (9 Gundadalsvegur), the National Gallery of the Faroe Islands. The collection includes major artworks from the 1830s to present day, including moody paintings by Sámal Joensen-Mikines and Edward Fuglø’s life-size pilot whale fashioned from 32,000 toy soldiers — a commentary on grindadráp, the Faroese tradition of whaling. More sculptures dotted the forested paths behind the museum, which we enjoyed walking as a family.

A few months before our trip, we reserved tickets for Vestmanna Seacliffs — one of the most popular sightseeing tours in the Faroe Islands. The double-decker boat dipped into sea caves, shimmied between sea stacks, and circled a 2,116-foot-tall freestanding rock formation flocked with seabirds. Julian enjoyed the wind in his hair and sun on his face, as did we all. The 90-minute boat ride took a turn for the wild on its return to port, however, when everyone started gathering at the front of the boat, pointing to some commotion in the distance. Other boats started gathering around. At first I naïvely thought the captain had spotted a pod of dolphins — then I quickly realized, nope, this is grindadráp, a type of Faroese drive hunting that involves herding wild pilot whales into shallow bays to be beached, killed, butchered, and ultimately divvied up among villagers.

It was a very rare and intense thing to witness; the whole village, children included, came out to help or watch, and the sea turned lipstick red. Whaling has been a way of life here for more than 1,000 years, but it has been condemned by animal-rights activists. As a traveler, I consider it a privilege to observe something so deeply cultural and do not believe it is my place to condone nor decry these practices; as an animal lover, though, I can’t say I didn’t feel bad for the whales. These issues are never black or white.

Andy sniffed out some good pulled pork and sour beer at OY Brewery (Falkavegur 4) in Tórshavn. We appreciated that the brewery was spacious enough for Julian to move around freely and that he gobbled down OY’s long-fermented lamb and dill pickle potato salad like they were going out of style.

After dinner, we checked into our two-bedroom Airbnb in Skála on the island of Eysturoy, 25 minutes from Tórshavn. The charming sea-view rental is the oldest cabin in Skála (the Faroese chain danced on its original floors back in the 1860s) and owned by a couple with two small children, so it was well-equipped with a high chair, crib, toys, and children’s books.

Guðrun and John open their family-run sheep farm, Niðristova (47 Hvalvíksvegur), to visitors through a Faroese program called heimablídni, which connects travelers with locals offering communal meals, farm experiences, and instruction in traditional skills like knitting. We were the only guests dining that day, so the conversation with Guðrun flowed like old friends. Our family — Julian included — housed her aged, jellied, and boiled lamb parts served on homemade sourdough bread and went back for second and third helpings of her unctuous meatball and dumpling soup. After lunch, Julian bottle-fed two baby lambs and ignored the chickens we so desperately wanted him to appreciate.

Tjørnuvík is one of the oldest villages in the Faroes and a fine place to learn cold-water surfing. Julian’s a bit young for that, but he enjoyed flinging handfuls of black sand into his white-blond hair at the beach. He got so dirty, we decided to just cook breakfast for dinner from the Bónus and give him a much-needed bath before bedtime.

We prebooked Blue Gate’s 40-minute speed-boat ride from Sørvágur to Mykines, an island known for its puffins, fulmars, gannets, kittiwakes, and guillemots. Julian sat on my lap, donning a life jacket far too big for his little body. Most folks who make the trek to Mykines do so with the intention of hiking; unfortunately the trail to the island’s lighthouse was closed due to a recent landslide. Other visitors hiked with a local guide to observe the nearest puffin colony, but we found the newly implemented hiking fees — 500 DKK, or $74 USD per person — to be too expensive. So instead we wandered around the village and eventually stopped into the island’s one café, The Locals (9 Garðsgøta), for steaming bowls of fish soup.

Another wee village on the northeastern tip of Eysturoy, Gjógv is as picturesque as they come. I traced the sheep trails above the town’s sea-flooded gorge while Andy and Julian sipped beer and apple juice at the picnic tables outside Gjáarkaffi. For dinner, we drove back to Tórshavn to take advantage of the Friday-night lamb special at Paname Café (4 Vaglið): a twice-smoked, beer-braised, fork-tender leg of Icelandic lamb served with rosemary-and-dill dip and walnut-studded couscous. Definitely the heartiest, homiest, most delicious meal we ate all week.

