If you’ve heard of the Faroe Islands, an archipelago of 18 islands huddled in the North Atlantic, it’s likely because of its claim to fame that gets top – and sole – billing: Nature predominates in this land where there are no bad views.
Craggy mountains, raging waterfalls or undulating grassy expanses are around every turn of the road. The weather can be capricious and sometimes wild. Winds blustering upwards of 70 mph transform cascades into vertical, skyward plumes. Your views are only obscured when thick blankets of mist settle in like a gauzy veil. (No wonder the Faroese have more than three dozen words for "fog.")
The harbor in Torshavn — Photo courtesy of iStock / Neurobite
It’s easy to become so enwrapped in this breathtaking nature-scape that visiting Torshavn, the capital, is often an afterthought. That would be a mistake. Spread along the coast of Streymoy, the largest of the Faroe Islands, Torshavn, with just some 20,000 residents, feels more like a small town, though one with big city sophistication. It effectively melds the traditional with the contemporary, whether it’s the cuisine, music, art, design or architecture.
Sissal Kristiansen, co-owner of Ullvoruhusid, showing off one of her stylish jackets — Photo courtesy of Beinta á Torkilsheyggi
With more sheep than people in this archipelago, wool sweaters are ubiquitous. But, for unique woolen goods, look no further than two shops owned by Faroese women. At Ullvoruhusid ("wool wear house"), select a stylish jacket or sweater designed by either of the co-owners: Sissal Kristiansen and Johanna av Steinum.
Relying on an earth tone palette, Sissal’s Shisa Brand is inspired by both the Faroe Islands and Japan, a country she regularly visits. Johanna often embellishes her creations with colorful beadwork.
If you’re in the market for hip streetwear, or something delicate, browse Gudrun & Gudrun where you may find a diaphanous mohair dress, or a wool hoodie with velvet accents.
One of numerous abstract ceramic pieces found at Leirlist — Photo courtesy of Jeanine Barone
Stretching along a moss-green knoll overlooking the city center, the contemporary glass, but sod-roofed Nordic House is the dominant cultural institution in the Faroe Islands. Here, you can catch Faroese and Nordic theater, music, dance, cinema and art exhibitions.
Another venue melding art and nature is the National Gallery of the Faroe Islands that’s built on the edge of Vidarlundin Park. The grassy lawn displays bronzes by noted sculptor Hans Pauli Olsen. Inside, check out the vibrant temporary exhibitions, and the series of rooms hung with the moody seascapes of Samuel Joensen-Mikines, perhaps the Faroes’ most renowned artist, and other paintings from their vast permanent collection.
Make an appointment to visit Hansina Iversen’s studio that’s housed inside a shipyard ironworks building on the harbor front. This respected, contemporary Faroese painter often favors bold colors in her vivid abstracts, though now she’s playing with black hues.
Nearby, Steinprent, one of Scandinavia’s only lithographic workshops, displays the works of mostly Scandinavian artists in their ground-floor gallery. Upstairs, watch how lithography is done the traditional way: with a hand roller and a limestone. You can purchase any of more than 2,000 original lithographs, woodcuts, linocuts and etchings here.
Another artist worth visiting is ceramicist Gudrid Poulsen who works in stoneware, taking inspiration from the colors of the volcanic landscape. She creates unique plates, cups, and abstract pieces in Leirlist ("clay art"), her atelier. Snag one of her coffee cups glazed with local basalt stone.
The dramatic views from one of the guest rooms at the Havgrim Seaside Hotel — Photo courtesy of Jack Harding
Crowning a gentle slope that rises behind the capital, the turf-roofed Hotel Foroyar appears sculpted from the grassy, wildflower-bedecked surface. With 129 minimalist, sun-splashed rooms, this glass spectacle shows off paintings from local artists, especially in the public spaces.
A short walk from downtown, the Havgrim Seaside Hotel feels far removed from city life. This 14-room, whitewashed property dating to 1948 sits on a windswept coast. Whether in the sunny restaurant or airy guest rooms, picture windows offer never-ending views of the dramatic weather.
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Paname Cafe has outdoor seating in front, as well as in the backyard terrace — Photo courtesy of Paname Cafe
Abutting a prestigious old bookstore, the two-room Paname Cafe is a cosmopolitan eatery whose global menu includes freshly baked breads, fluffy croissants, Asian noodles, skyr with rhubarb, organic espresso, Faroese beers and French wines. In nice weather, dine al fresco in the backyard terrace ringed with grass-roofed sheds that once held hay and cows.
At Koks, the presentation is as impressive as the locally-sourced food, like this mahogany clam that's accompanied by a puree of kale and kelp jelly — Photo courtesy of Jeanine Barone
If you’re a foodie, take a 20-minute taxi ride to Koks, a two-star Michelin restaurant in the unlikeliest of venues: A century-old renovated former farmer’s house beside scenic Lake Leynar. You’ll spend three-plus hours in this multi-room, rustic restaurant savoring the 18-course menu that revolves around seasonal – sometimes foraged – ingredients, such as a mahogany clam, served with kelp jelly and kale puree.
Numerous paths network the petite expanse of Vidarlundin Park — Photo courtesy of Jeanine Barone
Known as "The Plantation," Vidarlundin Park is a bucolic, urban woodland, dense with lodgepole pines, Sitka spruce, cottonwoods, alder and other trees. Stroll a network of paths, sometimes paralleling a slim river. Bring along binoculars for spying myriad bird species, such as collared doves, northern fulmars, and great black-backed gulls.
If you’ve got two hours, or prefer only trekking part way along a trail, lace up your hiking boots and head to a farmhouse on the outskirts of Torshavn for the atmospheric path to Kirkjubour, a historic village with a 13th-century church. Stacks of stones (cairns) point the way, across meadows filled with wildflowers, streams, and boulder fields with enchanting views of a rugged 1,000-foot-high mountain.