Mykines - hike the puffin trail
July 31, 2018 15 min read
A day trip to the island of Mykines is one of the most popular activities in the Faroe Islands. Mykines is the westernmost of the 18 main islands, it has no roads and only one village. The island is known for its large colonies of puffin birds.
The puffins come to the island to breed during the summer and Mykines is one of few places where you can get close to the birds. For birdwatchers, a visit to Mykines is a must. Other seabirds at the island include guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and gannets.
Most visitors combine watching the puffins with the scenic hike to a lighthouse on the islet Mykineshólmur connected to Mykines by a bridge. This guide contains all you need to know for your visit to Mykines.
The village on Mykines has the same name as the island and it has only 11 permanent residents living there throughout the entire year. The village doesn’t feel that small because it has around 40 houses, but many of them are only used in the summer. Mykines used to be one of the bigger villages in the Faroe Islands, back in 1940 it had 170 residents, quite a difference from today.
The village comes alive during the summer months from May to August when locals and tourists come to the island. During these four months, it’s easy to get to Mykines by daily ferries compared to the rest of the year when the people living on the island have to rely on the helicopter service for getting to the mainland.
For visitors it’s good to know the village has a free public toilet. It is easy to find; you pass it when walking from the ferry into the village.
Despite its small size, Mykines village has two cafés, Mykinesstova and The Locals, offering light snacks, meals and beverages. There is also a small shop selling things like snacks, books and souvenirs. It’s a good thing to support the local business, it helps keep things going at the island.
There are several variations of the name Mykines. Historic names include Mykiness, Mikjinees, Mikjunes, Mygenes, Mygenæs or Myggenæs. Mykines is the only form in use today. The oldest form is Mykiness originating from the Celtic term muc-innis meaning island of pigs.
Due to the increasing number of visitors to Mykines, new regulations are in place to protect the sensitive environment and bird life. At first they tried to enforce a too strict rule requiring visitors to hire a guide to hike on the island. This was not practical and they scrapped the rule. You don’t need a guide for Mykines, but you must pay a fee of 100 DKK (2019) to walk anywhere outside Mykines village.
From 2019, the company running the ferry service to Mykines manages the fee administration. Pay the fee online at mykines.fo before going to the island. Bring a printout of the receipt or have it available in your phone as you must show it when you arrive to Mykines and start the hike. The control is made a few hundred meters in on the trail of the popular lighthouse hike (July, 2018).
Mykines is pronounced something like [Mee-chin-ess] (/ˈmiːtʃɪˌneːs/).
The puffins need a daily break from the invading tourists and you can only walk outside Mykines village between 11:00 and 17:00. This is not a problem for day-trippers as you arrive Mykines with the ferry at 11:05 and leave at 17:05. If you are staying overnight, this rule is not good at all. One reason to stay on Mykines is to see the puffins and hike without so many other tourists around you. It is also nice to be out at sunrise or sunset well outside the allowed time period.
I didn’t talk to any visitors staying at the island, but my guess is that people are ignoring the rule and head out exploring the island anyway.
There has been some confusion about the Mykines hiking fee in the early 2019 season. In 2018 we paid the fee at hiking.fo, but for 2019 the ferry company manages the payments and you pay online at mykines.fo. They made this change without informing anyone, even the companies involved and the tourist information knew what was going on.
Don’t bother bringing your drone, at least not during the puffin season. The birds, not only puffins, are everywhere on the island and it’s not a good place to fly a drone.
When you should go to Mykines depends on if you want to see puffins or not. Puffins are seabirds and live most part of the year out at sea. They come to Mykines for breeding, but early in the season, they spend little time on land. Around mid-June, the puffins prepare their nests and from that time onward you can see them on Mykines.
The baby puffins hatch in July and leave the nests in mid-August. By the end of August most puffins have left Mykines and are back out at sea. If you want to be sure to see puffins on Mykines, don’t come in the first half of June or in late August. More information about the puffin season here.
If you don’t care about the puffins and visit Mykines for hiking or just getting away for a while, you can go anytime, but the summer has the best weather. Between the 1st of May to the 31st of August there is a daily ferry to Mykines but outside that period, except one week in October, you must go by helicopter and stay at least one night at the island. See more about how to get to and from Mykines below.
