Faroe Islands, also spelled Faeroe Islands, Faroese Føroyar, Danish Færøerne, group of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and the Shetland Islands. They form a self-governing overseas administrative division of the kingdom of Denmark. There are 17 inhabited islands and many islets and reefs. The main islands are Streymoy (Streym), Eysturoy (Eystur), Vágar, Suduroy (Sudur), Sandoy (Sand), Bordoy (Bord), and Svínoy (Svín). The capital is Tórshavn (Thorshavn) on Streymoy. Area 540 square miles (1,399 square km). Pop. (2009 est.) 48,900.
Composed of volcanic rocks covered by a thin layer of moraine or peat soil, the islands are high and rugged with perpendicular cliffs—the highest at Mount Slaettara (Slaettaratindur; 2,894 feet [882 metres]) on Eystur Island—and flat summits separated by narrow ravines. The coasts are deeply indented with fjords, and the narrow passages between islands are agitated by strong tidal currents.
The climate is oceanic and mild, with little variation in temperature and frequent fog and rain; annual precipitation totals 60 inches (1,600 mm). The warm North Atlantic Current keeps the harbours free of ice. Natural vegetation is moss, grass, and mountain bog. The islands are naturally treeless because of the cool summers, strong westerly winds, and frequent gales, but some hardy trees have been planted in sheltered plantations. There are no toads, reptiles, or indigenous land mammals; hares, rats, and mice came on ships. Seabirds are numerous and were in earlier times economically important—the puffin as food and the eider for feathers.
The Faroese are of Scandinavian origin; many are descendants of Norwegian Vikings who colonized the islands about 800 CE. About a fourth of the population lives in Tórshavn, the remainder live in small settlements, almost all of which are on the coasts. The official languages are Faroese—most closely related to Icelandic—and Danish. Most islanders are Lutherans belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark. The population tripled between 1801 and 1901 and has more than doubled since then.
Since 1900 the economy of the islands has changed from agricultural (primarily sheep raising) to one based on fishing and related industries, especially the export of frozen and dried cod. Supplements to fishing include fowling and sheep raising—wool is still used in a small, home-based spinning and knitting industry. Little of the land is cultivated; the main crop is grass for sheep. Fuels, basic manufactures, and transport equipment are the major imports. The main harbour is at Tórshavn, and there is an airport on Vágar. There are regular shipping services with Denmark, Iceland, and, in summer, the Shetland Islands. In the middle of the 1990s the islands suffered a severe economic crisis, which generated a substantial emigration to Denmark. After a recovery in 1997–98, many returned.