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Baltic Cruises

About Torshavn

Halfway between Norway and Iceland, the twenty-two Faroe Islands rise from North Atlantic waters, forming a breathtaking archipelago of jagged mountains and dramatic fjords that includes the magnificent Kaldbak and Kollafjørður. The culture of this autonomous region of Denmark, with its warm, welcoming Faroese people, has strong Viking roots and has evolved and adapted with little influence from the rest of Europe. Settlements here reach back to the 9th century; the Viking Parliament stood upon Tinganes, a rocky peninsula in Torshavn, the capital that rests on the main island of Streymoy.

The islands’ remote locale, far from any continent, makes it one of the most exciting and humbling places to visit, as does its diverse geography, from rock-strewn shorelines to rugged towering peaks. No matter where you are in this small sovereign land, the sea is never far away. Nor is the islands’ plentiful birdlife, from puffins clinging to seaside cliffs to black and white fulmars taking wing over open waters and diving for their dinner.

Torshavn Lifestyle and Culture

The Vikings established their government in Torshavn in 850 AD, and the small city has remained the capital ever since. The Faroese hold their culture and history dear, still speaking their unique language descended from Old Norse and topping the roofs of their houses with turf.

Green pastures give way to steep cliffs whipped by North Atlantic winds. With the Faroe Islands’ proximity to the Arctic Circle, summer skies never fully darken beyond twilight. Art and music thrive here, perhaps inspired by the stunningly dramatic scenery. For centuries hymns and ethnic ballads were part of daily life, expanding more recently to include classical, jazz and Faroese contemporary music. The Summartónar festival that celebrates the island’s rich music history is held each summer from June through August, with live performances almost every day.

There are over 100 villages on the islands, all connected by roads or ferries. Most houses are painted in a traditional black shade or in bright, cheery colors. Sheep often graze the unkempt fields that connect small villages and clusters of homes.

Torshavn Sights and Landmarks

Tinganes, a small peninsula jutting into the harbor, is still the site of the Faroese parliament. It is a charming campus of red-brick buildings with sod roofs. Skansapakkhusið, on the outermost point, is the main government building. Also of note here is Torshavn Cathedral, seat of the bishop of the Faroes. Established in 1788, the church is topped by a distinctive clock tower that is one of the town’s main attractions. It is pure pleasure to explore this modest town, admiring the traditional sod-roof cottages which dot the promontory.

The National Museum of the Faroe Islands (Føroya Fornminnissavn) chronicles the nation’s history from the days of the Vikings, through the Middle Ages, and up to the 19th century. Pew remnants from St. Olav’s Church are among the museum’s most treasured artifacts. Heima á Garði, a well-preserved farmhouse in Hoyvík, is a satellite branch of the museum, a few miles north of the city. Its furnishings transport visitors back to 1920s Faroese farm life. To visit the still-operational St. Olav’s Church, now in a newer building, head to Kirkjubøur, a small village south of Torshavn. Ruins of Magnus Cathedral, the largest medieval building on the islands, are also here. Construction of this important building began in the 12th century, but it was never finished. Next door, a farmhouse built in the 11th century, and one of the oldest inhabited wooden houses in the world, has fared quite well.

If you’d like to immerse yourself in the arts scene, the small National Gallery (Listasavn Føroya) features collections of modern and contemporary Faroese art. Its dark-hued building strikes a dramatic pose, a series of simple angular structures with zigzag roofs.

Torshavn Entertainment and Activities

One of the highlights of a visit to the Faroe Islands is a visit to the Vestmanna sea cliffs, or Vestmannabjørgini. Puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes and other magnificent winged creatures nest on these vertical walls. To view one of the most unusual sea phenomena, visit the Rinkusteinar, or “Rocking Stones,” off the coast of the island of Eysturoy. Weighing several tons each, these stones mysteriously bob in the ocean. Legend says the rocks were once two pirate ships that were cursed by an old sorceress. On shore, horseback riding and driving from village to village are enriching ways to absorb the unique atmosphere of the Faroes.

Back in Torshavn, Viðarlundin is a lovely and serene park with walking paths, plenty of trees, babbling brooks and art sculptures. Peer underwater at the Faroe Islands Aquarium, a charming display of Faroese sea life, all caught by local fishermen. For a shot of culture, spend an evening at the National Theater, home of the amateur theater society.

Torshavn Restaurants and Shopping

Seafood is a primary element of Faroese cuisine, as the ocean is never more than a few miles away. Instead of heading to the supermarket, many locals will just hop in a boat to catch dinner. In this climate, islanders can grow only a limited variety of produce, so living off the land and sea as they exist has influenced the cuisine. Lamb is a common dish, and sheep can be seen grazing on the green pastoral landscape. Other meats, cheeses and vegetables are imported.

For Faroese and Nordic dishes with a sophisticated modern twist, head to Koks. Using ingredients sourced from local farmers and fishermen, the menu is prix fixe and changes with the seasons; enjoy the fresh flavors and panoramic harbor views. At Nordic restaurant Áarstova, simple, well-executed dishes like braised lamb are the main attraction. Seated in a traditional black house with a sod roof, it feels like you’re dining in someone’s elegant home. If you’re in the mood for classic Italian, Toscana, with wax-encrusted Chianti bottles as candle holders, offers generous pasta dishes in a cozy, romantically lit environment.

To take a piece of the Faroe Islands home, stop by Andreas í Vágsbotni; this shop carries an assortment of island gifts, including woolen knitwear. Or visit Østrøm, a beautiful design store, for handcrafted ceramics, jewelry and more.