All talk about tourism in the Faroe Islands would seem absurd without one essential: a boat trip from Vestmanna to enter stunning seaside grottoes alongside getting a close look at awe-striking rock formations and towering bird cliffs.
The famous travel guide series Lonely Planet were spot on in their assessment: “The fantastic boat-tour to the wild Vestmanna Bird Cliffs and Grottoes is probably the highlight of the Faroes.” Or as Steve Backshall, of the BBC’s Holiday Destinations series, declared: “For a memorable tour on the islands head 40 minutes north of Tórshavn for a boat trip taking in the stunning sea-cliffs of Vestmanna. Popular with bird-watchers it also happens to be one of the most stunning stretches of coastline anywhere in the world. The precipitous cliff-faces have been carved into the gaping grottoes by the weather conditions.”
So there you have it. No wonder the Vestmanna Bird Cliffs and Grottoes has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Faroe Islands. The adventure is offered in the form of two-hour boat tours, available from the town of Vestmanna, and includes sailing into grottoes, through narrow sounds, and steaming closely along a shoreline that largely consists of massive rock rising up to as much as almost 2,000 feet, and featuring the most incredible bird cliffs—where puffins, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes come to nest every summer in their hundreds or even thousands, sounding a mind-blowing chorus of squawks and squeals overhead.
“This is obviously the sort of thing that most visitors who come to the Faroe Islands would want to experience,” said Gunnar Skúvadal, managing owner of tour operator Skúvadal. “You’ll also get a fantastic view of sheep grazing on what looks like vertical fields several hundred meters over your head. The on-board guide will explain how the bird cliffs used to serve as a vital source of food back in the old days, and how the Faroese even today gather their sheep on many inaccessible, steep mountainsides.”
Occasional sightings on the Vestmanna Bird Cliffs and Grottoes tour include seals and porpoises and sometimes whales and dolphins.
Aside from the guided tours, the boats can be rented for special trips like, for example, all around the Faroe Islands. Also popular is a guided day tour to the island of Mykines, a small island on the westernmost side of the Faroes, famous for its rich birdlife.
“We are two operators who do this and we collaborate to make things as convenient as possible for tourists,” Mr. Skúvadal added. “This means you will normally find several daily departures to choose from. Between us we have six tour boats with a total capacity of 184 passengers.”
Normal departure times are 10am, 2.30pm, and 5pm, subject to change; however the Puffin.fo website is kept up to date with the latest information, according to Mr. Skúvadal.
“You can book your seat on this website or you can do it direct with the skipper,” he added. “Alternatively, you can ask your hotel reception or just about any tourist information service in this country to assist you.”
Eat your own catch
What is often not mentioned, meanwhile, is that the half-hour ride from Tórshavn, or from Vagar for that matter, to Vestmanna in and of itself makes for a marvelous experience, in particular the last fifteen minutes of it as the road curves along the short but steep mountainous stretch between neighboring Kvívík and Vestmanna. The view is simply spectacular on several spots along the way, not least—at about 300 meter above sea level—just before the final downhill slope to the destination.
Down at the dockside, Mr. Skúvadal also owns and operates the Vestmanna Tourist Centre, which offers general information for tourists while also hosting a little souvenir shop plus Fjørukrógvin, a restaurant.
Upstairs in the same building is the SagaMuseum—an impressive show of wax replicas in real life size, captured in vivid environments and various situations representing key moments in old Faroese history and folklore, including some tales of horror. The show is accompanied by an audio guide with a narrative delivered in English or optionally Danish, German or Faroese, alongside special effects—sound, light, and even smell.
Even fishing tours can be arranged through Vestmanna Tourist Centre.
“We arrange fishing tours every day throughout the summer season,” Mr. Skúvadal said. “You can join a pre-arranged tour, or opt to rent one of our boats for yourself, with a guide. And after the tour, if you so choose, you can have your catch prepared by the chef at Restaurant Fjørukrógvin.”