My first full day in the Faroe Islands and today I was off to visit the island of Mykines. This is the western most of the Faroe Islands (as this map shows). I was staying in the capital of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn on the island of Streymoy. That means to get to Mykines I have to cross to the neighbouring island of Vágar first and then onto Mykines. So getting there is quite tricky and that’s why I was doing this on my first day.
Mykines is known for it’s puffins and is probably the most popular of the islands with visitors, so I was very keen to get there. Some of the Faroe Islands are connected together by tunnels. Mykines is not one of them. Being the western most of the islands it faces the full force of the Atlantic ocean and that means sea conditions can be very rough, the weather can be very changeable and it is prone to fog. This means it’s fairly common for the boat service over to the island to be cancelled. Sometimes the weather can change so quickly (and often without being forecast) that visitors are left stranded on the island when the return boat cannot run. For this reason the advice is if you want to go to Mykines, go early in your trip so that if you do get stranded there you aren’t going to miss your flight home and that you should not be surprised to have your plans disrupted.
So that is exactly what I planned to do, to go there on my first full day. I nearly didn’t make it there at all! You see most of the islands that don’t have tunnels between them are linked by ferry services provided by Strandfaraskip, the islands public transport authority who also run the bus service. Most islands are also linked by a helicopter service, operated by Atlantic Airways.
Unfortunately Mykines does not have an ordinary scheduled ferry service.. Instead it has a passenger only service that runs a limited schedule and must be booked in advance. The helicopter must also be booked in advance and is only available to tourists for a 1-way booking (unless staying overnight) so in any case you must use the boat in one direction. I hadn’t realised this and around 10 days before my trip I attempted to book the boat to Mykines and found that all the trips for every day I was there was fully booked. Disaster! However I did spot that for the week prior to my arrival a second daily “extra trip” had been offered but it was not yet scheduled for the time I was there. The other problem I had was that even if this extra trip ran when I was there it got back to Sørvágur too late for me to catch the last bus back to Tórshavn. However careful study of the rather complicated bus timetable revealed the last bus back from the airport was later and the airport was not far from Sørvágur. Indeed looking at the bus timetable in the other direction showed a bus ran from Tórshavn to Sørvágur but oddly there was no bus back from Sørvágur. I theorised this bus would likely run back to Tórshavn but was probably not advertised from Sørvágur so that if the bus arrived at the airport and no one wanted to go on to Sørvágur then the bus could turn around at the airport instead and so this was not advertised as returning from Sørvágur. A posting on the TripAdvisor forum got the response that this it was likely that the bus would in fact start from Sørvágur because there was no bus depot in Sørvágur but no one was certain if this could be relied on. However looking at the distance I suspected given my scheduled arrival time in Sørvágur and the fact there appeared to be a footpath all the way that I would (just) have enough time to walk from Sørvágur to the airport in time for the last bus, provided everything ran to schedule.
So I was very lucky that a few days later “Extra Trips” appeared for the dates I was there and I got booked on one the trip, so my plan was coming together. I had booked a ticket on the 13:00 departure for Mykines from Sørvágur and returning at 19:00. That meant I had plenty of time to get to Sørvágur. Fortunately the islands of Streymoy and Vágar are connected by a tunnel so there is a direct bus all the way. The downside is that it’s not all that frequent and I could depart Torshavn at 9:15am and arrive at Sørvágur and hour later, but the next bus did not depart until 12:40pm so would not get me there in time for 1pm. So I had to take the early bus and had nearly 3 hours in Sørvágur before the ferry, so I hoped it was a nice place! The alternative of a taxi was prohibitively expensive unless I could find someone to share one, the bus it was.
So I headed down to the bus station in time for the number 300 bus to Sørvágur. At least I knew where the bus station was! On the Faroe Islands you can buy some sort of multi-day smart card or buy single tickets from the driver. Which is better value depends on how much you are going to travel. I wasn’t sure so I opted for a single ticket from the driver. The bus was busy and there was already a queue when I got there. I got on the bus but more and more people were arriving and soon, after the time we were meant to depart peopled stopped getting on. The driver walked down the bus and confirmed that the bus was now full (standing passengers are not permitted as the out-of-town buses are coaches). He didn’t want to leave people behind so he came up with a plan. Anyone not going to Sørvágur or the airport should get off this bus and get on the number 400 bus departing from the stand next to us, which had space. That left room for most of the passengers that wanted to get on but it was still full so he agreed with the driver they would rendezvous again at the point the bus routes diverged and “swap” back any passengers that had been forced onto that bus instead (he seemed confident there would be room on our bus by then).
