Tórshavn

Two months ago, I visited the Faroe Islands for a short trip. My host was kind enough to show me around the islands and brought me to the Faroese capital, Tórshavn, located on the island of Streymoy.

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It has now replaced Reykjavík as the smallest capital city I’ve ever visited, having a population of a little under 20,000 in comparison with Reykjavík’s 330,000. It definitely doesn’t feel like a city – ‘town’ would be a more apt description.

As with other Scandinavian countries, Tórshavn is full of colourful houses which make for a happy contrast to the grey weather typical in that region of the world. One colourful part of the city even reminded me of Amsterdam a little!

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Other reminders of Scandinavian-ness exist in the city (and indeed in the rest of the country). Aside from colourful exteriors, a common architectural feature is the turf roof found on many log buildings, which helps with insulation from the cold.

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Like Iceland, the Faroe Islands have a conspicuous lack of trees. I was therefore surprised to find a rather large park in the middle of Tórshavn. My host informed me that it’s been there for about 90 years now, and that people usually take walks through it during the summer. It’s one of the more beautiful city parks I’ve seen, and if you’d be in luck if you were a fan of ducks because it’s got tons of them.

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My visits to cities often involve a trip to the city hall to see what it looks like. In Tórshavn, it’s not a big building, certainly nothing like what one would encounter in Utrecht. Nevertheless, it gives a pleasant impression of cosiness because of its size.

While explaining to me more about the city, my host told me the mayor makes it a point to visit the funeral of every person registered with the city, having done so for years already. What a meaningful gesture! One certainly doesn’t hear of this happening in an average city.

Also, if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll notice below how the Faroese language is related to other Germanic languages – not counting English because it’s been irreversibly perverted by the French language. For comparison, the German equivalent is Rathaus and, in Icelandic, ráðhús. (As a disclaimer, the Dutch have taken it upon themselves to be special by using stadhuis, although the similarity in spelling of the word ‘house’ is still evident.)

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Around Tórshavn’s city hall building, you’ll find interesting-looking statues like this one. I don’t know what they symbolise but they certainly add something to the place.

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My host and I were at the city hall around noon and bought our lunch from a burger shack opposite the building. The burger patties won’t be winning culinary awards anytime soon, but the portions are massive and therefore good value for anyone who might prize quantity over quality. (After all, wasn’t it Stalin who said that quantity has a quality all its own?)

Tórshavn also has its very own fortress! Called Skansin, it was built in the 16th century to protect the city against pirates. The little stone house in the photo below was used to store ammunition, if I remember what my host said correctly.

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On the side of Skansin facing the sea are four Danish cannons dating to the 18th century. Close by are also two British cannons from the Second World War, as the Faroe Islands were occupied by British forces during that time.

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After Skansin, we made our way back to Skopun, the island I stayed on during my trip. I think it’s a good idea to drop by Tórshavn when visiting the Faroes, and even better if you’ve already been to Reykjavík as you’ll be able to see how the capitals are similar to and different from each other.