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Shetland Islands

Photo © trish54

Travel Guide Europe United Kingdom Scotland Scottish Islands Shetland Islands

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Introduction

Sunset over Bressay Isle (Shetland)

Sunset over Bressay Isle (Shetland)

© All Rights Reserved coldwarspy

The Shetland Islands are an archipelago, located northeast off the coast of Scotland. The total land surface covers almost 1,500 square kilometres, with about 22,000 inhabitants calling the islands their home.

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Geography

Shetland is around 170 kilometres north of mainland Scotland, covers an area of 1,468 square kilometres and has a coastline 2,702 kilometres long.
Lerwick, the capital and largest settlement, has a population of 6,958 and about half of the archipelago's total population of 23,167 people live within 16 kilometres of the town. Scalloway on the west coast, which was the capital until 1708, has a population of less than 1,000.
Only 16 of about 100 islands are inhabited. The main island of the group is known as Mainland. The next largest are Yell, Unst, and Fetlar, which lie to the north, and Bressay and Whalsay, which lie to the east. East and West Burra, Muckle Roe, Papa Stour, Trondra and Vaila are smaller islands to the west of Mainland. The other inhabited islands are Foula 28 kilometres west of Walls, Fair Isle 38 kilometres southwest of Sumburgh Head, and the Out Skerries to the east.

The uninhabited islands include Mousa, known for the Broch of Mousa, the finest preserved example in Scotland of an Iron Age broch; Noss to the east of Bressay, which has been a national nature reserve since 1955; St Ninian's Isle, connected to Mainland by the largest active tombolo in the UK; and Out Stack, the northernmost point of the British Isles. Shetland's location means that it provides a number of such records: Muness is the most northerly castle in the United Kingdom and Skaw the most northerly settlement

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Sights and Activities

  • Sea kayaking - Available from Bridge End Outdoor Centre in Burra. Guided tours are available from Sea Kayak Shetland.
  • Wildlife watching boat trips - Various operators but amongst the best is Seabirds and Seals. Tickets available from tourist information centre in Lerwick. An excellent tour around Noss, including a visit to a sea cave where you get the chance to see the world beneath the water via an underwater camera. If it is at all windy, though, be prepared to have a strong stomach as it can be rough.

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Weather

The Shetlands have a cool maritime climate, with relatively little fluctuation regarding the average temperatures. Winters are cool, but rarely cold. The average maximum temperature during the coldest month, Februray, lies around 5 °C, while August is the warmest month at almost 15 °C on average during the day. Temperatures in summer of 20 °C or more are relatively rare and years go by without a single day hitting that 20 °C mark. Almost 3 out of 4 days see some amount of rain and although winters might not be that cold, about 60 days of snow (albeit not much either) is average. Total annual amount of precipitation is about 1,000mm, not even that much.

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Getting There

By Plane

Sumburgh Airport (LSI) is about 40 kilometres from Lerwick. Logainair flies to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Kirkwall. Atlantic Airways offers summer flights to London and the Faroe Islands as well.

By Car

Cars can be taken on the ferry (see below).

By Boat

Northlink Ferries operates boats between the Scottish mainland and both the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Ferries leave from Aberdeen for Lerwick. Connections to the Orkneys go through Kirkwall. Boats from the mainland take about 12-14 hours and usually leave during the early evening.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Direct Flight Ltd. flies to some of the smaller airfields around the Shetland Islands, most of them originating or terminating in Tingwall Airport (LWK) near Lerwick. Destinations include Fair Isle, Foula, Papa Stour, and Out Skerries.

By Car

There are several car rental companies at the airport and in Lerwick. The latter option is cheaper in general. Roads are well maintained.

By Bus

A few bus companies run services throughout some of the islands, but services are infrequent and it's better to rent a car. Check the local tourism office in Lerwick for information about the Shetland Transport Timetable.

By Boat

Ferries link most of the main islands with eachother and most of them allow you to bring your car.

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Eat

Shetland cuisine is heavily based on the prolific and excellent local seafood, together with local lamb. Milk and dairy products are produced locally, as is some beef. One of the best known local specialities is reestit mutton which is salted, dried meat often served with bannocks or as part of a potato soup. Some vegetables and fruit are grown in the islands, but this can be difficult due to the climate, and much is imported.

Most places to eat out are in Lerwick, although there are a number of other good locations, mostly country hotels. Individual recommendations are listed in their respective location pages.

There are two good supermarkets in the islands, both in Lerwick, together with a number of local shops.

During the summer months there is a local tradition of Sunday Teas being offered in local village halls. This is a wonderful opportunity to sample local homebaking and proceeds generally go to charity.

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Drink

Locally produced beers from the Valhalla brewery in Unst are served all over the islands. The Shetland Distillery Company in Unst produces gin (Reel Gin) and released the first single malt whisky from Shetland in 2015.

There are a number of lively bars (and even a nightclub) in Lerwick which are listed in that article. Outside the capital, bars tend to be in local hotels.

There is an off-licence in Lerwick and alcohol is sold in supermarkets and local shops.

The legal drinking age is 18 (16 for accompanied minors drinking beer or cider with a meal). Proof of age is increasingly required for those who appear to be under 25.

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Sleep

Camping Böds provide very basic self-catering accommodation. There are nine of these facilities across Shetland. You must book through the Shetland Amenity Trust in Lerwick (+44 1595 694688). Costs £8-10 per person per night.

PropertyAddressTypePopularity
Saxa Vord HostelSaxa Vord Hostel Haroldswick, UnstHostel-

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This is version 6. Last edited at 11:22 on Jul 6, 17 by Utrecht. 7 articles link to this page.

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