Welcome to Shetland, an archipelago in the North Sea, where you’ll find freedom, wildlife and wild beauty, but also a rich culture and a dynamic, forward-looking society.

For the visitor, Shetland offers the opportunity for adventure and a return to nature – with epic coastal hikes, deserted white-sand beaches and a rich array of wildlife, from otters and orcas to Shetland ponies and bustling gannet colonies. You might come for some of the islands’ famous events, from the Up Helly Aa fire festivals to the Shetland Folk Festival and Shetland Wool Week, or to escape to a seafront bothy or a grand Georgian pile. You’ll eat amazing local produce, from Britain’s best mussels to tender lamb from free-roaming sheep. All the while, you’ll experience the famous Shetland welcome and the islands’ unique culture, with clearer Viking and Scandinavian influences than anywhere else in the UK.

But Shetland is much more than just a place to visit. Shetland’s dynamic economy has jobs across multiple sectors, and the islands are set to lead the UK in everything from renewable energy to sending small satellites into space. Whether you’re looking for a new opportunity or the chance to start a business in a beautiful part of the UK, a new career and lifestyle may be waiting for you. You’ll be welcomed into a vibrant society, where community and sustainability are more than buzzwords, with great schools, world-class infrastructure and loads to do, from sports clubs to events and outdoor activities. With low crime (it’s not really like the Shetland TV series), Shetland is a place where children can roam freely, and where many people live with a view of the sea.

Whether you’re looking to visit, live, work, study or invest, or are just interested in finding out more about Shetland, you’ll find the answers to some basic questions about Shetland below, and will find out much more on the rest of this site. Enjoy these Islands of Opportunity!

  • What is Shetland?

    Though it’s always written as a singular entity, Shetland is an archipelago in the North Sea of around 100 islands, 16 of them inhabited (and many others accessible by boat), with a total population of 22,920. The largest island is known as The Mainland (as opposed to The Scottish Mainland). To the north of the Mainland are the North Isles of Yell, Fetlar and Unst, the latter Britain’s northernmost island. In the sea to the south, almost halfway to Orkney, is the island of Fair Isle, with a population just a shade over 50, while Foula to the west and Out Skerries to the east are even more sparsely populated.

  • Where is Shetland?

    Shetland is in the middle of the North Sea, surrounded by some of the North Sea’s richest fishing grounds and close to some of its most productive oil fields. The line of 60 degrees latitude cuts through Shetland’s South Mainland – but, while Shetland is on the same latitude as parts of Alaska, it is warmer thanks to the Gulf Stream. Directly to the east lies the Norwegian coast, with Shetland closer to Bergen than Inverness. To the northwest lies the Faroe Islands and then Iceland, a popular route for the cruise ships that stop in Shetland. To find out more on the specific geography of Shetland, and learn about its areas, see this interactive map.

  • How can I get there?

    The main ways are by plane or ferry, though you could also come to Shetland on a private yacht or as part of a cruise. Flights are operated by Loganair, taking just over an hour from Aberdeen and around an hour 20 minutes from Edinburgh and Glasgow, with amazing views as the plane lands at Sumburgh Head, on the southern tip of Shetland’s Mainland. The Northlink ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick takes around 12 hours and 30 minutes, leaving in the evening and arriving early in the morning. Like the flight, it’s a journey in itself, with an onboard cinema, cosy cabins and good food at the buffet or quieter Magnus Lounge – all while scything through the grey North Sea. For more on getting to Shetland, see the flight and ferry pages.

  • How do I get around?


    Shetland is bigger than some people expect. It takes around an hour to drive from Sumburgh, at the southern tip of the Mainland, to Toft in the north. From there, if you time the ferries right, it takes around two hours to the car park at Hermaness, on Britain’s northernmost edge. That journey from end to end is around 85 miles, and there are countless detours from the main roads, including to the beautiful West Side and the lighthouse at Eshaness, surrounded by dramatic cliffs and stacks. Roads are generally in great condition, with two lanes on larger roads but many single-track roads. On the North Isles, avoiding sheep is often more challenging than avoiding other cars. Read more on hiring a car, bike or motorhome.

  • Where can I stay?


    There are hotels across the islands, and an island-wide network of böds, the Shetland answer to the bothy, available for low prices and sometimes without electricity. Shetland is also a great place for wild camping, offering the chance to wake up on a wildly beautiful beach or even in an ancient broch. Read more about accommodation in Shetland.

  • What is the Shetland landscape like?


    If the landscape feels ancient, that’s because it is. Some rocks were around almost three billion years ago, and Shetland is recognised as a UNESCO Global Geopark for the amazing geology of a landmass that has moved from near the South Pole over the years, shaped by continental collisions and crashing seas. Hence, the landscape is incredibly diverse, from plunging stacks and cliffs pocked with blowholes to long sandy bays, glacial valleys and heather-clad moorland. Just on the Shetland Mainland, the landscape changes as you head north, from the beautiful sandy bays and tombolos in the south to the wild, volcanic landscape around Eshaness in the north. On the eastern side of Unst, Britain’s northernmost island, the rocks came from the crust on the ocean floor, making this one of the most accessible and complete examples of an ophiolite in the world. And while the landscape is fascinating, you’re never more than three miles from the sea.