I was beginning to wonder how reliable the Faroe Islands bus service was at this point (though this turned out to be the only problem I had). All this faffing about meant we left late. It turned out many of the passengers on board were booked onto the morning trip to Mykines. There was meant to be 15 minutes between the bus arriving and the ferry departing but now we were late leaving, we’d lost all the margin! The driver assured us over the tannoy he would phone through the ferry company and ask them to wait if we didn’t make up time. It wasn’t a problem for me and in some ways I was not glad I was on the later boat as if I’d not been I’d be getting a bit stressed at this point.
Despite the busyness I had got on early enough to secure a window seat and the views from the bus were of astonishingly beautiful scenery. Don’t ask me to name where most of these were taken because I haven’t got a clue!
The bus ran in convoy with the number 400 (due to depart 15 minutes after our bus). Sure enough at the tunnel to the island of Vagar, the passengers swapped to the correct buses and now there was just enough room for everyone, though it caused further delay especially by those who had luggage to load (as the bus went to the airport). When we reached the village centre I got off rather than go on to the boat departure point, since I’d have plenty of time to find that and wanted to look around the village.
I also found a shop to buy lunch which I decided I’d have before the trip to Mykines to save time when I got there. What I was going to do for dinner I had no idea as it would be gone 9:30pm by the time I got back to my hotel.
In case I had any doubts, Sørvágur turned out to be beautiful. There are few settlements on the Faroe Islands so this is probably one of the bigger ones, though it is only a village. The village is however located at the landward end of Sorvagsfjord. The village itself is beautfiful with many pretty and brightly coloured buildings. The coast is even better. Here there is a black-sand beach (the islands are volcanic), backed with some dunes and a couple of streams that flow out over the beach. Out to sea I could see the island of Mykines (and some other rock stacks). Another point to note is I had been very lucky with the weather. It was almost unbroken sunshine and extremely calm. I don’t think weather like this is all that common in the Faroe Islands.
I was however still a little stressed by the return journey. I decided to walk up to the airport and back and time how long it would take. Then I knew if I had enough time or if I should make alternative plans. I followed what I thought were the correct roads, soon seeing signs for the airport and found a track (perhaps a former road) that ran alongside the road providing a traffic free route once I left the village. It was a proper route, it even had seats to sit and take in the view at a couple of points. I worked out that if the ferry was on time given the time it would take me to walk I’d have a little over 10 minutes to spare. Should be enough (just). As a contingency I also grabbed the business cards of a couple of local taxi companies I could call if my plan didn’t come together.
As I left the airport I happened to pass the end of the runway just as one of the few daily flights took off. Being this close to a plane as it takes off is very impressive! So here is one of Atlantic Airways planes taking to the skies, probably heading for Copenhagen.
Before I even reached the fence at the end of the runway Sørvágur had come back into view (as you can see, it’s not a huge distance).
The big rock in the Fjord is my destination, Mykines. The ferry goes from the left side of the village below those cylinders on the cliffs.
Having satisfied myself I also knew where the boats were going to depart from (having also walked there earlier) when I got back to the village I had a walk around the village and then settled in the dunes at the back of the beach to have lunch taking in the breath taking views.
After lunch I headed around to the ferry departure point (terminal would be stretching things, I’m not even sure there was anywhere to wait undercover). It was crowded and chaotic. The booking system seemed to be a case of telling your name showing your ticket and the ferry staff ticking you off on a list!
At this point I should mention another thing. The Faroe Islands are part of Scandinavia. Most Scandinavian countries (including Deknmark) have a right to roam meaning not only are there a good network of footpaths and tracks there is also a right to roam on most other land. Sadly the Faroe Islands do not have a right to roam. Land is private and you can only walk on footpaths. In addition it is generally only the footpaths that link settlements that are considered public and you have a legal right to use. There are many more paths than these but most of them are on private land. In general they are free to use and not restricted – but that is rapidly changing. The Faroe Islands apparently had a campaign to try to attract more tourists a few years ago. It was very successful. Some would say too successful. Whilst many locals like the increased tourism (or at least, the money it brings in) there are some that don’t and apparently some landowners have been putting up “Tourists go home” and “No more tourists” signs around the islands (I didn’t see any, though) amidst complaints about trespassing, littering and other such problems. In truth I suspect that tourists money are welcomed but not always the tourists themselves! Some have started to cash in and one way this is happening is the introduction of “hiking fees”. Yes on an increasing number of footpaths on the Faroe Islands you now have to pay to walk on them. Perhaps the worst example of this is the walk to Lake Leitisvatn. A 3km walk that was very famous for it’s natural beauty. This was free to walk until earlier in 2019 when a fee of 200DKK (around £25) was introduced to walk it. It’s a little under 3km. £25 for a 3km is frankly outrageous. I can appreciate lots of tourists cause erosion and the land owner might want to put ropes up to keep people on the path so it’s not unreasonable to get some money back for that, but £25 for a 3km walk is quite ridiculous and exploitative, there is nothing else there (no visitor centre, cafe or anything like that). For this reason, I didn’t do that walk.
