1. VAGLIÐ SQUARE
Standing beneath a row of mature trees in front of the Old Bookshop in Vaglið square, look to your left and you’ll see a beautiful building constructed of layers of basalt rock. This is the town hall, originally built as a school in 1894. On the other side of the road, you will see a white wooden building, which houses the Faroese Parliament, Løgtingið. Just across from the Løgting, look out for a little kiosk, brightly coloured in red, white and blue. Kioskin hjá Astu is a Faroese institution and has been selling all manner of things at all hours of the day to the people of Tórshavn for generations. The kiosk was fully refurbished in 2019.
Vaglið plays host to several celebrations throughout the year. The most important is the Faroese national holiday, Ólavsøka, which takes place on July 28th and 29th. Every year, Ólavsøka begins with a speech and a choir singing in Vaglið square. The celebrations end with the midnight song on July 29th, when several thousand people gather in Vaglið to sing patriotic songs and participate in the traditional Faroese chain dance. During the whole of Ólavsøka festivities, Vaglið is crowded with people from right across the country.
2. HARBOURSIDE VÁGSBOTNUR
North of the marina, the area known as Vágsbotnur was once the bustling heart of Tórshavn’s sea-borne trade – today, you can still see key buildings from the time of the Trade Monopoly, notably the Poul Hansen warehouse , which is home today to the restaurant, TARV, and the Seamen’s Home. The venerable old buildings at Vágsbotnur create a unique and historical atmosphere to this part of town. Local people love to meet up here for a chat and a cup of coffee in places such as Undirhúsið –where elderly folk get together to chat and play cards. Tórshavn’s fresh fish market is also located here as are a number of restaurants and cafés with outdoor seating which together make this an agreeable spot in central Tórshavn.
3. TÓRSHAVN CATHEDRAL
Established in 1788, Tórshavn cathedral (Havnar kirkja in Faroese) is the second oldest church in the Faroe Islands.
The cathedral lies just north of Tinganes and is one of Tórshavn’s main landmarks. In 1990, when the Faroe Islands became an independent bishopric, Havnar kirkja became the national cathedral. The first church in Tórshavn was built in 1609 on a rocky outcrop known as “Úti á Reyni”. When construction of a new church began in the 1780s, Tórshavn barely stretched beyond the street, Bryggjubakka, down at the harbour. At its inception in 1788, Tórshavn cathedral therefore lay north of the centre of town. Barely 600 people lived in Tórshavn at this point. In 1865, the cathedral was significantly redesigned and rebuilt resulting in the very same structure you see today.
The cathedral bell was retrieved from the Danish slave ship, Norske Løve, which went down in Lambavík on the neighbouring island of Eysturoy on New Year’s Eve in 1707. The story has it that the bell was acquired in 1708 at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
4. TÓRSHAVN’S OLD TOWN
Tórshavn’s old town, consisting of the areas of Reyn and Undir Ryggi, is home to two dozen or so small, black-tarred wooden houses replete with white-framed windows and grass roofs. This was once the home of Tórshavn’s working class and still today people live in these compact little wooden houses. Several are named after previous owners and the houses are crammed closely together – the only stipulation being that it is possible to fasten the house cladding with nails.
Pætursarstova dates from around the middle of the 17th Century is among the oldest preserved houses in Tórshavn and was once home to Faroese linguist, Jens Christian Svabo.
PLEASE RESPECT THE PRIVACY OF THE PEOPLE LIVING IN THESE HISTORIC HOUSES. DO NOT TAKE PICTURES THROUGH THE WINDOWS AND OF PEOPLE, WITHOUT ASKING FOR PERMISSION FIRST.
5. TINGANES PENINSULA
Tinganes is the historical heart of the Faroese capital. This narrow rocky promontory, with its glorious jumble of turf-rooved houses, effectively divides Tórshavn’s harbour in two and today is still home to the islands’ Home Rule government (Føroya Landsstýri). From Viking times, Tinganes served as the location of the old Faroese parliament and is accordingly one of the oldest parliamentary sites in the world, together with Tynwald in the Isle of Man and Þingvellir in Iceland. It was on Tinganes around the year 900 that the Viking parliament first began meeting every summer to discuss matters of national importance. Over the course of several hundred years, meetings were held here under the open skies and it was not until 1557 that the first parliamentary buildings were erected at Tinganes. You will not find any security guards at Tinganes – visitors are free to wander around at will. Who knows, you might even catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister on his way to lunch! Listen to the story of Tinganes. We would recommend listening to this, standing at the square with the information stand – and thereafter go for a walk and discover the historic and charming area.
