Buses and Ferries, Bridges and Tunnels . . .

A brief note on some Faroese transport history: old and new

faroese flag

This is a site of historical record and does not contain current service information.

Hendan sÝ­an vÝsur gamlar tÝ­arŠtlanir og ikki tŠr i­ eru galdandi n˙.
        Denne side viser gamle k°replaner og ikke de aktuelle tider.

As the present day airport bus takes its passengers from Vßgar to Tˇrshavn in less than an hour, few will realise that the capital was only linked by road to the rest of the island of Streymoy as late as 1966. The building of bridges and tunnels in the Faroe Islands over the past fifty or so years led to a natural expansion of the road and bus networks, but it also often meant the withdrawal of long standing ferry services.

As befits a mountainous island community with a population scattered in a succession of coastal towns and villages, the traditional means of communication was by boat and ferry, and this lasted until well after the second world war. To travel from island to island, or to reach the capital Tˇrshavn, you went by sea. And many and varied were the boats that served the islands over the years.  The first Smiril provided regular mail boat services from 1896 throughout the islands, based at her home port of Tv°royri in Su­uroy and called regularly at Tˇrshavn and Klaksvik as well as many smaller places.  Travel to and from the capital was necessary for many reasons, be they official or to access the steamer to Denmark or Iceland, or for health reasons.  Tuberculosis was a major problem in the islands and in 1908 a sanatorium was built at Hoydalar near Tˇrshavn, where people from all over the islands were brought; at the same time the first road built from the capital was to the sanatorium.

Motor vehicles first came to the Faroes in 1922 and within a few years taxi operations had commenced in the capital Tˇrshavn, including links to Velbasta­ur and Kirkjub°ur. The taxi association Havnar Bilfelag was formed by 1928, and in 1944 the Taxa association started; this latter becoming the p/f Taxa company in 1952, and subsequently p/f Auto in 1955. An early local bus operator in Tˇrshavn was Ole Arge, from 1944 running a few trips a day in a 20-seater between the town centre and Argir, the hospital, Sundsbr˙nna and the sanatorium in Hoydalar.

One of the significant marine operators for many years was Mjˇlkaforsřningini (milk producers, shown on the map below as 'Torshavn M & M Co.') whose boat 'Sigmundur', the second of that name, covered the route from the capital north to Eysturoy to Skßlafj°r­ur as well as along the east coast of Streymoy to Sundalags and Hvalvik from 1950 to 1967. Carrying mail, passengers and goods, the ports of call on the complex route from Tˇrshavn included Toftir, Skßli, Strendur, Selatra­, Oyri, Streymnes, K°llafjor­ur and Kaldbak (frequently the last call to collect fresh milk for the capital). These routes had started in 1908 with a small steamer called 'Ruth', and 'Trˇndur' and 'Streymur' served the route in the 1930s. From 1962 to 1974 'Ternan' also assisted on this route, with the boat's name being changed to 'D˙gvan' in 1970.  Taxi connections were available at Streymnes to Saksun and at Oyri to Ei­i.  By 1967 a car ferry was in operation on the Tˇrshavn to Toftir and Strendur route.

1966 map of ferry routes
Ferry routes in the Faroe Islands shown in Gerald Daniel's 1966 map

By the mid-1920s there were some individual stretches of roads on different islands. On Sandoy a road linked Skopun to Sandur and a bus or car route connnected with ferry arivals at Skopun. Other roads at this time included from Midvßgur to Sorvßgur on the island of Vßgar; from S°ldarfj°r­ur to Fuglafj°r­ur on Eysturoy; and from K°llafjor­ur to Kvivik on Streymoy. All of these roads had bus or car services from early days linking to and from the ferry sailings, and the latter road would be extended northwards to Hvalvik and westwards to Vestmanna in the 1950s. Finally in July 1966 it was linked to the new main road ('Oyggjavegur' = 'island road') which had been completed from the capital Tˇrshavn. But a comprehensive road network has only come comparatively recently to the Faroe Islands.

Before the  main road northwards from the capital was completed in 1966 a journey to the airport - which had been built by British forces during the second war and where commercial passenger flights had commenced in 1963 by the Icelandic airline FlugfÚlag ═slands - on the island of Vßgar meant a choice of route. Either a boat trip all the way from Tˇrshavn to Midvßgur, often a stormy ride around the headland Kirkjub°nes in winter on the open deck ship 'Vesturlei­', or alternatively taking a taxi from Tˇrshavn some miles northwards to the end of the uphill road constructed in 1959 to serve the NATO radar station at Mj°rkadal, then clambering down the hillside with luggage to another taxi waiting near Signab°ur on the road from Hvalvik and K°llafjor­ur to Vestmanna. This route was originally pioneered by the Bil (in 1963) and Auto (in 1964) taxi companies of Tˇrshavn who arranged the two hires - but you were on your own for the walk down (or up!) the hill at Hˇrisg°tu to bridge the gap. This missing link was aptly nicknamed 'Via Dolorosa' by travellers. Another alternative route (in pre-war years the boat to Vßgar sailed from Kvivik) was by a bus connection from the landing places by Signabour (near K°llafjor­ur) where the Sundabrunna mail and milk boat from Tˇrshavn to the Sundini called.