You might wonder why I’m saying all that now and the answer is that unfortunately Mykines was another such place that was now also the subject to a “hiking fee” if you want to walk anywhere but the small village. In 2019 the hiking fee for Mykines was 100DKK. Not unreasonable for the whole day I guess though I’d still rather not pay for the simple pleasure of going for a walk. To give an indication of how quickly these fees are appearing (and increasing) on the islands, the Mykines hiking fee has gone up to 250DKK for 2020 (around £30, I dread to thing what it will be in 2021….) whilst by way of comparison the return ferry fee is 120DKK (so it costs more than twice as much to walk on the island as it does to get there!). Very sadly ripping off tourists seems be becoming an increasingly popular activity on the Faroe Islands.
So another thing that was checked on the boat was whether you had paid the “hiking fee”. It’s not included in the boat fare and anyone not paying was advised they’d need to pay there if they wanted to leave the village. I had paid this in advance on the website.
We then set off for the islands. Sadly as it was so crowded when I got to the ferry departure point all the space around the edge of the boat was taken meaning I had to mostly take photos over peoples head. The trip there was astonishingly beautiful, as we set off from Sørvágur.
Soon the boat was heading out into the open Fjord.
Nearing the mouth of the Fjord, an impressive rock with an arch through it came into view.
I didn’t know it at the time, but soon we’d be going right through that arch … here we go!
Once through the views continued to impress as we were now out of the Fjord into the open sea.
The captain had another treat in store for us. As we reached the island there is a very narrow rocky inlet, in a sort of U-shape. It’s just big enough for a boat to go through – and I do mean just. That is what was happening next.
Here you can appreciate the scale of the cliffs.
Now we were heading for the quay. You can see that the island is in fact split in two with a bridge spanning the gap.
After what turned out to be a more exhilarating boat trip than I expected, we were now arriving at the small harbour.
The first sight is of … lots of steps! (This isn’t the place to come if you don’t like exercise).
Now off the boat, it was time to explore.
It is also worth noting that the Hiking Fee document stated you should return to the village by 5pm and not use the paths after that time. I didn’t know if this was enforced or not, so I didn’t want to hang around in the village too long because if it was, I’d have 2 hours to explore the village after the paths closed (in reality they didn’t close and no one seemed to pay any attention to the 5pm rule).
Now it was time to climb all those steps!
The village is actually very small and the island not much bigger. The island is 4 square miles approximately whilst the permanent population is just 10 people all living in the single village. There are however far more buildings than that, I suspect many are second homes or provide tourist accommodation.
The village and indeed the whole island feels like the 21st century hasn’t reached here (and perhaps not the 20th Century, either!). Life here is simple. There are no roads or cars (though the paths in the village are tarmac) and the people live in fairly simple houses, many with grass roofs. It really does feel like the way of life here has changed very little over the centuries except for more tourists and the daily helicopter service perhaps. I’m not even sure if there is mobile reception (given the roaming costs I kept mine on flight mode whilst on the island).
The grass roofs are very effective, as the roofs seem to blend in with the stunning scenery behind.
I didn’t linger in the village however as I wanted to explore the paths, taking a circular route. I was irritated to find at the gate to the paths there was no one present to check if I’d paid the “hiking fee” and no one checked all day, which made me feel it was even more about ripping off tourists! However that is the only negative I have of my visit here since the island is stunning.
Heading out the village you can see how small it is.
Apart from the lighthouse these are the only buildings on the island. I soon reached the cliffs on the north coast.
Sadly there is no permitted path to the right, so I had to turn left instead (the eastern part of the island is largely inaccessible to visitors).
Sheep roam much of the land and as you near the western most tip, as the land narrows, you find many of the sea birds that nest here.
Here is where I began to see puffins. Many many puffins!
They are very cute birds and great fun to watch. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen puffins of course (The Farne Islands and Skomer Islands being two in the UK) but it’s still a pleasure to see these lovely birds.
