The Faroe Islands are so small you have to zoom pretty far in on Google Maps for them to even appear. But located between Norway and Iceland, there’s nothing small about this archipelago. Full of dramatic escarpments and sloping green hillsides, these 18 rocky islands are among the most rugged and overlooked destinations in the world.

With a total population of just under 50,000, the self-governing islands technically belong to Denmark but very much have their own culture, food, aesthetic, language, and even flag. Small fishing villages are connected by green country roads that wind precariously around cliff sides — often without guardrails. It can sometimes be frightening, but driving is really the only way to see the Faroes. After all, a land built for adventure should be explored with as much freedom as possible. Here’s how to road trip through the Faroe Islands.

Driving in the Faroe islands

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Some countries lend themselves to being explored by car. If you’ve ever road tripped through Iceland, you know what I’m talking about. Although the rugged, ancient landscapes of the two destinations may feel similar, road tripping through the Faroe Islands is an entirely different experience. In Iceland and many other countries, a road trip means choosing a starting point, renting a car, and setting off for a week in one direction, or making a giant loop to eventually return to that starting point.

In the Faroe Islands, everything is so close together that you’re never more than a two-hour drive away from anything you might want to see. Many of the main islands are connected by underwater tunnels, and those that aren’t can be easily accessed by car ferries. This means you can base yourself centrally in the capital of Torshavn and launch your adventures from there each day.

Of course, you could travel via camper or try your luck finding accommodations in the smaller, far-flung villages, but there are very few hotels in the Faroe Islands, and the vast majority of lodgings, restaurants, bars, and shops are located in Torshavn.

Arriving in the Faroe Islands

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Flights to the Faroe Islands only operate from Edinburgh, Bergen, Reykjavik, and Copenhagen, and land at Vagar Airport on the island of Vagar. When you land, pick up your car from the rental building next door and drive 45 minutes to Torshavn, which is located on the largest island, Streymoy.

You certainly won’t be starved for impressive scenery on the drive, but for a quick excursion right after you arrive, stay on the island of Vagar and head 10 minutes west from the airport to the town of Bøur. There you’ll find viewpoints of the islands’ most iconic sea stacks: Tindhólmur and Drangarnir. Another 10 minutes will bring you to the Múlafossur waterfall. It’s only a five-minute walk along the cliff’s edge until you can see the falls, which tumble 100 feet down a precipice.

Once you do set a course for Streymoy Island and the capital, Torshavn, you can choose from several hotels in the city center. If you’d prefer a more country-esque experience and fantastic views of the city and the ocean, check out Hotel Føroyar about five minutes from town. Built into the hillside with tiers of green roofs, the modern hotel is a half-hour walk from the city and a comfortable base for the rest of your adventures.

Streymoy and Eysturoy Islands

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As you look down on the small coastal fishing villages from high mountain roads, or stop to walk their streets, you’ll quickly realize that these aren’t typical tourist destinations. You won’t find elaborate tourism infrastructure with museums, visitor centers, or hiking trails marked by giant signs. The larger villages are home to a few dozen people, while the smaller ones might have populations as low as seven. That’s what makes a road trip here so unique.

One of the most breathtaking islands, and also one of the easiest to access, is Eysturoy — right next to Streymoy. Drive northeast from Torshavn and pass through the underwater tunnel to Eysturoy, then head north along the water to Funningur and Gjov. Whether you choose to explore Funningur, a town of 70, or simply photograph it from the mountainside viewpoint, you’ll be looking at a perfect example of a classic Faroese town. Situated on the banks of an inlet, in the shadow of a dramatic green valley, Funningur gives you a sense of the many more stunning vistas you’ll experience.

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Just 15 minutes farther down the road, the town of Gjogv has only around 50 residents, but it’s one of the island’s most popular spots for hiking and wildlife. About an hour’s hike from town will bring you to the Ambadalur Valley — a massive expanse of untouched green land with fantastic views of Búgvin, the largest sea stack in the Faroe Islands. Gjogv’s seaside cliffs are also home to a small puffin colony.

If you want to be absolutely certain of seeing puffins, you’ll have to go farther north to the island of Mykines, but that requires a ferry and may not be quite as convenient. The puffins near Gjov are less numerous, and appear less frequently, but if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse before you continue your journey west.

Your journey from Torshavn to Gjov, even with a stop in Funningur and a short hike to Ambadalur, probably won’t take more than a few hours. That means it’s probably time for lunch. The problem is, there isn’t an abundance of restaurants in the Faroe Islands, as the Faroese are largely accustomed to cooking their own food and eating at home.

That’s what makes the Sand Cafe in Tjørnuvík such a welcome sight. Just a 45-minute drive from Gjogv, Tjørnuvík is located on the northeast coast of Streymoy Island. Simply return to Streymoy via the tunnel, then head north along the coast. The only eatery in this small town, the Sand Cafe serves cod, salmon, fish soup, and pancakes; since it’s located right on the black sand beach, you can enjoy views of the steep cliffs and sea stacks while you sip your coffee.