Hanusarstova, a one-bedroom, turf-roof guesthouse in a village 20 minutes from Tórshavn, was built by the architect pals of fifth-generation sheep farmer and photographer Harriet Olafsdóttir av Gørðum and her husband, John. The only thing I loved more than the deep soaking tub and views of Harriet’s flock grazing just beyond the enormous picture windows were the up-close animal encounters Julian got to have; my boy hyperventilated upon meeting the lambs, rams, chickens, and fuzziest angora bunnies. What a joy to be so pure.

At Harriet’s suggestion, we drove to the nearby town of Runavik to rummage through racks of secondhand sweaters at Blái Krossur (23 Heiðavegur), the Salvation Army of the Faroe Islands. I bought two adorable hand-knit sweaters and a winter bonnet for Julian for $15 USD — a fraction of the cost of buying new and a pro move considering he’ll outgrow it in a matter of months. Our next stop was Navia (Oyrarnar), a yarn shop and knitwear boutique in Toftir that specializes in contemporary Faroese design. Andy scored a fantastic cardigan and turtleneck here — my Father’s Day gift to him, as the holiday fell during our trip.

Fifteen minutes south of Tórshavn, we ventured out to Kirkjubømúrurin, the circa-1300 Gothic ruins of St. Magnus Cathedral overlooking the steely-blue sea in the village of Kirkjubøur. Right next door is St. Ólav’s, the only Faroese church from the Middle Ages still in use, and Roykstovan (X624+QWQ), a 900-year-old working farmhouse and museum. Come dinnertime, Julian and I picked up heat-and-eat fare from the Bónus, and I treated Andy to a solo dinner at ROKS (Gongin 5, Tórshavn), the seafood-centric sister restaurant of Ræst — another Father’s Day gift.

Our last full day in the Faroe Islands took us hiking out to Kallur Lighthouse on Kalsoy, the most westerly of all the northern islands; it’s a spectacular hike in a nation lousy with turbocharged treks. From Klaksvík, we hopped a passenger ferry to Kalsoy. A public bus was waiting on the other end and dropped us in Trøllanes, a village of 14 at the northern tip of the island.

From here, we took our sweet time to hike round-trip to the lighthouse, relishing the jaw-dropping views of vertigo-inducing cliffs carpeted in green. Andy got spooked by the steepness halfway through and sat out the rest of the hike with Julian on his back. I continued on alone, tightrope walking the hairline ridges to the lighthouse and out to the final resting place of the James Bond tombstone. (Scenes from No Time to Die were filmed here.)

After reuniting with our car in Klaksvík, we paid a visit to another small island: Kunoy, home to a diminutive Faroese forest set against the 1,227-foot-tall, layer-cake rock walls of Lítlafjall. Children from a neighboring village scampered up a rope slung over a giant boulder while Julian bounded through the grassy meadows behind the forest.

The day ended with another heimablídni hosted by Harriet and John, who made lamb tacos from their own free-range, grass-fed stash, along with from-scratch rhubarb salsa and a chocolate-rhubarb cake. The couple’s two daughters played with Julian in the living room while we drank wine and talked like proper adults. It was the best.

Feeling peckish after our quarter-full Atlantic Airways flight from Vágar back to Keflavík, Andy sleuthed out Pólskur Matur (Hringbraut 92), a friendly Polish café specializing in schnitzel the size of hubcaps, mere minutes from the airport. The pork was delicious and we appreciated that there was a small play area with children’s toys at the back of the restaurant.

Though I’ve driven Iceland’s Golden Circle many times before, we decided it would be fun to show Julian a geyser. The most famous is the aptly named Geysir — with the overbuilt tourist infrastructure to prove it. (Seriously, the gift shop is about the size of eight football fields.) Julian, for his part, couldn’t have cared less: Geysir erupted every eight minutes or so, but each time it blew, Julian was always looking the other direction or eating rocks. (Proof that travel is wasted on toddlers? Probably.) We’d been to the Blue Lagoon before, too, and besides not allowing children under 2 into the water, we decided to try a place neither of us had visited: Gamla Laugin, a.k.a. the not-so-secret Secret Lagoon (Hvammsvegur), in Flúdir. Dating to the 1890s, it’s the oldest natural swimming pool in Iceland — pleasantly warm but not too hot. Julian loved splashing in it, and we liked that the pool offered complimentary swim diapers and floaties.