They live most of their lives at sea, only coming onto land to nest in burrows in the cliffs.
Here you can see the burrows in the grass of the cliffs.
The view east was stunning, too.
Soon I had to drag myself away to the lighthouse, the western most point of the island.
Plenty more puffins were to be seen on the way.
Finally here is the lighthouse, almost the western most point of the Faroe Islands (there are a few rocks a bit further west so this isn’t quite the most western point, but it’s close).
You’ll notice the lighthouse actually has to be held in place with metal “ropes”, as it gets so windy.
The island is not just home to puffins there are also gannets on the rocks just off shore of here. Many, many gannets!
It really is paradise for wildlife and anyone that likes to watch it here.
Eventually it was time to drag myself away and head back to the village (I was initially a bit worried about the possible 5pm curfew).
The island is actually split in two with a narrow chasm along the island, linked with a bridge.
Today it was calm but I imagine in a storm it can be rather difficult to cross the bridge! Safely over the views ahead were stunning.
As I neared the village the only modern intrusion made it’s presence known – the arrival of the daily (mostly) helicopter.
Frankly that’s the only hint this is the 21st Century on the island!
Of course it provides a vital life-line especially when the weather and tide conditions make it impossible for boats to get out to the island.
Now back in the village of course there was nothing to enforce the 5pm footpath closure and many people continued to walk the paths. Anyway now the first boat of the day had departed there were fewer tourists around so the village was now very peaceful.
What a beautiful place it is with these simple wooden grass-roofed houses.
The harbour too is quite impressive, but the narrow inlet between cliffs is I’m sure difficult to access in rough seas.
Now my thoughts turned to dinner. I was pleased to find the island does have a cafe come bar presumably it is helped to survive (given the tiny resident population) by day trippers and the people staying on the island. There aren’t all that many of those so the choice of food turned out to be a choice of “Hot Dog” or “Steak Sandwich”. Maybe there was a vegetarian option too I don’t remember. So that was my dinner sorted. They also had cake. I ordered a Steak Sandwich (entirely in English, I’m afraid). When my food arrived it seems something had been lost a bit in translation of the menu since it turned out a “steak sandwich” was actually a beef burger! No matter, I like beef burgers and it was a nice one, so that was good.
Now suitably fed I wandered around on a signed footpath around a field at the other side of the village before it was time to head back for the boat.
The journey back was direct this time, but that still gave a wonderful opportunity to see the stunning coast in the early evening sun.
On the way we passed another tiny settlement on the island of Vagar with 4 grass-roofed houses.
The boat arrived back at the harbour in time and I managed to be one of the first off. I now had to make it up to the airport. Funnily enough there were about 15 people all heading to the airport from the boat for the last bus, all walking at great speed. As hoped I made it with a little over 10 minutes to spare. I was also in luck since I popped into the terminal to buy a drink and use the toilet and as I did so was met by an American just about to board the last flight of the day to Copenhagen. He had a bus ticket that was valid for the rest of the day that was therefore no more use to him and he wanted to give away and was asking anyone going passed if they could use a bus ticket. Everyone said no until I walked passed and he was delighted to find I could use it (as was I!). So I was lucky that my bus journey back to Torshavn was paid for by that helpful American visitor, thank you for that kind gesture.
Again it was a lovely ride back to Torshavn and the bus was only half full this time. The bus arrived back at Torshavn at around 21:30 so I had a quick look around the pretty town before heading back to my hotel.
What a wonderful day it had been. The scenery had been absolutely stunning throughout. I couldn’t have asked for better weather and the trip had all gone smoothly other than the full bus on the way there. The bird life certainly seemed to be putting on a show with such huge numbers of puffins and gannets in particular to be seen. The scenery itself was more spectacular than I had expected too (and I knew it would be good). The island of Mykines had such a lovely timeless quality to it, it’s a great place to unwind and experience life largely unchanged for centuries. I very highly recommended a visit.
(As an aside for anyone reading this at the time of publication (June 2020) that would now like to visit the Faroe Islands, having closed the borders to all but residents, the Faroe Islands will re-open to British and European visitors from the 27th June 2020, though you will be required to either present a negative Covid 19 test from within the last 5 days on arrival or take a Covid-19 test on arrival at the airport and give a negative result to avoid quarantine. The test at the airport on arrival will initially be free but will then cost DKK 390 from the 11th July. Of course there is still a 14-day quarantine when returning back to the UK, unfortunately but I do hope that will also go very soon and it will be possible to take a holiday there again without restrictions).