Set a short way south of Streymoy amidst the grey windswept sea, Sandoy is an island that is surprisingly often overlooked.
While it perhaps doesn’t have the same dramatic cliff lines that can be found elsewhere in the Faroe Islands, its compact size, charming gingerbread villages, glistening lakes and sprawling beaches make it a wonderful day trip from Torshavn, and because it seems to be left off so many people’s itineraries, it’s also an excellent place to explore without the crowds.
In just a few hours, you can take in every village and almost every road as you wind between the rolling landscapes, and for those with more time to spare, Sandoy makes an excellent place to set out and explore on foot.
I visited Sandoy over the Easter weekend when no businesses were open and the streets were exceptionally quiet. Moments of brilliant April sunshine were interspersed with blustery winds and torrents of rain and snow, making for a thoroughly eventful day.
So, pack up a picnic, jump on the ferry and enjoy a delightfully peaceful day in Sandoy.
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On arrival in Sandoy, your ferry will pull up into the marina at Skopun, but I’d recommend setting off to explore the rest of the island first and leaving Skopun for the end of the day.
Winding out of the tiny village you’re immediately thrust into the rolling countryside, greeting by grassy meadows peppered with glassy lakes and charming tumbledown cabins. The landscapes are simply lovely and if you’re anything like me, you’ll need to pull over just a few short minutes into your trip to take a closer look on foot before moving on toward the banks of Sandsvatn.
Further along, Sandur is the largest village on Sandoy. A brightly coloured cluster of houses set beside a wide swath of sandy shore that gives the village its name.
As the archipelago is formed largely from volcanic activity with its soaring seacliffs as a main attraction, it might come as a surprise then that Sandur’s most unique feature is its sand dunes. This tiny cluster of sandy mounds and all too familiar vegetation are something of an anomaly in this corner of the North Atlantic, and indeed, this sandy patch is the only place in the Faroe Islands where dunes are found.
It’s a great spot for a short walk and is also a popular local spot for dog walking and running around when the Faroese sun chooses to shine.
As it was a holiday during my visit, absolutely everything in town was closed with a steady stream of locals in their Sunday best trickling toward church for the morning service.
On a regular day though, be sure to take a peek at the tiny church and cemetery which gaze across the bay. You’ll also find an art museum, a shop and a cafe in town, as well as a camping ground beside the marina.
There’s not a great deal to see in tiny Skarvanes, but sitting isolated on the island’s remote west coast, it’s like arriving to the edge of the world, with the tiny peaks of Stora and Litla Dimun bobbing on the horizon like island escapees. The winding road to get there, hugging tightly to the edge of the lichen-covered cliffs is also spectacular and sure to turn your knuckles white.
This cliff line is a key foraging ground for a number of seabirds and as you sweep along the jagged rocks toward the village, you’ll see these winged creatures effortlessly whirling overhead, rising gracefully on the wind before diving to catch their fill.
Cradled in a sweeping valley and wrapped around an ashen pebbled beach, Husavik is the prettiest and most alluring of Sandoy’s villages and where I spent most of my time exploring.
Dotted along the foreshore lie a delightful collection of rocky buildings, their grass roofs like shaggy heads of yellowing hair that blend in perfectly to the tussocky fields that surround it. The town also houses the remnants of the farm of the Lady of Húsavík who, as the legend goes, was a ruthless woman who once buried two servants alive.
For those keen on hiking, Húsavík makes a great jump-off with trails leading across the mountains to Dalur and Skalavik, or for those with more time, another excellent option is the 7.5km trail which begins near the crossroads of Husavik and Skalavik and takes in the villages of Skarvanes and Dalur.
For more information on the hike, and the legends behind the route (including which two rocks you should avoid if you wish to live out the year), check here.
At the end of yet another hair-raising drive lies Dalur, a picturesque sight nestled amidst a wide bowl of verdant green.
Aside from the charming grass-roofed church and black pebbled beach that mark the southernmost village of Sandoy, you can also hike out the back of town for fantastic views over the island. Either follow the full 5km route to Skarvanes or, for those short on time, the steep climb to the top of the hill should give you enough of an outlook.
Unlike Sandoy’s other villages which form a tight little knot of houses, Skalavik spills across opposite hillsides framing a patchwork of farmlands beside the marina.
Buildings are painted a rainbow of pastels and the setting is simply beautiful.
After winding your way around the southern part of Sandoy, it’s time to head back and explore Skopun and the stunning northern tip of the island before jumping on the ferry back to Streymoy.