Once the main roads were connected throughout Streymoy from Tˇrshavn in 1966 several competing car and bus operations started to operate through journeys from the capital to the newly linked towns and villages. But even before then taxi connections were being advertised in 1964 with change of vehicle at Hˇrisg°tu before the road link was fully completed; as the construction of the road progressed the gap to be walked grew less, with the final link being made at a bridge over the Skei­sß. Until built the bridge in this section which still had to be walked on foot was known as 'Sukkenes Bro', the bridge of sighs.

In the 1968 timetable  'Oyggjarutan' (organised by the taxi firm Auto) linked Tˇrshavn to Vestmanna, as did 'Bilrutan' (organised by taxi firm Bil).  The ferryboat ĹOlavurĺ then linked Vestmanna to the landing place at F˙taklett on Vßgar where another car or bus waited for the run to the airport. This crossing was subsequently shortened to the landing place at Oyrargjˇgv on Vßgar. As well as the Vestmanna services other routes using the new road link ran northwards on the coast road along the eastern shores of Streymoy, eventually providing links across to Eysturoy. There was some not inconsiderable duplication of times and mileage. 'Bilrutan' operated as far as K°llafjor­ur, HˇsvÝk and HvalvÝk; 'Oyggjarutan' also ran to HvalvÝk. From there a ferry crossing in either 'Litlaferja' for Bil passengers or 'Sigmundur' for those travelling with Auto went over to Oyri on Eysturoy and then another bus or car onwards to Ei­i (the Sundini road bridge was not built until 1973). A third transport operator 'Bussrutan' (departing from taxi office Akstur Bil in Tˇrshavn) similarly ran to K°llafjor­ur, HˇsvÝk and HvalvÝk in the 1968 timetable, continuing then to the Streymoy villages of Saksun, HaldarsvÝk and Tj°rnuvÝk.  In the 1964 timetable there was no mention of 'Bussrutan' but instead there was 'Streymoyarrutan' offering a service from Tˇrshavn to Streymnes; Ole Arge the local city bus provider in Tˇrshavn is listed as the operator.

via dolorosa
The road to the airport (1)  -  the start of the walk between the two roads at Hˇrisg°tu (Hˇreksg°ta) in 1965
photo from the Bil of Tˇrshavn collection

The road to the airport (2)  -  ferryboat ĹOlavurĺ which linked Vestmanna to F˙taklett
photo from the Bil of Tˇrshavn collection

landing place at Futaklett
The road to the airport (3)  -  the landing place at F˙taklett on Vßgar, with connecting bus to airport
photo from the Bil of Tˇrshavn collection

the road completed July 1966
The road to the airport (4)  -  the missing gap in the main road completed on 6th July 1966.
As the road construction advanced and the gap was reduced a connecting taxi or bus service was offered from at least 1964.
photo Mikkjal Helmsdal

Bil trace their origins as taxi operators in Tˇrshavn back to the 1950s, and the firm grew from taxis and ambulances and school transport, then eventually to buses on the new road links. Subsequently they became a main bus contractor for the state-sponsored Bygdalei­ir bus network on the routes from Tˇrshavn for some twelve years or more, starting in 1980, including the route they had served themselves since the mid-1960s to Vestmanna. The Bil company was also the first contractor for the Busslei­in town buses in Tˇrshavn when they started running in 1979, continuing until contract changes brought in other operators in 1983.

Whilst so far most of the transport provision in earlier years had been provided by (usually small) commercial operators, from 1980 onwards the government network of Bygdalei­ir country buses started to develop and progessively assume the responsibility for running the various routes, although the actual operation was most often sub-contracted to private operators.  The 1981 timetable shows the Bygdalei­ir routes on Streymoy as Tˇrshavn - Kvivik - Vestmanna, Tˇrshavn - Kirkjub°ur and Kvivik - SkŠling. The Kirkjub°ur route is believed to have been the first to start. On the island of Sandoy the Bygdalei­ir routes were from Skopun to Sand and Skßlavik; Skopun to Dalur and H˙savik; and to Skarvanes. The buses from Tˇrshavn to K°llafjor­ur, HvalvÝk, Saksun, HaldarsvÝk, Tj°rnuvÝk, Ei­i and Gjˇgv remained privately operated for a few years more, as did those on Eysturoy and the southern island of Su­uroy (the 1959 timetable shows buses operating there regularly between the main towns of Tv°royri and Vßgur, as well as to Fßmjin and Sumba; earlier there had been coastal boats, some of which were still operating until the early 1960s).

