In 2018 I went to the Svalbard and visited the most northerly town in the world, Ny Alesund. The year before that I had been to Tromsø in northern Norway and to Iceland the year before that (as you can probably tell my summer holidays tend not to involve a week lying on a beach somewhere hot and sunny!). In 2019 I had planned to go to the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway (but this time off the mainland). Located north of the Arctic Circle these islands are known for their stunning scenery (do a quick search for images of them to see what I mean). Sadly when I went to book 6 months or so before I planned to go I realised just how popular (and expensive) the Lofoten Islands are and found all the accommodation was already fully booked up other than 1 or 2 night stays dotted all over the place, and flights were also fully booked. I had left it too late to book and it was also more expensive than I realised especially when I realised public transport wasn’t really good enough to get around easily, so I’d also need to hire a car. So instead I saved up to book that trip for this year, 2020, which I did in November 2019, for departure in August 2020. Of course those plans are now ruined and I’ll have a battle to get the money back, too. (In case you are wondering I had planned to go to Greenland in 2021 but whether that will be possible now, time will tell….)
Anyway back to 2019 having ruled out going to the Lofoten Islands I decided instead to go another place I’ve long wanted to go, the Faroe Islands. The Faroe Islands are located in the North Atlantic with the closest land to them the Shetland Isles and then the north coast of mainland Scotland and they are located roughly mid way between the east coast of Iceland and the west coast of Norway.
The archipelago is made up of 18 major islands, 17 of which are inhabited (though one of the islands, Koltur, has a population of just 1) and a total of 779 islands, islets and skerries. They are an autonomous territory of Denmark and have a quite similar relationship to Denmark as the Channel Islands do to the UK in that they use the Danish Kroner as the currency (but issue their own notes) and have the own Government that makes most of the laws, but Denmark provides defence. Again like the Channel Islands, they are outside of the EU. Some of the islands are connected with tunnels (and more are being built) and others can only be reached by boat or helicopter (there is a scheduled helicopter service between the islands).
The capital, Torshavn is located on the island of Streymoy and is where I would be staying for this trip. Of course getting to such a remote presents a few challenges. In 2019 the only place in the UK to have a direct flight to the islands was Edinburgh. Though the islands airline, Atlantic Airways still claims to be introducing a summer service (running once per week for around 8 weeks) from London Gatwick in addition to Edinburgh for 2020 which now looks wildly optimistic.
Being islands, there are two ways to reach them, by air or by sea. I discounted the latter option because the only ferry service to the islands, operated by Smyril Line runs weekly between Hirtshals in northern Denmark and Seyðisfjörður in eastern Iceland, but it takes around 30 hours from the Danish mainland. This ferry used to also call at Lerwick in the Shetlands Islands but sadly that ceased as of 2007.
So given the time it would take to get there by ferry I opted to fly. Two airlines serve the Faroe Islands, Atlantic Airways (the flag carrier of the Faroe Islands) and SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) though the latter only once per day. Atlantic Airways will however offer a ticket from London Heathrow, routed via Copenhagen as they run several flights daily between the Faroe Islands and Copenhagen but I found it to be very expensive (the flight between London and Copenhagen is operated by SAS). The one daily service with SAS was too early to be able to connect with a flight from the UK, so requiring an overnight stay in Copenhagen, so I ruled that option out.
In the end on the way there I ended up booking two flights with two different airlines independently, first from London Gatwick to Copenhagen on Norwegian and then from Copenhagen to Vágar in the Faroe Islands on Atlantic Airways. This worked out substantially cheaper, which is why I opted to do it that way but it is a risky strategy because in the event the first flight is delayed, re-scheduled or cancelled and this causes me to miss the second flight on to the Faroe Islands I won’t be covered by insurance and will have to sort it all out myself (and buy a new ticket) but the price difference meant I opted to take the risk. It also means if you are taking luggage it can’t be checked through and you have to collect it at Copenhagen and take it back to the checkin desks to check in for the second flight, but I opted to take only hand luggage to avoid that problem.
The flight from London to Copenhagen was early in the day so I had plenty of time to make the connection and I’d still arrive at the same time in the Faroe Islands as if I’d booked a through ticket from London so I hoped that if all went according to plan that would mean I’d have a half day or so to explore the Danish capital, Copenhagen on the way there as a little bonus. This wasn’t actually my first visit to Copenhagen as I went there for a few days for New Year with friends back in 2006 but that was a long time ago and it was obviously much colder in the depths of winter!
