The Norwegian Cultural Heritage In Iceland And The Faroe Islands

Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands have a long-standing historical connection spanning over centuries. These countries situated in Northern Europe are bounded by many links of social, cultural, historical, linguistic, religious, political, and economic nature. So it is that the Norwegian cultural heritage is clearly visible both in Iceland and in the Faroe Islands and has been a strong part of the history of both countries to the present day.

The national flag of Norway painted on several wooden planks. Image source:

The south-western part of Norway in particular has many such connections with Iceland and the Faroe Islands given the fact that in the distant past, more specifically during the Viking Age, both aforementioned lands were settled primarily by Norwegian Vikings and their Gaelic-speaking thralls (i.e. slaves) brought from Scotland and Ireland (but not only thralls, as there were also Gaelic noblemen and noblewomen along with their freemen and freewomen companions who set sail from the British archipelago to Iceland, settling there permanently; at that time, the British archipelago was also inhabited by the Norse Gaels). So it is that today the south-western dialects of Norwegian are very close in terms of mutual intelligibility, lexis, and grammar with both Icelandic and Faroese (and vice-versa, that is).

The economic connections between the three countries span a very long time, since the early Middle Ages more specifically, with the Faroe Islands being initially a very important navigational and commercial hub located between Iceland and Norway approximately halfway in the North Atlantic Ocean. On their way to discovering and colonising Iceland, the Faroe Islands represented a voyage checkpoint, if you will, for many crews of Norwegian Vikings who set sail from present-day south-western Norway (from e.g. Rogaland or Vestland).

As time passed by, Iceland became very valuable economically for Norway once stories of its discovery gained more popularity. It was a land rich in ivory, fish, and timber worth sailing for and trading with over the turbulent waters of the North Atlantic, and, later on, another important navigational hub of the Norsemen in the North Atlantic located between Norway and Greenland, and, ultimately, on the way towards North America in Helluland and Markland as well as Vinland (as it can be known and read from some of the Icelandic sagas to this very day). In essence, there were Norwegians trading with Norwegians back then in Viking times, that is mainland European Norwegians with insular Norwegians. But at the same time, the national identities of the Icelanders and Faroese developed independently as well, evolving from a common Gaelic-Norse basis.

Concomitantly, it is very important to highlight the origin of the name of Norway which is Norðvegr in Old Norse, the language of the Norsemen, that is ‘the northern way’ or ‘the way towards the north’ given its historical trade with Denmark in the south and, by extension, mainland Europe. It was precisely this noteworthy historical trade (which had previously taken place even before the start of the Viking Age) that would later forge the name of this Nordic nation as it has been to the present day.

Another very important cultural aspect linking Norway with Iceland and the Faroe Islands (which can be both alternatively perceived in a historical regard as the previous overseas colonies mainly of the Norwegian Vikings) is the architecture of the turf houses. This architecture was ‘imported’ (or brought over, better put) from Norway by the Norse colonists and was customary to the many picturesque villages which dotted the fjords and mountains of the long Norwegian coastline and deep well into the Scandinavian peninsula.

Turf houses as seen in Sunnfjord, a traditional district in Vestland, south-western Norway. Image source:

A road through a Norwegian village with traditional turf houses. Image source:

Turf houses in the municipality of Suldal, Rogaland, south-western Norway. Image source:

A turf house on a mountainous area in the Dovrefjell mountain range, south-western Norway. Image source:

Detail from the roof of a traditional turf house from Norway. Image source:

The Norse polytheistic religion (including the Norse mythology) was another important factor linking the three Nordic countries as this was the religion of all the Norsemen during the early Middle Ages. Furthermore, the traditional music of Iceland and the Faroe Islands also share significant resemblances to Norwegian folk music. Even in terms of traditional clothing, the traditional costumes of the Faroese and Icelanders share similarities to the Norwegian bunad.

Additionally, there are commonalities between the Norwegian cuisine and the Icelandic and Faroese ones, yet Iceland also has similarities with the Scottish cuisine at the same time given its strong Celtic/Gaelic cultural heritage. Needless to mention that Norwegian folklore and folk stories are also similar to those of Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

Last but not least, in terms of ship building and navigation, it is crystal clear that these three Nordic countries had been linked by the well known Viking longships in the past throughout the Viking Age, regardless of the long geographic distances that needed to be voyaged and braved on heavy weather.

Image source:

Documentation sources, credits, and external links:

  • Noregr on (in English)
  • Norðvegr – Norway: From Sailing Route to Kingdom, academic article by Norwegian archaeologist and professor Dagfinn Skre at the University of Oslo on
  • Icelandic Saga Database on (in several languages, including English)
  • Personal knowledge
  • Many thanks and much respect to Magnus G. Bjornsson for his very valuable knowledge and constructive longtime feedback on The Dockyards
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