I am literally at a standstill, overlooking the most incredible valley in the faraway Faroe Islands: the Danish-dominated archipelago located between Iceland and the Shetlands. There is a windswept native sheep watching me closely as a breathtaking backdrop of a 19th century Lutheran church gives way to a plunging valley line. Saksun, as the name suggests, is one of the most popular attractions in the Faroe Islands, but here, on a wintry February afternoon, there is no one but me in what is l one of the most amazing places I have ever seen. The ideal place for a hike, therefore. But there’s only one thing stopping me: a turnstile, a credit card machine and an entry fee of 75 crowns (€10). Welcome to the Faroe Islands, fully loaded.
Like many destinations around the world right now, including neighboring Iceland, the Faroe Islands have almost fallen victim to their own social media success, with many of their trending attractions paying a price, ironically for their popularity. Now, pay stations on a handful of the country’s most popular hiking trails are just one way the Nordic nation is trying to curb overtourism – and erosion – in some of its most popular places. trends while encouraging tourists to stroll to less-visited gems. somewhere else.
It has also prompted the country to consider which places it showcases more online.
“When we started using Instagram, we quickly realized the power of the platform and how it could affect tourist habits,” says Súsanna Sørensen of Visit Faroe Islands, the country’s official tourist board.
“So for a few years we have been very aware of the impact of Instagram and we have been trying to move visitors to other less visited sites and at the same time not posting images from the most popular places.
“Recently, we have also broadened the scope of our content and to a greater extent are posting stories about people in various parts of the country, so it’s not just about beautiful landscapes, but also about our culture and our inhabitants.”
That people are central to the profile of the country is also key to the sustainable model.
“Any development should first be good for the locals,” adds Súsanna.
“The idea being that a country that is good for its citizens is a good place to visit. Accordingly, we try to involve municipalities and local communities in the development. We are also very aware that there is a limit to the number of visitors a small country like the Faroe Islands can have, and we try to attract those who understand us as a destination and fit our DNA.
The country is so aware of the impact of tourism on its natural environment that it even holds an annual maintenance closure campaign, one week in May, when the country closes some of its best hiking routes for maintenance. After applying via an online lottery, 100 international volunteers are then welcomed to the island for the campaign and help repair hiking trails eroded by their predecessors. It has proven hugely popular with over 4,000 international applicants, myself included, who put their names in the hat.
“Maybe he captured today’s zeitgeist,” says Súsanna.
“When we first launched the initiative, we worried about whether people would actually invest their precious time to travel to another country and help. We don’t have to worry, which has become evident on the first day of registration, when thousands of people signed up. We closed again this weekend, and it was moving to see the enthusiasm and pride with which the 11 different teams took on the tasks .
With regard to traditional tourists traveling to the northern archipelago, the Faroe Islands advises tourists to its islands to leave as few imprints as possible on the natural landscape while embracing and supporting local cultures.
“Through our website, social media and brochures, we try to educate our visitors in several ways. Remind people to respect locals, use designated paths and look out for their own safety, to name a few examples,” advises Súsanna.
“But also to engage with the country you are visiting, for example visiting local families through our heimablídni (which translates to home-based hospitality) where you as a traveler can dine with local families and so have a good understanding of the life lived here.”
This touristic attention crowned by an incredibly beautiful destination made my trip to the Faroe Islands one of my biggest travel surprises for several years. I’ve stayed in a Hilton hotel with a traditional grass roof, dined farm-fresh Faroese tapas at Katrina Christiansen’s phenomenal restaurant, and shopped at artisan wool stores that place local fashion sustainable in the foreground. But the philosophy also proves that even when traveling to the Faroe Islands, it’s always best not to follow the herd.
I flew to the Faroe Islands with Atlantic Airways (atlanticairways.com) which departs from Copenhagen and Edinburgh. Expect to pay around €350 return from either city.
On the ground, I stayed at the Hilton Garden for €160 a night and there are some great Airbnb options on the islands too. In all, there are 18 islands in the archipelago but I have chosen to focus on just two; Streymoy and Vagar.
For travel tips and more about the Closed for Maintenance campaign, see visitfaroeislands.com