The self-governing Faroe Islands may be little-known to many, but this breathtakingly beautiful territory in the North Atlantic Ocean may soon be on your bucket list.
The 18 volcanic Faroes, politically part of Denmark, are tucked between Iceland and Norway, separated by sounds and fjords. All of the islands are inhabited except one, Lítla Dímun. While the population of the 18-island archipelago is just 50,000, these people represent an incredible 80 different nationalities.
With every point in the archipelago no more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the windswept sea, and sheep prevalent, it's not surprising that traditional Faroese food includes wind-dried fish, fermented lamb, whale and sheep's head.
Although such a menu may appeal mostly to locals and foodies, adventurers are attracted by the islands' steep cliffs, rushing waterfalls and abundance of hiking trails. And all visitors are impressed by the unspoiled region's quaint, colorful homes, which dot a landscape of lush, green grass stretching from the sea to the mountaintops.
Thanks to a tourism campaign launched by Visit Faroe Islands in 2013, tourism is now on the rise. Here are 11 interesting facts about this destination.
1. Many Homes Have Grass Roofs
The Faroe Islands receive about 300 days of rain annually. Turf roofs protect homes from this onslaught, and provide good insulation. While sod was the roofing material of choice for centuries, today's new buildings are typically constructed with modern building materials. But turf is having a revival among romantics and those who favor green building.
2. There Are No Native Trees
Thanks to strong winds and frequent gales, there are few trees on the Faroe Islands. And the ones that are here are not native. Most were brought in from Alaska and South America's Tierra del Fuego, which have similar climates to the Faroes. These trees are clustered in small plantations.
3. The Faroes Were Once Independent – For 11 Days
After being ruled by Norway for centuries, the Faroe Islands were taken over by the Danes in the 1800s. But during World War II, the Nazis occupied Denmark, while the Faroes landed under British control. After the war was over, the Faroese began to ponder independence.
On Sept. 14, 1946, voters passed a referendum in favor of independence, with 50.7 percent voting aye and 49.3 percent voting to remain associated with Denmark. Then, on Sept. 18, the chairman of the Løgting – the islands' unicameral parliament – formally declared the territory's independence. But the Danish government annulled that declaration on Sept. 20, proclaiming the referendum merely advisory. To ensure the region remained under Danish control, King Christian X of Denmark dissolved the Løgting on Sept. 25. A few months later, a parliamentary election replaced the Løgting with one whose majority favored union with Denmark.
4. Hardly Any Fast-food Joints
If you're looking for a place unspoiled by the Golden Arches and the Colonel, the Faroes might be your spot. There are just two fast-food spots on the islands: Burger King and Sunset Boulevard, the latter of which is a Danish fast-food chain. Both are in Tórshavn, the capital, and right next door to one another.
5. Attention, Single Ladies!
In 2019, there were 19,988 men over 18 living in the Faroe Islands, but just 18,502 women. The gap is due to many women going abroad for education and not returning home afterward. To compensate, Faroese men began seeking love elsewhere, namely by going online. Many women from Thailand and the Philippines were receptive to a long-distance romance and a possible new life in the Faroes, despite the drastically different climate and culture. Today, more than 300 females from Thailand and the Philippines now live in the Faroes, comprising the islands' largest ethnic minority.
6. Puffins and Sheep Rule
Puffins and sheep greatly outnumber people on the Faroe Islands. There are some 50,000 humans on the 18 islands, but 70,000 sheep and half a million puffins. Sheep are a handy way to keep grass cut too. The best place to go puffin-peeping, by the way, is Mykines, the westernmost Faroe Island, according to CN Traveler.
7. No Prisons Needed
There is so little crime here that the islands have no prison. So what happens if someone breaks the law? There is a 12-cell jail on Streymoy, the archipelago's largest island. Inmates get their own cell, equipped with a television, and they're allowed to use the mini-golf course outside. But only nonviolent offenders serving sentences of 18 months or less can stay here. Anyone who commits a serious crime or one with a longer sentence is sent to prison in Denmark.
8. Just Three Traffic Lights
9. Children Welcome
Unlike the rest of Europe, the Faroes have a high fertility rate of 2.6 in 2016. Children are given lots of freedom to explore on their own, probably because of the low crime rate and strong family-centered culture. The life expectancy rate is also very high – 79.9 years for men and 84.4 years for women.
10. The Only Bridge Across the Atlantic Ocean
Streymin bridge, opened in 1973, connects the islands of Streymoy and Eysturoy, the two most populous in the archipelago. At 656 feet (220 meters), it spans Sundini Sound at its narrowest and shallowest point, so locals jokingly call it the "bridge over the Atlantic." An undersea tunnel is projected to open in December 2020, greatly reducing traffic over the bridge.
11. And, Oh Yeah, the Weather
Lots of winds and clouds on the horizon here. As the tourism website puts it, "It is not uncommon for one location to experience rain, the next snow, and a third location sun. You can literally experience all four seasons in one day!" No wonder talking about the weather is a common pastime among the locals. On the other hand, visitors are surprised by the relatively mild climate for a place so far north: Summers average 55 degrees F (13 degrees C) winters average 37 degrees F (3 degrees C).