Most travelers visit Mykines on a day trip, but if you want to stay overnight, you have several options at the island. There are guest houses, a campsite and private homes for rent through Airbnb. In the rest of the Faroe Islands, it is important to book early, demand is high and supply is low. I don’t know how it is on Mykines though. See the Visit Vágar website for more information about accommodation.
You can get to Mykines by ferry or by helicopter. The ferry service is run by mykines.fo and you book the tickets on their website. This is the only ferry in the Faroes you need to book in advance, it often fills up in high season.
The ferry departs from the port in Sørvágur and there is a public bus connection from Tórshavn if you don’t have a car. If you are driving, the port has plenty of parking spaces. Ferry schedule between the 1st of May to the 31st of August 2018:
If the regular departure at 10:20 is fully booked and there is enough demand, an extra departure at 12:00 with a return at 18:30 can be available. Check the mykines.fo website or call their office and ask for availability. Note that there are no synchronized bus connections for the non-regular ferry departures.
The boat ride takes 45 minutes and on the way out to Mykines, the boat takes a route close to the Múlafossur waterfall in Gásadalur so you can see it from the water. It also passes the Drangarnir sea stacks and the cool islet Tindhólmur.
Always check the mykines.fo website on the day of departure to verify the ferry is running according to schedule. In case of bad weather, the ferry is canceled, and it’s often a late decision, 1–2h before departure time.
A word of advice, don’t schedule your day at Mykines on the last day of your trip. All sources about Mykines, both official tourist information and travel blogs, give this advice.
The boat back to Vágar from Mykines is sometimes canceled due to bad weather. You are stranded on the island until the weather calms down and the ferry can operate again. That’s not so fun if you have a flight home the next day.
To facilitate the life for the locals living on remote islands there are subsidized helicopter flights between the islands. For some islands, including Mykines, this is the only transport available all year round when ferries don’t operate because of bad weather or low demand.
It’s cheap to use the helicopter service, the ride between Vágar Airport and Mykines is only 145 DKK (2019). This is something tourists have discovered, and it’s popular to do a helicopter flight as sightseeing during a visit to Faroe Islands.
If I was living at one of the islands, it would annoy me if tourists booked all helicopter seats when I needed the transport. I guess it’s not that big of a problem otherwise they would have done something about it. I think it’s only the route between Vágar Airport and Mykines that is fully booked on a regular basis. There is also the rule that you cannot book a return flight on the same day so you must arrange other transport back unless you will stay at your destination.
Atlantic Airways operates the helicopter flights, see the website for timetables and booking. For Mykines, the booking opens 7 days in advance. If you want a ticket, I recommend to make the reservation as soon as the booking opens. The helicopter has only 12 seats and they sell out fast. Flights are only available certain days of the week.
As you can book a one-way helicopter ticket only, you must take the ferry back from Mykines unless you intend to stay overnight. Remember to check the weather before taking the helicopter to Mykines. You need to be sure the ferry is operating so you don’t get stuck on the island. The helicopter is not as sensitive to bad weather as the ferry, but the pilots must be able to see the ground to fly.
We didn’t follow the advice about not going to Mykines the last day of the trip because we wanted to do one helicopter ride and the last day was the only day we could do it. We were lucky to get tickets for both the helicopter and the ferry back from Mykines. We checked in at 09:40 at the Atlantic Airways desk at the airport, 35 minutes before the departure time at 10:15.
Ten minutes later, 25 minutes before departure, the flight was canceled due to misty weather. We could have made it to the ferry departing at 10:20, the airport is close to the port, but there were no tickets left. The nice staff at the Visit Vágar office at the airport, helped us to book tickets for the extra ferry departure at 12:00. We could go to Mykines after all!
To be honest, I am not much of a birdwatcher and I don’t know much about birds. It’s not that I dislike birds, I just don’t find them interesting and fun to watch. But how can you not like puffins? They look so super cute and funny so you must love them! Puffins look sad but also cool like they don’t care about what’s going on around them.
Before the trip to Faroe Islands I had never seen a puffin in real. When we went to Iceland, it was just out of season to see the puffins. We would not miss the chance of seeing them this time so we planned a day at Mykines for the trip.