6. SKANSIN FORT
In 1580 the great Faroese naval hero and merchant, Magnus Heinason, ordered the construction of a fort, Skansin, to protect the trading post of Tórshavn from the steadily increasing number of seaborne attacks across the North Atlantic, increasingly at the hands of pirates. The original structure only stood until 1677 when French pirates ransacked it over the failure by the Faroese to meet a demand to hand over 100 oxen, 200 sheep, 500 pairs of gloves, 1,200 pairs of stockings and 60 nightshirts within a 12-hour deadline.
Later, Skansin was rebuilt and even served as the local headquarters for Britain’s Royal Navy during World War II. Behind the fort, the two guns which face out to sea were used to defend the Faroes against German attack. Skansin also includes four older brass cannons which date from the time of the Danish Trade Monopoly and a lighthouse.
Although not much remains of the fort today, Skansin still offers exceptional views out over the Atlantic across to the neighbouring island Nólsoy.
7. KONGAMINNIÐ MEMORIAL
The Kongaminnið memorial is a basalt obelisk erected in 1882 to commemorate the visit of Danish king Christian IX’s visit to the Faroe Islands in 1874. It was the first visit to the Faroe Islands by a Danish monarch. From up here, you have a splendid view of the town.
The king’s visit to Tórshavn certainly had its dramatic moments. Tragically, Tórshavn’s mayor fainted during the welcome speech and died on the spot in front of the King and the rest of the crowd. It is said that king Christian IX was greatly affected by this event and supported the Mayor’s widow financially for the rest of her life.
8. VIÐARLUNDIN PARK
Viðarlundin is one of the largest parks in the Faroe Islands.
During the ferocious storm of 1988 many of the trees were uprooted. Today those fallen trees serve as a fun natural playground where both children and adults can climb and explore.
Whilst in the park, take a walk to the see the small pond here which is home to countless ducks and swans or explore the many paths which criss-cross the park whilst listening to the rustling of the wind in the trees – a rare treat in a country where trees are few and far between.
The park is located between Varðagøta, Hoydalsvegur and Gundadalsvegur and the Art Museum of the Faroe Islands is located at the northern edge of the park.
In several places in the park, you can admire a number of beautiful sculptures, including a monument dedicated to the memory of Faroese seamen, who lost their lives at sea during World War II.
9. THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF THE FAROE ISLAND
The National Gallery of the Faroe Islands was established in 1989. The collection consists of approximately 2,500 works of art, primarily paintings but also graphics, sculptures, art installations and textile displays. The oldest works date from the 1830s whilst the gallery’s collection extends all the way to the present day.
In the National Gallery, pride of place is given to the permanent art collection. Here you will find any number of artistic interpretations of the magnificent Faroese nature and the islands’ dramatic landscapes. You can admire works depicting the green mountains of the Faroe Islands, steep sea cliffs, the surrounding ocean, pictures of stupendous rock formations, the islands’ richbird life, the countless sheep, the picturesque villages and, of course, images of the ever-changing weather in the Faroe Islands.
The gallery is also home to a sizeable installation of coloured glass that the whole family can physically explore – once inside the installation you have the impression of floating in the middle of the sea. Optically, it seems you can see 700 metres both above and below you. The gallery also boasts a number of unusual art pieces, the like of which you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the world: art made of fine Faroese horsehair; a stuffed Faroese ram and raven; even handknitted pieces of woolen art are among the gallery’s treasures.
10. THE NORDIC HOUSE
The Nordic House is a cultural institution under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The House was built in 1983 and today serves as a venue for Nordic culture, which includes art in all its genres and aims to provide something for every taste. The building was built to reflect the different characters of the Nordic countries: furniture from Finland, slate from Norway, timber from Sweden, glass and steel from Denmark and a roof from Iceland topped with Faroese turf. The Nordic House was designed by architects, Ola Steen of Norway and Kollbrún Ragnarsdóttir from Iceland.
The Nordic Council and The Faroese Parliament decided to build the Nordic House in the Faroe Islands and it now receives approximately 120,000 visitors every year.