Similarly by 1977 virtually all of the boat and ferry services were under governmnent control through Strandfaraskip Landsins. The timetable for 1981 showed that Teistin sailed from Tˇrshavn to Su­uroy seven days a week, and also provided a direct sailing to Klaksvik on Monday and Wednesday. Trondur went from Tˇrshavn to Strendur and Toftir on Eysturoy, whilst Ternan sailed from Leirvik to Klaksvik to round off the overland route. Barskor linked Kunoy and Kalsoy to Klaksvik whilst Mßsin sailed from Hvannasund to the northernmost isles of Svinoy and Fugloy.  Ritan went from Tˇrshavn to Nˇlsoy, Sandoy, Hestur and Koltur; and Sildberin onwards to Sk˙voy from Sand. Sam linked Vestmanna to Oyrargjˇgv on Vßgar.  An earlier timetable from 1968 shows Strandfaraskip Landsins operating on a smaller scale running Smiril (built 1932) to Su­uroy; the first instance of government involvement in shipping had been the taking over of the running of the first Smiril in 1917 on the Su­uroy service. Ritan and Sildberin sailed to Nˇlsoy, Sandoy and Sk˙voy; with Mßsin serving the northern islands.  Private operators still ran the other links, notably to Vßgar, Eysturoy and the Sundini (see the 1966 map above) but time was running out for most of the multi-stop local shipping services, as with the development of the road network only the short point-to-point ferry crossings would be needed in the future.


Bilst°­in taxi departure point in Tˇrshavn in Niels Finsensg°ta
photo from the Bil of Tˇrshavn collection

The 1960s Bil taxi fleet lined up in a poster
photo from the Bil of Tˇrshavn collection

The ferry boat 'Litlaferja'
photo from the Bil of Tˇrshavn collection


1943 timetable cover
Streymin - the road bridge 'over the Atlantic' which opened in 1973
linking the islands of Streymoy and Eysturoy

Cover of the wartime 1943 timetable booklet -
still published in Danish and not Faroese

Bedford bus of Sofus Joensen of Fuglafj°r­ur who ran from there across Eysturoy via G°tu
 to S°ldarfj°r­ur for the boat to Tˇrshavn. This had been one of the first bus routes in the Faroe Islands.

To travel north from Tˇrshavn to the second city of Klaksvik there were several options in the early 1970s, including a direct ferry once a day between the two towns operated by either the 'Smyril' or the 'Pride'. Alternatively one could take the ferry 'Trondur' from Tˇrshavn across to Toftir, and then by car or bus across the island of Eysturoy to Leirvik followed by another ferry journey on the 'Ternan' to finally reach the northern town of Klaksvik.  This bus route had been pioneered as early as about 1925 but ran northwards to Fuglafj°r­ur which was then the main ferry port for Klaksvik rather than Leirvik as in later years. As 'capital' of the northern islands Klaksvik on the island of Bor­oy served as a secondary transport hub for boats and ferries to the nearer islands of Kalsoy, Kunoy and Vi­oy, as well as to the other more remote and distant islands of Fugloy and SvÝnoy; the timetable for 1934 shows three vessels involved in that work on different days, Immanuel, Guttaberg and Falken.

The ferry 'Sundaferjan' in the waters of Sundini
photo from the Bil of Tˇrshavn collection

Although the road system on Streymoy was largely complete in the mid-1960s there still remained at the time two distinct and separate road systems at either end of the island of Eysturoy. The opening of the 2.5 kilometre long tunnel in August 1976 between Oyrarbakki and Skßlabotnur connected these two former halves and led to a significant restructuring of public transport routes, including those linking Streymoy with Eysturoy. For a few years though after the Streymin bridge had opened in 1973 an hourly vehicular ferry, appropriately named 'Sundaferjan', continued to operate across Sundini from Hˇsvik to Selatra­, but this ceased some time after the opening of the new road tunnel. There were now through buses from Tˇrshavn across the new bridge and through the new tunnel to the Eysturoy communities, including RunavÝk and Toftir as well as Fuglafj°r­ur and Leirvik for the Klaksvik ferry. The direct ferry route between Klaksvik and Tˇrshavn all but ceased and the Tˇrshavn ľ Toftir and Strendur ferry became a peak-hour only operation and then was finally withdrawn altogether in 2002.  

1974 travel guide timetable
Bus timetable from the 1974 Faroes Travel Guide, shortly after the opening of the Streymin bridge, with the services on these routes
provided by private operators working together. The state sponsored Bygdalei­ir bus network commenced in May 1980.