So I made my way to Gatwick Airport by train for the flight to Copenhagen. Initially shown as on-time I think it actually left about 45 minutes late, but much of the delay was caught up on the way so that there was only a fairly small delay on reaching Copenhagen. Certainly not enough of a delay to risk my onwards flight to the Faroe Islands which I could see was already on the departure board. Having cleared passport control I headed down to the railway station within the airport to take a train into the centre of Copenhagen, which runs frequently and only takes 15 minutes.
I emerged into the rather grand Copenhagen Central station with it’s wide all over roof (this is only a small part of it, there are several of these arches).
One thing I like in most of Europe (and Copenhagen is no exception) is that most stations in towns and cities have luggage lockers into which you can lock luggage for a small amount of money (sadly in Britain this is not allowed – deemed a terrorist threat – though a few stations do have a manned, but expensive left luggage service). So I took advantage of this to leave behind the non-valuables from my rucksack to reduce the weight I had to carry about for the day, since I’d be coming back to the station to get to the airport later.
The mainland of Denmark is not especially hilly for the most part, so it was a surprise to see a mountain literally across the road, as I stepped outside of the station.
Of course as you can see above, it’s not a real mountain but part of the Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is something of a Copenhagen institution being the second oldest operating amusement park in the world (it opened in 1843) and also the second most popular in the world. It consists of an amusement park, beautifully landscaped gardens and an entertainment venues for numerous concerts etc. It is much loved and occupies a very central location. Denmark of course is well known for a good work-life balance so perhaps that is why you find such a place opposite the main station.
However that would wait until later. First I wanted to see (and re-visit) some of the other sites of Copenhagen.
In fact Copenhagen has some similarities to Amsterdam given it is also well known for canals and bicycles. The canals are indeed very picturesque.
As you can see from the photo above you can also take a tour by boat around the canals, but my short visit didn’t really allow time for that.
Copenhagen is a very pretty city with a lot of interest to see and I enjoyed wandering around it seeing some of the sights.
I had lunch in the park above, enjoying the fact it was a very pleasant temperature for sitting out, unlike my previous visit for New Year!
After lunch I headed for the most famous of all the canals, NyHavn. Here the canal is lined by brightly coloured buildings (many of which house pubs, restaurants or cafes at ground level).
By way of comparison here is a photo I took of here back in January 2006, by way of comparison (though looking in the other direction)! It’s not all that different apart from no sunshine and fewer people.
Having explore NyHavn I wandered around many of the other famous sights in the city.
This building is the city hall.
One of things I didn’t get chance to do on my previous visit to Copenhagen was to visit the Tivoli gardens. There were special events on for much of the time, restricting access and it was otherwise quite expensive considering we were not going to be seeing it at it’s best in the depths of winter. So as I was with friends we opted to miss that out. That was a shame so I took this opportunity to go and visit. True it is expensive to go in (135 Danish Kroner, around £16 at the time of writing) but an annual ticket costs 350DKK (about £42) and is a popular choice with residents I am told.
Having paid to go in however what I found inside was rather wonderful so I do think it is worth it just for the gardens alone.
Here are photos of some of my favourite parts.
The gardens are large, well kept and beautifully themed as you can see above. Of course as well as gardens there are also rides, though these cost extra (you have to buy tokens).
All in all it’s a place of fun for all ages and a lovely place to have in the middle of a city centre like this.
Now my half day or so exploring Copenhagen was over and it was time to head back to the airport for my flight on to the Faroe Islands. I retried my luggage from the locker and took the next train to the airport. I got through security with no problems. I had time for a meal at the airport and having eaten that I soon found the correct gate.
The aircraft parked outside soon confirmed I was indeed in the right place – there was no mistaking where this plane would be going.
This time I very much felt an outsider. Most people on the plane were either Danish or Faroese and so Danish or Faroese was the language being spoken. In fact it had a really community feel to it, with many passengers recognising each other and stopping for a chat. I guess when the entire population of the islands are only around 52,000 people the chances of bumping into someone you know are far higher than would be the case in Britain. I soon had to show myself up as not Danish (or Faroese) when the stewards came around for drinks since they first spoke to me in Danish (I think) and I had to resort to English since I know only a few words of Danish and pretty much nothing of Faroese!
I had a window seat so was able to enjoy the view.
The coast of Denmark looked a little like the Netherlends, flat with artificial flood barriers.