Post-swim, we polished off two Neapolitan-style pizzas from Flatey at the new Old Dairy Food Hall (Eyravegur 1) in Selfoss, one of the few food options open late. It’s a cool space — lots of faux plants and industrial decor — with a burger joint, taco shop, and more. The Tartufo, a chewy sourdough pizza decked out with fresh mozzarella, ricotta, mushrooms, Icelandic potatoes, and truffle oil, was exceptional. By the time we made it to our modest, equine-themed room at the Sólvangur Icelandic Horse Center in Selfoss, there was no time for a riding lesson or stable tour — not to mention we had to wake up at the crack of dawn the following day to catch our flight back to Minneapolis. But with the midnight sun on our side, at least, we were able to take Julian on a quick tour of the property to meet some stout Icelandic horses. His incessant giggling melted my heart and made the whole familymoon thing feel like a hard-won triumph.

This stretch-knit swaddling blanket was my son’s constant companion on this trip. It’s technically meant for babies, but it’s so soft (a sustainable blend of Tencel Lyocell and organic cotton) it worked as both pillow and blanket on our flights. At 45-by-45 inches, it’s big enough to cover him from shoulders to toes when he’s napping but can also be tied into knots so he doesn’t trip on it when stumbling around like a clumsy drunk (as toddlers do). It’s really lightweight — I can fold it as flat as a laptop and shove it wherever in our carry-on — and it comes in a bunch of cute prints (moons, seahorses, avocados). Julian’s is covered in whales, which, in hindsight, feels a bit prescient given our Faroese whaling experience.

I wouldn’t say this Montessori-inspired “busy book” is some kind of flying cure-all for soul-crushingly long plane rides, but it was sufficiently distracting in a pinch — especially when Julian was slapping the seat-back TV screens or opening and closing the window shade for the 749th time. He’s a pretty fidgety kid, and this portfolio-style toy has buttons he can twiddle, zippers to drag, beads to slide, clock hands to spin, shoelaces to gnaw, and Velcro-tipped felt fingers to (accidentally?) make obscene gestures with. It even has a little handle on the top, which makes it easier for a toddler (read: me) to carry.

I love the look of my puffy Caraa baby tote, but it’s too bulky and impractical for a trip like this. The ultrastreamlined Getaway Bag from No Reception Club, by contrast, is tall and skinny and forces me to be militantly organized. It has convenient access points on both the top and sides; customizable shelves in the center compartment for storing wipes and 2 million snacks; “parent” pockets for stashing a phone, earbuds, and passport; and a lined compartment at the bottom for tossing dirty diapers, damp swimsuits, or whatever else needs to be quarantined from the clean stuff. I also appreciate the elasticized side pockets (one for our water bottle and one for Julian’s), detachable stroller clips, and padded sleeve that fits a 15-inch laptop (not that I can realistically get any work done around a toddler).

My husband is terrified of heights, and the Faroe Islands are full of death-defying drops. To ease his comfort level — and, let’s be real, make sure I could still get my adrenaline fix — we went hunting for a pair of collapsible trekking poles. This height-adjustable set gave Andy the confidence to join me on the kind of steep ascents that would typically send him scurrying back to the car to bury his nose in a book. You can, of course, find much pricier poles with all kinds of bells and whistles, but these are sturdy, compact, and lightweight enough for travel (just one pound, one ounce).

Because we knew we’d be doing a lot of hiking, we started experimenting with stroller alternatives a few months before our trip. This hiking carrier has a cult following and deservedly so. The pack is useful for so many reasons: It has a zillion pockets for storing bottles, snacks, and sunblock; good ventilation; a kickstand for easier loading and unloading; and an optional shade to keep my vampirically pale offspring shielded from the sun. My husband was the person saddled with actually wearing the pack, and he says it’s surprisingly lightweight even though our son, who weighs 27 pounds, definitely is not. My biggest complaint is that the height-adjustable foot slings don’t fit my Daddy Long Legs baby; other than that, Julian adores the higher vantage point and often falls asleep on the Deuter’s plush chin rest. On a subconscious level, I imagine the gentle rocking motion must remind him of being in the womb. (Sounds good in theory anyway.)

My husband and I didn’t make a registry when I was pregnant with Julian, but a thoughtful friend gifted us this durable polyester bag knowing we’d put it to good use eventually. It’s designed for transporting car seats and strollers, but we used it to check the aforementioned hiking carrier, along with a million diapers that were eating up too much room in our suitcases. Though we never got stuck in the rain, I appreciate that it’s got a waterproof coating. I also like that it is machine washable and folds up into a flat pocket when not in use.

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