Shetland Islands

Travel Guide Europe United Kingdom Scotland Scottish Islands Shetland Islands

edit

Introduction

Sunset over Bressay Isle (Shetland)

Sunset over Bressay Isle (Shetland)

© 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.

Top

edit

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

Top

edit

Cities

Lerwick is the only town of any size on the islands, with a population of some 7000, about a third of Shetland's total. Much of it is modern and industrial, centred around its busy port. It does have some attractive 18th / 19th C architecture, and its sights include the Broch of Clickimin, Fort Charlotte, and a couple of museums. It has the most accommodation, eating and drinking, and is the obvious base for visitors, with good access to the rest of Shetland.
Scalloway is a small town on the west coast six miles from Lerwick. Until 1708 it was the capital of Shetland. It has a castle and museum, plus a marina, shops and accommodation.

Top

edit

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.
Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick is a good start, with excellent displays on the geology, natural environment, and long history of these islands.
Up Helly Aa Exhibition in Lerwick. Each February the "guizers" start building a Viking longship, and by June the work in progress is on display, along with displays about the festival. Several places in Shetland have Up Helly Aa events, but by far the biggest and most spectacular is in Lerwick, with a grand costumed torchlight procession culminating in burning the longship. It's nowadays held on the last Tuesday in January.
Prehistoric sites: the standout is Jarlshof in Sumburgh, inhabited from 2500 BC into early modern times. Other notable examples are Old Scatness (also near Sumburgh), Mousa Broch an Iron Age tower on Mousa, reached by boat from Sandwick (Mainland), Stanydale Temple a few miles east of Walls, and Clickimin Broch at the south edge of Lerwick.
Historic sites include the Crofthouse Museum and Quendale Watermill near Sumburgh. The castles are variously smashed up, derelict or beyond ruin, so you visit them for the picturesque view: the best is in Scalloway.

Top

edit

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.

Top

edit

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.

Top

edit

Getting Around

By Plane

Inter-island flights are operated by Airtask (☏ +44 1595 840246 for booking) on behalf of Shetland Islands Council, and fly from 1 Tingwall Airport Tingwall Airport on Wikipedia (LWK IATA) 7 miles north of Lerwick, to Fair Isle (FIE IATA), Papa Stour (PSV IATA) and Foula (FOA IATA). They don't fly from Sumburgh except for a summer Saturday flight between there and Fair Isle. You can't book online, as they need to prioritise travellers such as residents and visiting GPs. Reckon £85 for an adult return ticket.

There is no bus to Tingwall airport, so take a regular taxi, or book a Dial-a-Ride taxi from Viking Bus Station in Lerwick on 01595 745745 (before 16:30 on the day before flying).

By Car

There are several car rental companies at the airport and in Lerwick.

The roads are in excellent condition. A-roads connect Sumburgh Airport with Lerwick, Scalloway, the ferry pier for Yell and Unst (and across those islands), and the Northmavine peninsula. They are mostly two lanes, but in Northmavine and on the B-roads they are mostly single track. Traffic is very light, apart from "Lerwick rush hour" which is more like 15 mins around 9 am and 5 pm, and a little surge around ferry sailings. If you're taking it slow to admire the scenery, pull into a passing place to let others overtake. Do wave thank-you to drivers from the other direction who pull in to let you go by, especially if you suspect they were expecting you to be the one to give way.

There are no fixed speed cameras, but the police enforce speed limits especially in built-up areas, and are always vigilant for drink- or drugged-driving.

Petrol and diesel is widely available, although there are few filling stations outside Lerwick. Reckon to pay 10p per litre more than in mainland Scotland.

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.

Lerwick Viking bus station is Shetland's transport hub. Buses run hourly to Scalloway and every 90 mins to two hours to Sumburgh village and airport. Other destinations including the north tip of Unst only have 3 or 4 M-Sat and nothing on Sunday. They're timed so that villagers can get into Lerwick, do what they need to and get home that afternoon.

By Boat

The inhabited islands are served by ferries run by Shetland Islands Council - Calmac don't operate up here. The short crossing from Lerwick to Bressay can't be booked, and booking is seldom necessary for Yell, Unst, Fetlar or Whalsay - you'll want a car on all of these. There may not be many sailings, but they do sail early and late to enable residents to day-trip either direction. Visitors' vehicles can't be taken to (and are a waste of space on) Foula or Fair Isle: occasional contractors' vehicles have to be precariously loaded and unloaded by crane, with the stomach-churning 3 hour crossing enlivened by the continual shrilling of the van alarm.

Check the display board at Lerwick harbour (or online or by enquiry at the ferry office) before setting out if the weather is doubtful. Ferries may be cancelled for days on end, leaving you stranded among the seagulls. Or they may switch ports, e.g. the ferries to Whalsay and Out Skerries normally sail from Laxo, but in high winds they sail from Vidlin.

Top

edit

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.

Top

edit

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.

Top

edit

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-

Top

Contributors

as well as davidx (1%), Sander (1%)

Shetland Islands Travel Helpers

We don't currently have any Travel Helpers for Shetland Islands

This is version 9. Last edited at 18:26 on Jul 7, 20 by Utrecht. 7 articles link to this page.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, content of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License