Soon we were out over the sea and sadly it clouded up so I didn’t see anything more for most of the journey (I was wondering if the coast of Scotland might be visible, but it was impossible to tell because of the clouds).
In around 2 hours we were descending towards Vágar airport and finally descended through the clouds. The scenery was just as stunning as I hoped.
Soon the plane touched down and turned round at the end of the runway.
It is worth noting after we had safely stopped that the runway was extended a few years ago as previously only smaller aircraft could safely land here and the airport is also prone to fog, so it was good to make it safely back onto the ground.
I’d also gained an hour again, since Copenhagen is one hour ahead of the UK, but the Faroe Islands are on the same time zone as the UK.
The airport is small so it didn’t take long to get out of the airport. On switching back on my phone I also received a text message welcoming me to the Faroe islands, though the welcome was not quite as nice as you might hope. The Faroe Islands are actually outside the EU. This means EU-wide mobile phone roaming do not apply here and I was informed that telephone calls would be charged at £1.20 per minute (whether outgoing OR incoming), text messages cost 60p and 1MB (yes MB, not GB) of data would cost £1. I’d heard the Faroe Islands were expensive, but in 2019, that kind of pricing is insane! (I was later advised it’s a good idea to buy a local pay and go SIM card if you plan to use your phone to avoid this, instead I used the Wifi in the hotel and didn’t make any calls).
The airport at Vágar is actually around 30 miles from the capital of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn and located on a different island. So I was glad the flight had arrived on time (actually I think it was a little early) because it meant I had plenty of time for the last bus to Tórshavn which was good because I dread to think how much a taxi would cost! Fortunately although on a different island, a tunnel was opened in 2002 to link the island of Vágar (where the airport is located) to Streymoy where the capital, Tórshavn is located. There are in fact quite a few tunnels linking the islands now (and more being planned), so it’s not necessary to use a ferry any more to travel between some of the islands. Whilst roads are generally free to use the tunnels do have a toll, collected by some sort of electronic tag so the bus doesn’t have to stop.
In fact when I went outside the airport the bus was actually there but going the other way, on it’s way to Sørvágur, the village near the airport before coming back and making it’s way back to the capital. Bus tickets on the island can either be purchased on a multi-day smart card or by card or cash from the driver (I think the latter comes with a price premium), but I opted for the latter. The buses between towns on the islands are generally coaches, so more comfortable.
Soon I was on board the bus and heading for the capital. It was well into the evening now but even in August sunset is not until nearly 10pm and twilight lasts to around 11pm so it was still light. The bus journey also offered some wonderful views from the windows.
The bus reached the capital, Torshavn, in around 50 minutes and I got off at the bus terminal which was located by the harbour.
It was quite picturesque. One of the larger ferries that links to the other islands can be seen at the back left of the harbour.
Now I was a little confused. The hotel I had booked was called Hotel Tórshavn imaginatively enough. I had seen from the hotel website what it looked like and that it was located at one corner of the harbour. So it should be easy to spot – except I couldn’t see it. So I set off wandering around the harbour (given the cost of data on my phone, using Google Maps was not my preferred option!).
I headed towards the red buildings you can see on the right side of the harbour above. These old buildings were clustered on the end of a rocky little peninsula, many with grass roofs.
I was astonished to read from the names on the doors of the buildings below that I was actually wandering around the buildings of the Faroe Islands parliament, passing the buildings of the ministry of Environment, Transport, etc and even the office of the Prime Minister. (The days of being able to wander around Downing Street in London are long-gone!).
The area is called Tinganes and is one of the oldest parliaments in the world having first met here in the year 825. However these buildings date from the 16th and 17th Century so although still extremely old, they are not over 1000 years old! Anyway following the street ahead which soon climbed up I quickly realised that Tórshavn has two parts to the harbour and the bigger half was just to the west, which I could now see, along with the hotel I had booked.
I was pleased to find, (as suggested when I booked the hotel) that the staff did indeed speak perfect English and were expecting me. I was soon given the keys to my room which had been described as “Extra Small” when booking, so I wasn’t expecting a lot (did I mention the Faroe Islands are expensive? – hence why I had selected the cheapest room). Whilst most of the hotel had been recently refurbished the lift was old (probably the original one) and I was amused that when calling the lift the button lit up and appeared to say “Fart”.
Given this was against the red button rather than green I took it to mean “No Farting”, always a good plan when in a confined space like a lift!
Anyway my room was indeed small but very comfortable and I had no complaints. I always slept well and the included breakfast was also very good so all in all I was happy with the choice.