The Faroe Islands lie about halfway between Scotland and Iceland in the Atlantic Ocean. Consisting of 18 main islands and hundreds more islets and skerries, the rugged, rocky Faroes are best known for their bird cliffs and unspoiled landscape.
But there’s so much more to know about this archipelago besides its landscape and wildlife. Here are seven fascinating facts about the Faroe Islands.
The islands are an autonomous territory of Denmark
Or more specifically, the islands form a self-governing overseas administrative division of the Kingdom of Denmark, in much the same way as Greenland.
For hundreds of years the Faroe Islands were part of Norway, until the 1814 Treaty of Kiel transferred them to Denmark. Self-governing since 1948, the islands have their own parliament and control most areas of lawmaking aside from defense, policing and foreign affairs.
While Danish is also taught in schools, Faroese is the national language and bears closer resemblance to Icelandic and Old Norse than Danish does. The Danish krona is the official currency although local banknotes are issued.
There are more sheep than people
There are approximately 70,000 sheep living on the islands. The last official human population estimate of the Faroe Islands was just 53,358. That’s roughly half the population of Inglewood, California.
Believed to have been introduced around the 9th century, Faroese sheep are a unique breed of hardy sheep that roam year-round in the meadows and mountains of the islands. Some Scottish sheep (and now cross-breeds) also live on the islands, having been introduced in the 19th century. Researchers have found sheep DNA in lake-bed sediments dating back more than 1,500 years.
You’re never far from the sea
All major towns and villages with a population of more than a few hundred are on the coast. In fact, no point in the Faroe Islands is more than three miles from the sea.
Buses are free to use in the capital
The eight bus routes in and around Torshavn municipality are free to use. However, you may not need them. Just 20,000 people live in the municipality and so the town’s sights are mostly within comfortable walking distance.
Travel elsewhere in the islands is relatively inexpensive thanks to heavy government subsidies especially on the ferries that provide an essential link between the island communities.
There are only five traffic lights
Are you sick of red lights in rush-hour traffic? A Faroe Islands road trip could be the answer. Just five sets of traffic lights exist in and around the compact capital, Torshavn.
However, that doesn’t mean that driving is always easy. Many roads outside Torshavn are extremely narrow, so you’ll need to be constantly on the lookout for oncoming traffic and passing points. Another fun fact for drivers: The Faroe Islands is home to the world’s first underwater traffic circle.
The Faroe Islands has a national airline
It’s a common myth that the only way to get to the islands is from Denmark. While Atlantic Airways’ daily direct flights from Copenhagen are the most common route, flights are also available from several other European destinations.
At the present time, Atlantic Airways is the only airline serving the islands year-round, with the exception of one route from Bergen, Norway, operated by Widerøe. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) also flew a regular route from Copenhagen prior to the pandemic, but at present the route is not operational during the winter.
The Faroe Islands can also be reached on the Smyril Line ferry that runs a year-round service between Iceland and Denmark. However, the crossing to the Faroe Islands takes 30 or 38 hours from Hirtshals, Denmark, depending on the season.
Whaling continues despite international criticism
Despite the wonderful landscapes and relaxed way of life, the Faroe Islands is perhaps best known internationally for its whaling operations.
The Faroe Islands government states that “it is considered both economic and environmental good sense to make the most of natural resources which are locally available.” Dating back to the 9th century, the practice is now heavily regulated by the government and done under police supervision.
Despite such changes, photographs of the annual capture of hundreds of whales and dolphins causes global outrage. Times may be changing, however. The most recent hunt in September 2021 led to an unexpectedly large catch, an event that even shocked some participants.