Faroe Islands

Understand

The Faroese tourist season is very short. It begins in May and ends by September. Most visitors come between July and August by far. If you would like to avoid the busiest season, it is best to visit the Faroes in late May or early June. The Faroese weather has its own temperament and is a lot like the weather in neighboring regions, just more unpredictable.

One of the main reasons that people visit the Faroe Islands is the incredible nature and scenery. The Faroe Islands turn extraordinarily green during the summertime. The fresh air, the deep blue ocean, the vertical sea cliffs and the green mountains with their picturesque valleys, is something which would amaze anyone who enjoys being surrounded by nature. For generations the locals have lived off the land and the animals that are on the islands as not much grows in this climate.

A part of that culture is grindadráp, a traditional whale hunt when long-finned pilot whales or dolphins are seen between the islands. As nature rules here this can happen at any time and with no notice normally from June through to September on any one of twenty plus beaches around the islands. This traditional hunting is also called the grind. It consists of a driving of a pod of pilot whale or dolphin to the beach with boats. Once they are close enough to the beach, they are killed with hooks and knives. The entire group is killed even pregnant females and babies, which stains the sea red over tens of meters.

There are bus rides, horse trekking, mountain hikes and boat trips which allow you to enjoy the magnificent wild green landscape. Sometimes the summer fog creates a mystical landscape, in which you may vividly imagine the great history and mystical stories belonging to the islands. Some have said that when the landscape is surrounded by this sort of weather it reminds them of the landscape in J.R.R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

The tranquility of the islands are great if you want to escape from big city madness. The Faroese love to take things easy and are not at all worried about arriving on time. But if you ever find yourself in the mood for a night out in town, you will find that Tórshavn caters for your every need with its great shops, bars, cafés and restaurants.

Because the islands are so close to the Arctic Circle, the amount of daylight varies by season. The sun sets briefly each night in June, so there are several hours of twilight, before the sun comes back up again. During the winter there are no days of complete darkness, but about five hours of daylight.

Climate

The weather is maritime and quite unpredictable. It can change quickly and it varies extremely, from moments of brilliant sunshine to misty hill fog, to showers - there can be sunshine on one side of the mountain range, while it's raining on the other side. During the summer the islands are often overcast by summer fog. The Gulf Stream south of the islands tempers the climate. The harbours never freeze and the temperature in winter time is very moderate considering the high latitude. Snowfall occurs, but it is short-lived. The average temperature ranges from 3°C in the wintertime to 11°C during the summer, the temperature can be much higher, but the air is always fresh and clean no matter the season.

Industry

The Faroe Islands' primary industry is the fishing industry, and the islands have one of the smallest independent economic entities in the world. The fishing industry accounts for over 80% of the total export value of goods, which are mainly processed fish products and fish farming. Tourism is the second largest industry, followed by woollen and other manufactured products. The unemployment rate in the Faroes is extremely low. The Faroese are trying to diversify their economy, but are divided about how to go about it. At present time most Faroese people work at the public sector as teachers, caretakers or having office jobs etc. The rise in the public sector workforce is highlighted by the fact that it is getting less and less popular to work at the fishing industry, and the private sector isn't big enough to support an educated and more demanding workforce.

Politics

The Viking settlers established their own parliament called "ting" around 800. Local tings were established in different parts of the islands. The main ting was established on Tinganes in Tórshavn. About the turn of the millennium the Faroes came under control of the Norwegian king. In 1380 the Faroes along with Orkney, Shetland, Iceland and Greenland, came with Norway into a union with Denmark. At the end of the Napoleonic wars, by the Treaty of Kiel in 1814, Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden, but kept the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. In 1816, two years later, the Faroes were made into a Danish County and the old parliament was abolished. The Danish Governor became the highest authority in the Faroes.

In 1849 the Danish parliamentary constitution was made to apply in the Faroe Islands. In 1852 the Faroese parliament was reinstated as a county council, but served mainly as an advisory power. The Danish governor presided at all meetings and was a co-opted member. At the same time the Faroes came to be represented at the Danish parliament. It should be stated that, although the Faroe Islands have recognised the Royal powers, they have never been a part of Denmark. Only the Danish kingdom.

During World War II, Denmark was occupied by the Germans, whilst the Faroes had a friendly occupation by the British. During this time the Faroese parliament carried both the legislative and the fiscal responsibility. The Faroese people had a taste of self-government and a return to status quo seemed impossible.

After a referendum, which led to a very small majority voting for independence, in 1946 negotiations took place between the two countries and the outcome was the Home Rule Act in 1948. The Faroese were from then on responsible for most matters of government. The parliament can legislate on matters of local importance, and Danish laws can be rejected. The parliament has between twenty-seven and thirty-two members. The leader of the cabinet has the status of prime minister. The Faroes are still represented in the Danish parliament by two representatives. Also, since 1970 the Faroes have had independent status in the Nordic Council. Furthermore, the Faroes have their own flag Merkið. Unlike Denmark, the islands are not a member of the EU and all trade is governed by special treaties.

People

The Faroes were colonized by Norwegians in the 9th century - according to history the first settler was Grímur Kamban, a Norwegian Viking who made his home in Funningur on Eysturoy in 825. The Faroese population has largely descended from these settlers. Recent DNA analyses have revealed that Y chromosomes, tracing male descent, are 87% Scandinavian. However, the studies also show that mitochondrial DNA, tracing female descent, is 84% Scottish. Today the population is 48,511 1st November 2010. About 19,870 people live in the metropolitan area which comprises Tórshavn, Kirkjubøur, Velbastaður, Nólsoy, Hestur, Koltur, Hoyvík, Argir, Kaldbak, Kaldbaksbotnur, Kollafjørður, Signabøur and Oyrareingir Tórshavn Municipality. About 4,700 people live in Klaksvík, the second largest town in the islands. 4,750 people live in Suðuroy, the southernmost islands 1 January 2010 and 1330 people live on Sandoy island 1 January 2010.Faroese is the national language; it is rooted in Old Norse.

Landscape

With their volcanic origin the 18 islands are rugged and rocky. The average height above sea level for the country is 300m 982 ft. The highest peak, Slættaratindur, is 882m 2883 ft above sea level. There are 1100km 687 mi of coastline and no point is more than 5km 3 mi away from the ocean. Mountains and valleys mostly characterize the inner landscape. The Faroese west coast is characterized by steep slopes and bird cliffs, that in the summertime are full of nesting seabirds such as puffins. Something that first meets the eye of a traveller is the lack of trees in the Faroes. The reason for this are the thousands of sheep that occupy the islands.