Underwater Tunnels Revolutionize the Faroes

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55 million years ago, the Northeast Atlantic Ocean opened up between Europe and Greenland, pushing the two landmasses apart. In the middle of this incipient churning ocean, massive volcanic eruptions spewed volcanic ash and bombs and layer upon layer of dark gray lava basalt flows. Over millennia, the basalt grew six kilometers thick, forming the geologic base of the Faroe Islands.

Today, only 900 meters of the ancient volcanic rock rises above the water. Ripping winds and heaving seas have slowly carved the hardened lava into 18 precipitous spits of land. For one and a half millennia, from the first period of settlement by Gaelic and Norse peoples between 400-600 until 1973, the only way to travel between the small villages hugging the shorelines was by boat. Then, a bridge opened between the two most populous islands: Streymoy, where the capital of Tórshavn is located, and Eysturoy. 

People no longer needed to wait for the car ferry to go back and forth. Suddenly, a half-day journey took only a few minutes. The bridge was a precursor to an even more momentous occasion that took place 30 years later, when the country’s first subsea tunnel opened. It connects Streymoy to Vagar, the island where the international airport is located. Another subsea tunnel opened in 2006, and two more are currently under construction.

Driving around the Faroe Islands today, car commercial-ready roads descend into neon-lit subsea tunnels that spit you back out into a world of grassy islands connected by ephemeral misty rainbows. The country’s hardy fishermen and sailors have taken the plunge, replacing once treacherous journeys by sea with effortless drives beneath the waves.

Road tripping in the Faroes

A brief history of underwater tunnels

Underwater tunnels may seem fantastical and futuristic, but they have existed since 1843. That year, tourists from around the world came to see the first such tunnel in London, beneath the Thames River. An American traveler, William Allen Drew, called the attraction the “eighth wonder of the world.” It was designed for use by horse-drawn carriages, but financial problems prevented the construction of the

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