Suppose as a veteran traveler you want to impress your friends, or you would love to visit a capital that is very hip, yet quite unknown. Then we have the golden tip. Repeat after us: Torshavn! Might be useful to find it on the map first though.
The city or rather its harbor is named after Thor, God of thunder and lightning. It is the capital of the Faroe Islands. An archipelago of 18 islands still belonging to Denmark but governed by the Faroese.
But first the location. The islands lie between Norway and Iceland and above Scotland. Tórshavn is in the middle of the archipelago on the isle of Streymoy. Havnin, the little capital is affectionately called.
Tórshavn is with only 18,000 inhabitants one of the smallest capitals in the world. “But we have all a capital need”, they told us and we agree. So come on. Let us take you along our Tórshavn tips.
Tórshavn is an ancient city. The Vikings that came here, settled small parlements, called things on the various islands. They would meet here once a year. They were neutral place where no one lived so that one settlement had no advantage over the other.
In 825 the main parlement was settled on Tinganes, a peninsula that divides the port into Eystaravág and Vestaravág. Here the Vikings met annually since it was the most convenient place. However, no one lived here yet.
Wooden houses with grass roofs
Now, more than a 1,000 years later, a part of the old parliament of the Faroe Islands is still there. It is built in the typical wooden construction with grass roofs. As the first of our Tórshavn tips we recommend you walk along old parliament and go up. You will arrive in the beautiful old neighboorhood of Tinganes.
Small black wooden houses with grass roofs. They remind me of the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. Except for the witch because the people we meet are all friendly and in for a chat. Stroll through the urbanization and enjoy the view over the bay.
2. Coffee in Kaffihúsið
Kaffihúsið is a coffee shop but you can also buy beautiful design, read a book, eat or play games. And it is an art gallery. The long wall full of used books – also in English – make it into a refuge where you never want to leave.
It is housed in an elongated warehouse on the waterfront where there is lots to to see and do. Just daydream about Vikings or listen to beautiful music of the islands.
Across the street from the coffeehouse is a small market where fishermen selling frozen cod stand next to women of various islands selling their organic vegetables. One of our more informal Tórshavn tips: have a chat with them. They are full of stories.
3. Gudrun & Gudrun
Remember Sarah Lund? The protagonist of the series The Killing? Her “Norwegian sweater” became her trademark. Only the sweater was not Norwegian but the garment came from the Faroe Islands where they have a long tradition in knitwear.
Not surprising, of course, on an island where more sheep than people live. Many a woman uses the knitting needles. But the sweater Sarah was wearing was not just a sweater. The garment is designed by the fashion designers Gudrun & Gudrun.
This designers duo has a shop in Tórshavn and run a company on hand-knit clothing. The clothing is made by women from the islands. “Modern cloths with a link to the isolated islands,” according the women on their website.
The clothing is made with care for the environment and natural resources. Nomad, feeling always a bit cold, dived straight into the bin with Eskimo mittens, while I tried on an elegant candy pink knit skirt. Difficult decisions but we eventually opted for the Sarah Lund sweater.
4. Traditional food at Restaurant Ræst
“Raest” means fermented in Faroese. On the Faroe Islands it is the salty air which works great to dry meat and fish.
This is being done in a hjallur, a semi-open barn where the wind blows through. Restaurant Ræst is special in the sense that they serve food which is traditional on the islands.
Lamb Soup with seaweed. Intestines, sauerkraut in mustard cream. And chances are that you get a dessert with rhubarb. According farmer Jóhannus rhubarb is one of the few vegetables that will grow on the islands. They serve everything with special beers or wines that go with the meals.
5. Party at Sirkus
In Torshavn they know how to party. The night is always young. First happy hour then off to listen to a live band and then around midnight the party starts according to some youth we met on the street. That’s the thing: Everywhere you look there is youth in Tórshavn.
The place to be is Sirkus near the harbor. The DJ determines the menu. Depending on the night they serve rock or an Indian night or Jazz & Poetry. Everything is possible.
What does it say about an island in the Atlantic Ocean when the Sicilians are queuing to become a cook in Tórshavn? At Hvonn Brasserie you can eat pizzas, expertly prepared by a Sicilian who prefers a cold windy island over his own warm Mediterranean place. island.
“Because,” he confided to us, “the people are so nice on this island and the nightlife is hot.”
At least that’s what we think he said, because while he put our vegetarian pizzas in the wood stove, there was a fashion show going on and a band was palaying. Because that is what they do in Tórshavn.
And if this small capital becomes too much? You just grab a ferry to one of the other islands. Nolsoy for example, lies the bay waiting for your visit.
Text: Anneke de Bundel – Images: Nicole Franken