Admittedly, I didn’t give this corner of the island the time it deserved – the intermittent sleet and snow storms made wandering too far from the car somewhat unpleasant and while I had made it back with plenty of time before the next ferry, I hadn’t anticipated the daylight hours being quite so short and the waning light didn’t exactly make for ideal hiking conditions. Try not to make the same mistake – this is definitely one of Sandoy’s most beautiful regions.
Check out the comically large bright blue post box, one of the biggest in the world, as you zigzag through the back streets of Skopun before emerging into the countryside beyond. From here, it’s best to set off on foot.
Between the rolling fields speckled with grazing sheep, timeworn sheds and clear lakes winds a dirt track that offers up spectacular views of the northern isles across the water. On a clear day, the rugged cliffs and gentle folds of Streymoy, Vagar and Hestur rise sharply from the ocean and it’s a fantastic place to end your time on the island.
If you’ve got enough time to spare, the track continues on some 2km further leading you across a grassy plateau gazing north.
If you’re just popping in for the day, you probably won’t have enough time to explore too far on foot, but for those staying overnight there are some beautiful hiking trails to occupy your time.
Though I wasn’t able to experience them for myself, the scenery at the far ends of the islands looks to be most dramatic. Several trails lead away from Husavik, toward Skalavik and Dalur, or there’s the longer trail beginning near the intersection between Husavik and Skalavik that links Skarvanes with Dalur.
Setting off from Skopun, the dirt track overlooks the rising folds of the northern isles which is also something quite special.
Arrive By Ferry | Ferries depart several times a day from Gamlarætt – a 15-minute drive from Torshavn – bound for Skopun on Sandoy. Tickets for a car and driver cost 160DKK (€21.50) plus an additional 40 DKK (€5.50) per passenger and are paid only one way of the trip. You can now book online to claim your vehicle’s spot on board.
Just be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to departure. Check the current timetable here.
Not travelling by car? It’s also possible to get around on Sandoy by public transport or by joining a tour.
Travel By Bus | Bus 101 travels between Torshavn and Gamlarætt arriving in time to meet the ferry, while on Sandoy itself, bus 600 travels between Skopun and Skálavík and bus 601 plies the route between Dalur and Skopun. Timetables are fairly limited so be sure to check departures in advance and plan your day accordingly.
Join A Tour | For a deeper understanding of the legends of the island, the history behind its charming villages and where to find the best viewpoints, a local tour is a great way to go. The jam-packed Sandoy In One Day tour looks to give an excellent introduction to the island and covers all the main sights, or for something a little different you might consider rappeling down a sea cliff, kayaking on Sandoy’s largest lake or joining a cultural evening as part of a unique tour experience.
Want more than a day trip? Accommodation options on Sandoy are still very limited with Hotel Skalavik being the main offering along with a couple of camping grounds.
Set beside the main road coming into town, 3-star Hotel Skalavik offers comfortable rooms, a buffet breakfast and bike rental. It does largely cater to families though, so if you’re after a peaceful stay, be warned that some visitors have commented about the number of children running around. Check rates and availability here.
There are two options for camping on Sandoy, Dalur and Sandur, both of which look to have rather picturesque settings in a field beside the bay.
Don’t just stop anywhere | When you’re driving around the Faroes, it’s fairly standard to round a bend a find a new and incredible view rolling away before you. The struggle to resist stopping absolutely anywhere to take a picture is real, but even if the roads aren’t all that busy, it’s important to only stop in proper stopping bays or parking areas. Please don’t just stop in the middle of the road or leave your car in someone’s driveway and then head off for a walk – this happens surprisingly often and, as well as being a terrible tourist habit, is kind of dangerous.
Magn is a reliable stop | If you’re hankering for an afternoon snack or need to refill with fuel, the Magn service station just across the lake at Sandur is a fairly reliable stop. It’s open longer hours than just about anywhere else.
Get an early start | There’s plenty to see on Sandoy, so if you’re visiting on a day trip, try to get one of the earlier ferries across. If you finish up early you can always while away the time exploring the countryside around Skopun before jumping on a ferry, but if you rock up rather late in the day, your visit will likely be far more rushed than it needs to be.
Bring a packed lunch | Dining options are not a strong point of the Faroe Islands, and while there are a handful of eating spots on Sandoy, they tend to have fairly limited opening hours. Better is to visit a supermarket on the main islands and bring a packed lunch instead so you can take a break wherever you please.
Bring clothing for all weather | Sunny one minute, snowing with howling gale the next – that pretty much sums up my day in Sandoy. As always when travelling in the Faroes, even if it looks sunny, bring clothing for absolutely every eventuality. A rain jacket, long pants and thermal base layer should be a minimum.