On the island of Streymoy, to reach the village of Kaldbak (now part of the enlarged Tˇrshavn municipality) in 1974, you still travelled on the daily ferryboat 'Sildberin'. Now the journey takes less than thirty minutes on the four or five times a day bus. The shipping service ended in 1980 when the road to Kaldbak was completed. In the northern islands, to reach Kunoy from Klaksvik meant catching the ferry 'Barskor'. Thanks to a new causeway and a three kilometre road tunnel opened in 1998, the journey is now easily accomplished by bus. Change came for the island of Sandoy too in the mid-1990s, with the longish ferry journey from Tˇrshavn to Skopun replaced by a much shorter crossing from a newly constructed landing place at Gamlaraett (which is served by the buses on the route to Kirkjub°ur). It was in the spring of 1993 that Gamlaraett was brought into use. Trˇndur was the first ship to sail this route, and today Teistin sails the route.

Although the buses have changed in appearance, size and comfort over the years, some of the ferries listed in the 1974 travel guide still ply through Faroese waters, although not always on the same routes now as then. Of the old names like 'Smyril', 'Sam', 'Ritan', 'Barskor' and 'Ternan' some still provide essential links between the islands, and some did so until a few years ago. Not forgetting that some older traditional names have been reused on newer vessels!

timetable covers 1981 and 1986
Two timetable covers from the 1980s for the state sponsored bus and ferry network,
with the 1986 timetable including inter-island helicopter flights (tyrlan)

Now the modern day Faroe Islands have a fully integrated state-owned and heavily subsidised transport system provided by Strandfaraskip Landsins ferries and the blue country buses of Bygdalei­ir (the latter was merged into Strandfaraskip in the 1990s). There are through fares and through tickets, and the buses connect with each other and with the ferries. As the tunnels and bridges expand, so do the public transport opportunities. The 1993 road tunnel, 2.8 kilometres in length between Kaldbaksfj°r­ur and Kollfjar­ardalur, has largely replaced the old upland Oyggjarvegur road (by way of Mj°rkadal) between Tˇrshavn and Vestmanna and has considerably shortened the journey time to and from the airport and northern destinations. Another tunnel was built to link Streymoy to the island of Vßgar and now through buses run to and from the airport. First proposed in 1989, crossing from Leynar to near the old landing place at F˙taklett on Vßgar, this tunnel was opened in December 2002 and led to the demise of the ferry service between Vestmanna and Oyrargjˇgv on Vßgar. Whilst this was good for both the island and airport travellers it has put Vßgar, like Eysturoy, within daily commuting distance of the capital. But in counterbalance perhaps it will lessen the risk of depopulation from the settlements in these islands. The Vßgar tunnel was the first built under the sea in the Faroe Islands, so as the Streymin bridge is known locally as the bridge over the Atlantic, perhaps this will become known as the tunnel under the Atlantic?

Just under four years later in April 2006 a longer undersea road tunnel named Nor­oyatunnilin from Leirvik on Eysturoy to Klaksvik on Bor­oy was opened and the previous corresponding ferry service ceased operation, with bus routes extended to operate through from Tˇrshavn and Fuglafjor­ur to Klaksvik. The bus route through Nor­oyatunnilin from Tˇrshavn is now the busiest of the Bygdalei­ir routes, running up to eleven times a day and carrying some 150,000 passengers a year. Future development plans include an 11 kilometre tunnel linking Streymoy southwards to Sandoy, whilst a private consortium has proposed a tunnel from Tˇrshavn north to Toftir, which would considerably reduce the distance by road between the capital and the significant population centres of Runavik and Klaksvik.  This latter tunnel (Eysturoyartunnilin) opened in December 2020, and features a mid-way roundabout where the main tunnel from Hvitanes, north of Tˇrshavn, splits into two tunnels, one to Strendur on the western shore of Skßlafj°r­ur, and the other to Runavik on the eastern shore. The other tunnel from GamlarŠtt on Streymoy to the island of Sandoy (Sandoyartunnilin) was opened in December 2023.  Will there eventually be a tunnel from Sandoy to the southernmost island of Su­uroy?

Just as there have been many changes in transport provision in the past, there may well be just as many changes still to come in future years. However in the Faroe Islands, as in other countries, public transport operation has to be set in practical and economic context against constantly increasing car use.

With acknowledgement to the research and publications of Mikkjal Helmsdal 1916 - 1996.

With many thanks to Bil of Tˇrshavn for the use of their pictures

This article is still in development and further information, clarification or corrections are welcomed.

Upplřsing um bussar og ferja Ý F°royar  -  eg eri takksamur fyri hjßlp tina.

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