Here’s what life is like in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, one of the world’s smallest capital cities

Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands.

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Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands.
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Sasha64f/Shutterstock

  • Tórshavn was a popular Viking trading post that housed the Norse government around 825 AD.
  • It’s the capital of the Faroe Islands, a part of Denmark, and is one of the smallest capital cities in the world.
  • It holds a two-day festival in July called St. Olaf’s Day with traditional dancing and horse races.
  • Fishing is a major source of income and tourism.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

With a population of around 20,500 people, Tórshavn is one of the smallest capital cities in the world.

But Tórshavn’s cultural offerings are not proportional to its small size. There’s no shortage of fascinating historical sites and contemporary attractions, from one of the oldest parliament buildings in the world to trendy restaurants and boutiques.

Here’s what life is like in Tórshavn.


Tórshavn is the capital of the Faroe Islands, an archipelago (group of islands) that’s part of Denmark, and sits between Scotland and Iceland.

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An aerial view of Tórshavn.
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Jasao Morais Ferreira/Shutterstock

The town’s name means “Thor’s harbor,” named for the Norse god of thunder portrayed by Chris Hemsworth in “The Avengers” and “Thor” movies.

With a population of approximately 20,500 people, it claims to be one of the smallest capital cities in the world. It’s more likely among the top 20 smallest capital cities.

The Faroe Islands themselves consist of 18 mountainous islands, and feature a total population of about 50,000.


People on the Faroe Islands speak Faroese, a language derived from that of the Norsemen who settled the islands over 1,000 years ago.

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The Faroe Islands.
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Alexander Erdbeer/Shutterstock

Faroese is closely related to Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish. Only around 75,000 to 80,000 people around the world speak it.


Tórshavn was a popular Viking trading post and housed Løgtingið, the Viking parliament established around 825 AD.

Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands.

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Vestaravag harbor in Tórshavn.
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Sasha64f/Shutterstock

The city’s official website calls it “one of the oldest parliamentary meeting sites in the world.”


Tórshavn Cathedral dates back to 1788.

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Tórshavn Cathedral.
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Ole Jensen/Corbis via Getty Images

The building features a clock tower, wooden pews, and decorative boats hanging from the ceiling. Locals still attend services there.


The remains of Skansin, a fortress built in 1580, still contain old cannons and a lighthouse.

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Cannons at Skansin.
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Sasha64f/Shutterstock

The British Royal Navy also used Skansin as a headquarters during World War II. Today, it’s a local picnic spot.


Tórshavn is also home to Faroese horses.

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Horses overlooking Tórshavn.
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Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Faroese horses are known for their mild temperaments and stamina, making them excellent workhorses.

The breed nearly went extinct in 1960 when there were only four left. Today, there are around 74 and they’re mostly used for horseback riding or racing.


During St. Olaf’s Day, a celebration remembering the Norwegian king Olaf Haraldsson II, known as Ólavsøka, horse races are among the festivities.

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St. Olaf’s Day celebrations.
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Shaul Schwarz/Getty Images

St. Olaf’s day is celebrated as a sort of independence day, and includes two days of dancing and street celebrations in Tórshavn.


Over the two-day celebrations, people dress in traditional Faroese garb and wish each other “Góða Ólavsøku,” meaning “Good Olaf’s Wake!”

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Young men wear viking horns as they receive medals after the rowing competitions during St. Olaf’s Day.
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Shaul Schwarz/Getty Images

It’s held every year from July 28 through 29.


Traditional Faroese chain dancing is also part of the event.

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Men and women dance a famous heritage chain dance during St. Olaf’s Day.
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Shaul Schwarz/Getty Images

The chain dance usually takes place in Sjónleikarhúsið, a theater in Tórshavn, where anyone is welcome to participate.


Other famous Tórshavn events include the Tórshavn Marathon, a 5-mile run around the capital city.

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Competitors take the start of the Atlantic Airways Tórshavn Marathon in 2018.
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PIERRE-HENRY DESHAYES/AFP/Getty Images

The course starts in the center of town, giving runners a chance to check out the city’s quaint buildings, then brings runners around the gorgeous coastline with views of fjords and waterfalls.


Fishing is a way of life in Tórshavn.

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A local fisherman cuts a codfish in fillets in Torshavn.
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Ole Jensen/Corbis via Getty Images

The fishing industry powers much of the town’s commerce, and tourists can rent fishing boats and try their hand at catching cod, flounder, shark, halibut, and others.


Tórshavn’s culinary scene offers traditional Faroese dishes alongside other cuisines.

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Dishes at Etika, a Japanese restaurant in Tórshavn.
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VWPICS/Nano Calvo/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Faroese cuisine is mostly seasonal fish and seafood, along with root vegetables. The Faroese also developed a unique, salt-free way of preserving meat and fish, which is called ræst, and featured at local restaurants around the island.

Etika, a Japanese restaurant in Tórshavn, makes use of the abundant fresh fish and claims to be the only sushi restaurant in the Faroe Islands.


In 2015, 10,000 tourists flocked to Tórshavn to watch a total solar eclipse.

It was one of the only places in the world where the eclipse was visible.


But even on regular days, Tórshavn’s multicolored houses, cobblestone streets, and thatched roofs make for a charming setting.

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Houses in the government district of Tinganes.
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Massimo Piacentino/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Tinganes in Tórshavn contains wooden houses dating back 200 to 400 years that are used by the Faroese government as administrative centers. There are also plenty of trendy cafes, boutiques, and concerts for those interested in the area’s lively arts scene.