The Lake Above the Ocean

Fire up your virtual traveling machines and come for a visit to the Faroe Islands, where one of the world’s most bodacious lakes resides.

In the North Atlantic, the Faroe Islands sit approximately at the center of a triangle composed of Iceland, Scotland, and Norway. 779 islands, of which geographers term 18 as “major islands,” comprise this self-governing part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Some 54,000 humans inhabit the Faroes, which often has a higher wintertime temperature than the middle of the United States, thanks to the Gulf Stream.

One of the major islands is called Vágar. Many believe the outline of this fantastically named spit looks like a dog’s head. You be the judge. Other than the canine appearance, Vágar claims two other notable attributes: it contains the only airport on the islands and it features the largest lake in the system.

And this lake is incredible.

Location within the Faroe Islands - graphic presumably by Arne List

Known officially as either Sørvágsvatn or Leitisvatn, the largest lake in the Faroe Islands also sports an apropos nickname: The Lake Above the Ocean.

Most lakes are, technically, above all of the world’s oceans (some bodies do sit below sea level, such as the Dead Sea), but Sørvágsvatn/Leitisvatn really earns the title, as evidenced by the gorgeous photography taken there:

The Lake Above the Ocean - photo by Kallerna
Photo by Tyler Cole

Does any other body of water match the topography of Sørvágsvatn?

This lake literally sits above the ocean. The surface is approximately 125 feet above the sea, with just a rising cliff between freshwater and saltwater. The photos above display a bit of an optical allusion, as the forced perspective makes the cliffs look much taller than they are.

A view from higher reveals a slightly different image:

Photo by Charlie Kellogg

No matter the angle, this lake is straight-up beautiful. Making it even more remarkable, the lake empties into the sea by going over the cliff via waterfall. Named Bøsdalafossur, the falls plummet 90 feet from the lake to the waves.

Drone photo of Bøsdalafossur by Alex Berger

Vágar, the lake, and the islands, in general, are an eclectic mix of deep, blue waters, dark rocks, and surprisingly green grass. The chain is the result of volcanic activity, though glaciers carved the current contours during the last ice age. 

The cliffs surrounding The Lake Above the Ocean – called Trælanípa – appear to be a massive, verdant arena. The bowl-shaped stadium could be the home of mythological giants, who gathered to marvel at the unique lake. These sorts of silhouettes and curves in nature make it hard not to see an artist at work.

See for yourself in this video from above Vágar:

Trælanípa - photo by Federica Di Nardo

Further Reading and Exploration


Lake Sørvágsvatn – Atlas Obscura

Geology of the Faroe Islands – The Official Gateway of the Faroe Islands

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