In June 2017 I spent a magical four days driving around one of Scandinavia and Europe’s hidden gems: the Faroe Islands. What was so magical about it? Read on and find out in my guide to exploring the Faroes (Føroyar) by car.
If you’d like to have a look at how incredibly gorgeous the Faroe Islands are, check out my blog post The puffins of Mykines. More Faroe Island photo essays coming soon!
What’s it like driving in the Faroe Islands?
It’s fun, but challenging – and probably unlike anywhere you’ve ever driven! Some of the things you’ll encounter while driving in the Faroes include single lane roads, steep winding roads with hair pin bends, single lane tunnels, sub-sea tunnels, sheep, and car ferries. With incredible, breathtaking scenery everywhere, it can be difficult to keep your eyes on the road and maintain concentration!
What level of driving experience do you need?
I have quite a lot of experience driving in Europe – including remote areas of Britain and France – where there are many one lane roads with passing places and roads with limited or poor visibility.
You don’t necessarily need extensive driving experience in these type of conditions for driving in the Faroe Islands, but always remember to drive cautiously and to the conditions.
Good things about driving in the Faroe Islands
- The road network is in good condition.
- Drivers are courteous.
- Towns / directions are generally well sign posted.
- Outside Tórshavn, there isn’t much traffic.
- There are plenty of places to pull off the road to take photos.
Fun but challenging things about driving in the Faroe Islands
The weather can change rapidly
“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is an old Faroese expression and couldn’t be truer! One minute it’s beautiful, sunny and (relatively) warm, then out of nowhere, rain and cloud roll in making visibility poor. When you’re exploring the Faroe Islands by car, always drive to the conditions and always keep your lights on!
There are more than 70,000 sheep in the Faroe Islands, outnumbering the 50,000 human inhabitants. Get accustomed to slowing down on the back roads. Sheep at the side of the road can quickly bolt across from one side to the other when they see a car approaching. Slow down and take care. If you hit a sheep, you must report it immediately to the police in Tórshavn.
Something else will need to get used to is the sound of going over sheep grates. If you’re out of the car taking a photo and another car drives over a sheep grate, it makes a surprisingly loud noise!
Tunnels come in all shapes and sizes in the Faroes. Firstly, there are two sub-sea tunnels: one connects the airport on the western island of Vágar to the island of Streymoy, home to the capital of the Faroe Islands – Tórshavn. The other sub-sea tunnel connects the the island of Eysturoy to the large town of Klaksvík on Borðoy – an ideal base for exploring the northern islands.
The roads into the sub-sea tunnels descends down under the ocean and then rises back up as you approach land – just don’t think too much about the fact that you’re under the sea during the journey!
The toll for the sub-sea tunnels is 100KR, but you only pay for the trip one way, the return trip is free. Check with your hire car company regarding how to pay for tolls. My hire car had a transponder which would automatically bill the hire car company which in turn billed me a few days after my rental finished. If your car doesn’t have one, you can pay for tolls at service stations immediately after the tunnels.
There are plenty of land tunnels – many of them are single lane with passing places. One example is a tunnel I drove through on my first full day in the Faroes Islands: Gasadalstunnillin on the road to Gasadalur, a short distance from Vagar Airport (FAE). Later the same day, I took a car ferry to the island of Kalsoy – known as ‘the flute’ due to its long shape and five tunnels. The tunnels on Kalsoy are also all one way with passing places, one in particular was very bumpy. In the photo below, you can see one of the tunnels in Kalsoy with a car in a passing place in the middle left of the photo. This photo also demonstrates how rustic the tunnels are: carved out of solid rock, often with water dripping down the walls.
When I was in the Faroe Islands, one visitor told me he found it difficult to judge how far away an oncoming vehicle was. An easy way not to have to worry about this is if you follow another car into the tunnel, then it’s up to them to judge the distance while you sit behind them.
When I took my car back to Vagar Airport the day I left, the guy at the hire car company showed me a car (see photos below I snapped on my iPhone) that had been written off by an American tourist who had panicked while driving in a tunnel in Kalsoy. He had misjudged the distance between his car and an oncoming vehicle, panicked, then reversed into another vehicle and into the wall!
On all roads and tunnels that are narrow, there are passing places. Drivers in the Faroe Islands are are very courteous and almost all will give you a friendly wave of acknowledgement if you stop to let someone pass. Now is a good time to talk about the road rules and right of way.
The road rules
If you have experience driving in Europe, there will be little surprises to the standard road rules on the Faroe Islands, however this useful video from Visit Faroe Islands explains right of way on single lane roads and tunnels, as well as a refresher on road rules:
Unless otherwise signed, the speed limit is 50kmh in villages and 80kmh outside the villages. There are quite a few places (especially around Sandvagur / Midvagur) where the speed limit is 60kmh.
There are cameras up on some roads but I was assured by people that are no speed cameras on the islands – however if you do get caught speeding there are severe penalties.
Drive with your lights on
It’s recommended that you always drive with your lights on in the Faroe Islands. Your car will probably have an auto setting for the headlights, but I found when entering tunnels it sometimes took a few seconds for them to come on, so I left mine on permanently.