Before going I wanted to learn more about puffins, it’s always fun to know about things you see on a trip. What I learned surprised me, puffins are not only cute and funny looking, they are awesome and fascinating birds. I have to share a list of puffin facts with you.
You will see a lot of puffins on Mykines during the summer and you don’t have to walk that far from the village to do it.
Thanks to the puffin colonies, Mykines is one of the most popular destinations in the Faroe Islands. To see the puffins, you must leave the village and as the island has no roads; you do that by walking.
Most visitors do a scenic hike to a lighthouse on Mykineshólmur, an islet west of the Mykines island. The hike is about 2.5km (1.55 miles) one-way for a total of 5km (3.1 miles) return. The trail is marked on Google Maps and I entered a marker for the start of the trail in the map below. I estimated the length of the hike by measuring on the map so it’s not that exact.
From the village you work your way west towards the narrow strait separating Mykines and Mykineshólmur. The path leading down to the bridge crossing over to the islet is rather steep and I think this is the hardest part of the whole hike. The second part of the hike on Mykineshólmur is longer, but easier. Overall this is not a difficult hike, but the path gets slippery when it rains.
If the weather is bad or if you feel you cannot make the whole hike, you can walk to the bridge and turn back there. You will see many puffins on that part of the hike. Just make sure you will make it back to the ferry before it departs, it will not wait for you!
We had back luck with the weather the day we went to Mykines. The sun was shining at the port in Sørvágur, it is not so common in the Faroe Islands so everyone on the boat was happy. The weather changed during the boat ride and the closer we got to the island, the worse it got.
Happiness turned into disappointment when we arrived at Mykines, it was very cloudy and misty with a light rain falling. We couldn’t see much at all and we realized that the hike would not be something to write home about, but at least we were hoping to see the puffins.
The start of the trail to the lighthouse is just before entering the village. If you need to stop at the toilet, go into the village first and then come back to start the hike. The trail starts by ascending a hill, but it is not steep. Close to the top there was a guy in a green jacket checking the receipts for the fee you must pay to walk outside the village.
The trail is marked with yellow sticks in the ground and is easy to follow even in the mist. No risk of getting lost on this trail.
At higher grounds, we cannot see far in the mist. The hike is scenic, but not on this day. This is how it is in the Faroe Islands, the weather is so unpredictable and there is nothing you can do about it.
When passing through the puffin colonies you should stick to the path. The puffins dig out their burrows and nest underground next to the path so be careful where you step. A burrow is a hole or a tunnel over a meter deep. The guys in green jackets watch over sensitive sections of the trail and tell people not to linger too long at the same spot. The puffins need a chance to enter and exit their burrows.
You don’t need to walk that far on the trail before the first puffins appear. What a great sight!
I know it is tempting to come close to the puffins to get that perfect shot, but please show them respect and stay out of their way as much as possible. It is better to bring proper gear if you want close ups. You will be close to the puffins but not at all places so bring a tele lens if you have one. I bought a new camera just before the trip and had only a wide-angle lens and it was hard to get sharp photos with that one.
We see many puffins along the path, but not much else because of the heavy mist. If it had not been for the puffins, this day at Mykines would have been a big fiasco.
After a while the path descends, we are approaching the bridge between Mykines and Mykineshólmur. This is the hardest part of the hike, it’s steep, muddy and slippery but no problems if you take it slow and watch where you put your feet.
There are many puffins on the slopes close to the bridge, the guys in green jackets watch for people who stop too long close to the puffins.
It is difficult to see where the puffin burrows are in the ground when the long grass hides the entrances. There is a reason they tell you to stay on the path. Look at the puffin in the video clip, it disappears into its burrow that isn’t visible at all.
We crossed the bridge and continued just a short stretch on the path on Mykineshólmur before deciding to turn back. We could see nothing because of the mist. Instead we went back to the village and had tasty waffles before boarding the ferry at 17:05.
There were no signs of the mist clearing while walking back to the village. I did the hike to the Kallur lighthouse on Kalsoy the day before in similar conditions.
After relaxing at a café in the village, it was time to walk down to the port and take the ferry back to Vágar. To our surprise the mist had cleared and we could see all the way to the lighthouse from the village. Annoying, but at least we could see what we had missed.