If you feel like making one more stops before heading back to Torshavn, take a half-hour detour to the small village of Saksun. Also on Streymoy, Saksun is home to a whopping 14 residents. It’s known for its sod houses with grass-covered roofs and a lagoon that sits at the foot of the village. The remote village is accessible via a single-lane road, and getting there will truly feel like you’re driving not only into the middle of nowhere but also back in time.

Even more remote islands you can reach by ferry

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Some of the most stunning scenery in the archipelago lies on remote island only accessible via ferry. The island of Kalsoy, for example, has just a few villages with a combined population of around 150. It’s so peaceful, Streymoy and Eysturoy feel bustling in comparison. Fortunately, the ferries accommodate cars and, if you get an early start, you can be in Kalsoy by mid-morning.

Just drive an hour east from Torshavn to Klaksvik on the island of Borðoy. You’ll take two tunnels to get there, as you cross the isle of Eysturoy on the way. From Klaksvik, it’s only a 20-minute ferry ride to Kalsoy. Kallur Lighthouse might be Kalsoy’s main attraction, but getting there is arguably even more memorable.

The first village you’ll encounter as you drive north along Kalsoy’s lone road is Mikladalur, the largest village on Kalsoy with fewer than 30 permanent residents. Stop to visit the mermaid, or selkie, statue. Standing at nine feet tall, this bronze statue commemorates the local myth of a seal who shed its skin on land to become a woman. A few steps from the statue, a cafe is currently in the process of being built, so if you visit Mikladalur a year from now you’ll be able to enjoy some coffee and dessert while you look out on the statue and water.

From Mikladalur, it’s less than a 10-minute drive to Trøllanes, which will serve as the base for your hike to Kallur Lighthouse. Trøllanes is even smaller than Mikladalur with just 13 permanent residents — though it often appears busier due to the visitors coming to see the lighthouse. The hike shouldn’t take more than a half hour, but the unmarked trail can get pretty steep and muddy, so be sure to dress accordingly. Against the backdrop of steep cliffs, and waves crashing against the crags below, the simple red-and-white lighthouse is easily one of the most dramatic views in the Faroes.

Even wilder islands

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If you talk to enough Faroese people, you’ll quickly learn that everyone has a “favorite island.” For many, that island is Suðuroy. Getting to Suðuroy, the southernmost island in the archipelago, requires a bit more commitment — as the ferry ride from Torshavn is about two hours long. You’ll be glad you did, though, as it may be the most remote island you’ll visit.

This island of sea cliffs is home to some of the best unspoiled natural scenery in the Faroes, including Trongisvágsfjørður, arguably the most beautiful fjord on all the islands. It has incredible hikes, and the Hvannhagi trek — located in Tvøroyri, right near the ferry terminal — is one of the most popular. Hvannhagi is famous for its unique geological elements, including stones that crashed into the area from avalanches thousands of years ago, a beautiful lake, and green fields dotted with sheep. You’ll also be rewarded with views of the islands of Lítla Dímun, Stóra Dímun, and Sandoy.

Just a 13-minute drive northwest of Tvøroyri is the town of Hvalba, which is known for its black-sand beach. If you’re still exhausted from the Hvannhagi hike, you can take a leisurely stroll along the beach and enjoy the views across the bay. If you’re up for more of a challenge, take the short hike to the sea cliffs of Norðbergseiði, which takes you past a quiet lake and culminates in views of rough waves crashing against the cliffside below.

To give your feet a rest, finish your trip tp Suðuroy with a boat tour of the cliffs on the island’s west coast. The RIB62 tour company, owned by locals from Hvalba, operates tours that give you a sea-level view of the vertical cliffs, hidden cafes, and seabirds inhabiting the crags. While it might sound like an excursion designed for tourists, Faroese people themselves will tell you that this tour of Suðuroy is one of the most scenic experiences in the Faroe Islands.

Seeing it all from the sky

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A car might be the easiest way to get around the Faroe Islands, but if you ever get a chance to travel by helicopter, take it. The views of the cliffs, sea stacks, waterfalls, and crashing waves might be cool from the car, but just wait until you see it all from the air.

Usually helicopters come with a hefty price tag, but in the Faroe Islands, people use them not as a novelty but as a practical way of getting around. Atlantic Airlines, the official airline of the Faroes, also operates a helicopter service that is government subsidized, making it affordable for both locals and visitors alike.

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If you don’t want to take a two-hour ferry to Suðuroy, for example, you could take a 40-minute helicopter ride instead. A helicopter can also take you to the northernmost island of Fugloy, which has a total population of thirty-seven. It’s important to note, however, that because helicopters are used almost like taxis by the Faroese, routes are often one-way only. That means you’ll need to find alternative means of transportation back, or prepare to be roommates with the local sheep.

For those who want a quick helicopter experience without complicating their logistics too much, you can fly from Torshavn to the airport in Vagar. The flight costs around $30, and while it only lasts 15 minutes, it will easily be one of the most memorable parts of your trip. You can save this flight for your last day, when you need to head to the airport anyway, or simply catch a bus from the airport back to Torshavn. It really is the perfect way to cap off an adventurous trip to the Faroes.