The dramatic, stunning scenery in the Faroe Islands can definitely be a challenge as it’s sometimes hard to keep your eyes on the road while driving!
There are waterfalls and water views everywhere, but luckily there are plenty of places you can pull over safely to admire them and take photos.
Driving on the right with left hand drive cars
Whether or not this is a challenge will depend on which country you are from and your driving experience.
If you’re from Australia, Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, or any other country that drives on the left, remember you’ll be driving on the right in the Faroe Islands. If you’re used to driving automatic cars, remember that most rental cars are manual. That means you’ll be changing gears with your right hand instead of your left: this can feel a bit strange the first time you ever do it! It can also feel very strange going around roundabouts a different way (anti-clockwise instead of clockwise). Remember, take it slow and you’ll be fine.
If you plan to get a car ferry, here’s my top tip: get there early! I turned up only 10 minutes before the Kalsoy car ferry left Klaksvík and was lucky to get on board. There was only a tiny space left for my car, and if it was up to my judgement I would’ve stayed in Klaksvík! Luckily a friendly ferry crew member ushered me into the space slowly as a crowd of onlookers watched in amazement as my car squeezed through a gap between the side of the ferry and a van. That’s my silver rental car on the left in the image below – trust me, the space was smaller than it looked! Other ferries – such as the number 90 to Nólsoy – are much bigger and can take many more cars.
Hiring a car
Hiring a car in the Faroe Islands is not cheap, but certainly worth the cost. You can explore at your own pace and stop whenever and wherever you want to admire and be stunned by the amazing scenery. There is also a good network of buses and ferries, so plan your itinerary out in advance – you may be able to return your hire car and rely on public transport for your last few days on the islands instead.
If you’re going in summer, it’s best to reserve a car weeks or months in advance. With the Faroes experiencing an upsurge in popularity, the lower priced cars for rent are often the ones booked first by budget-conscious travellers. Even the cheapest vehicle available is still not cheap compared to British or Australian hire car companies!
62 degrees North car rental
I hired a car from 62 degrees North. They have a desk near the front doors of the airport – it’s straight ahead as you come out of immigration / customs, or if you’re walking into the airport, just inside the doors to the right. Staff are friendly and helpful, though there may be a queue at peak times.
Next door to 62 degrees North is an office for Visit Faroe Islands – make sure you grab the free map of the island which folds out and shows the buttercup routes or scenic routes. This is also a great opportunity to ask any questions before you head off.
Next to the Visit Faroe Islands office is an ATM – this is where I obtained my Faroese currency when I arrived. I always withdraw money from ATMs rather than changing it at rip off prices in airports.
I hired an almost brand new Toyota Auris – a small to medium car which was plenty big enough for me, my suitcase and camera gear. I always take photos and video of the car before I drive off and if possible, have a member of the rental car staff with me to look over the car too. If in any doubt of reported damage, get the staff member to inspect straight away and make a note of it.
The first thing I noticed when I started the car was that the seat warmers were on, nice! I ended up turning them off as it wasn’t that cold (around 8-12 degrees Celsius when I was there in June 2017). I only turned them back on once in four days one afternoon when it was super chilly!
My rental car had a USB socket which was brilliant as I could charge my iPhone on the go, but it also played my Spotify tracks and Google Map directions through the car speakers. I was sad to sad goodbye to it after four days!
Most rental agencies rent out portable Wifi devices at a cost of around 69DKK per day ($8USD/11GBP/$14AUD). It was my plan to rent one of these devices, but before leaving the UK I bought a Vodafone pay as you go sim which gave me 12GB of data over 30 days in 50 European destinations including the Faroe Islands. This worked well for using data including Google Maps, although I was unable to make any outbound calls for an unknown reason. Every guesthouse / B&B I stayed at had WiFi, as did the Airport.
Getting around and finding your way
It’s hard to get lost on the islands, towns and directions are well marked. The only place I got remotely lost was driving around the one way system of streets in Tórshavn!
Using a GPS takes out the guess work out and my choice to use is in the Faroe Islands is Google Maps. Apple maps showed me where I was on the Faroe Islands, but no matter how many times I tried, it refused to provide any directions for me. Google Maps on the other hand, was excellent for navigation. While driving, my Spotify playlists were frequently interrupted with the welcome sound of singsong directions of Faroese place names.
There are plenty of places in the Faroe Islands to park your car to stop and check out the views, take a photo or have a snack. Remember to always exercise caution and make sure you’re well clear of the road when you pull over. The only place I saw timed parking was in Tórshavn and Klaksvík. There are signs up along parking bays showing how many hour you can stay for free in that park. Many small villages such as Gjogv and Gasadalur have parking outside of them as the streets are too narrow, so park up and explore the villages by foot.
Inside the windshield of your hire car there will parking timer disc. Spin the parking disc to indicate your arrival time.
Remember that map of the Faroe Islands I told you to grab at the tourist office? Unfold it and take a good look – it lists scenic ‘buttercup’ routes which are well worth taking instead of faster roads.
Do you have any tips for driving in the Faroe Islands?
I’d love to know! I plan on heading back to the islands for a few days next time I’m in Europe.