In the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, a group of 18 islands rises up – straight up – from the water. The Faroe Islands are so mountainous that it was only with great difficulty that they were able to build an airport runway, and overland travel was nearly impossible before roads and tunnels carved human routes into the rock. For hundreds of years, the Faroese traveled mostly by sea, and their towns and villages developed beside harbors.
Here’s a quick quay-side tour of the Faroes:
The village of Gjógv takes its name from its spectacular seaside gorge. Although the picturesque harbor is now one of the most popular tourist stops in the Faroes, the village itself has seen a rapidly declining population that has left many houses empty.
Klaksvík is the second largest ‘city’ in the Faroe Islands, and the capital of the Northern Islands. It was founded primarily due to its large and safe harbor, which lies under a majestic view of Háfjall, a pyramidal mountain many Faroese consider to be the most perfect and beautiful mountain in the islands.
The tiny village of Gásadalur should, by rights, be a small but thriving town. Its area is flat, for the Faroes, and fairly fertile as well. But, due largely to the lack of sea access, it remained instead one of the most isolated villages in Europe until 2004, when a tunnel was blasted through one of the encircling mountains. Since the British occupation, there has also been a rough staircase leading down to the beach, but the seas are usually too rough to approach by boat, leaving only fantastic views.
The capital of the Faroes and its largest town by far, Tórshavn was also founded around a good harbor, protected by the island of Nólsoy. The importance of the sea shows clearly in the city’s name – “Thor’s Haven.” The lighthouse in the upper-right of the photograph is part of Skansin, the small fort built in 1580 as a defense against the pirates that frequently ravaged the islands. The foreground shows how far the nation has come, with a multistory ferry access building and the famous Blue Water trucks, both part of the Smyril Line shipping company.
Nestled into a protected, calm inlet, Gøta can be considered a mid-size beach town by Faroese standards. The town is actually composed of four villages, the largest of which, Norðragøta, is also one of the oldest settlements on the islands – no doubt partly due to the reliable sea access.
Perhaps no village speaks to the importance of a good harbor as well as Saksun, which once enjoyed one of the best in the Faroes. The water you can see in the photo was once a wonderful inlet that led to the sea beyond, but a storm filled it with sand and turned it into a saltwater lagoon. Now Saksun is just a tiny village, one of the best tourist attractions on the Islands with its abandoned spaces and buildings scattered about.