  • What's the weather like?


    Shetland may have a northern latitude but it is warmed by the Gulf Stream. Summers are relatively dry, with much of the rainfall falling during winter storms, when the seas can be huge. The average wind speed of Force 4 is part of the reason that Shetland is such an attractive place for wind turbines. It is light throughout the evening around midsummer, or the ‘Simmer Dim’, and the Northern Lights can be seen during the winter – or the ‘Mirrie Dancers’ in local dialect. Daily mean temperatures don’t get beyond 13 degrees, in August, or below three degrees, in February. When there is a beautiful sunny day, there are few places like it.

  • What's Shetland's history?


    More than 5,000 archaeological sites across Shetland hint at a long history, with evidence of human activity here as far back as 4,320BC. Between 150 and 200AD, brochs were built near the sea across Shetland – hollow stone roundhouses that may have been defensive fortresses or the Iron Age equivalent of stately homes. In the ninth century, Shetland was colonised by the Vikings, the start of a long Norse and Scandinavian influence, even after the islands were reclaimed by Scotland in the 14th century.

    Today, the Norse influence can be felt not just in Viking sites like the famous Jarlshof settlement near Sumburgh Airport, but in its place names, many of which are derived from Old Norse. Lerwick, for example, means ‘Muddy Bay’, the ‘wick’ not far from the ‘vik’ of Icelandic and Swedish. And Shetland dialect is unique, with outsiders soon picking up words like ‘peerie’ (small) and ‘bruck’ (litter), many of them with Norse origins.

    Hence, while Shetland is a welcoming and outward-looking place (partly thanks to centuries of sea trading), it also has its own identity and folk culture, from folk music to myths about trows, the Shetland answer to elves. Shetlanders often see themselves as Shetlanders first and Scots second, and have tended to vote differently to the Scottish Mainland, voting Liberal or Liberal Democrat in every election since 1950.

  • Is Shetland cut off from the rest of the world?


    No, not at all. While Shetland does have strong connections with its heritage and nature, the islands are also forward- and outward-looking, welcoming outside influences and fresh ideas. Events like the Shetland Folk Festival or Wool Week celebrate ancient traditions, but are really about modern trends in folk music and textiles. This is a normal modern society, connected to the Scottish Mainland and the world by fast broadband and regular flights. While many Shetlanders like to shop locally and sustainably, especially on Lerwick’s increasingly buzzy Commercial Street, there is a large Tesco on the edge of town, and Amazon and most UK Mainland retailers deliver reliably to Shetland.

  • What is there to do for visitors?


    One of the biggest appeals is the wildlife, from photographing otters or rare red-necked phalaropes to fishing for halibut around the Muckle Flugga lighthouse at the edge of the British isles. There are kayaking trips around the islands, and boat trips galore – whether to see the broch at Mousa, the diving gannets at Noss, or to take a cruise to the remote isle of Foula. Shetland attracts enthusiasts – bird-watchers, artists, photographers, wild swimmers, textile obsessives and so much more – especially to world-renowned events like the Shetland Folk Festival or Shetland Wool Week. But it’s also a great place for just getting away: for strolling across the sandy tombolo at St Ninian’s; for seeing the Lerwick home of Jimmy Perez in the Shetland TV show; or for walking along the beautiful cliff edge to see the lighthouse at Muckle Flugga, Britain’s northernmost point. With its wild seas and huge skies, Shetland is a true escape.

  • What do locals do all day?


    Many people who move to Shetland report their lives becoming busier than ever. There are clubs and classes for everything from archery to yoga and tai chi, with golf courses, sports pitches and a clay-pigeon shooting range. There are state-of-the-art leisure centres across the islands, especially at Clickimin in Lerwick, with its pool, health suite and squash courts, surrounded by football and rugby pitches and an athletics track. The options for outdoors adventures are almost endless, too, from coasteering and kayaking to rock-climbing (there’s also an indoor wall in Lerwick too) and racing traditional yoal boats. It’s the same for creative pursuits, with craft, photography and music meetups, choirs, brass bands and much more. And there are always films, gigs, art shows and other events at the Mareel cultural centre, the Bonhoga art gallery and other spots across Shetland. It’s easy to get involved, and to be busy.

  • What are the big events in the Shetland calendar?


    January-March: Up Helly Aa fire festivals across the islands

    April/May: Shetland Folk Festival

    July: Shetland Nature Festival

    August: Screenplay film festival

    August: Shetland Boat Week

    September/October: Shetland Wool Week

    October: Taste of Shetland Festival

    November: Craft Fair

  • How is the wildlife special?


    Shetland is one of the best places in Europe to see bird life and sea mammals. For bird-watchers, Shetland is a paradise, from the puffins at Sumburgh Head to Fetlar’s tiny, rare red-necked phalaropes and two of the UK’s largest gannet colonies, on the steep cliffs of Noss and around Hermaness, on the northernmost edge of the country. The gannets come for the same reason as the fishermen – great shoals of herring and mackerel.

    Shetland is also home to the highest density of otters in Europe, and possibly the world. Even though they’re wary of humans, they can be spotted around the islands and are often seen around ferry terminals. Grey and common seals are a more common sight, and little heads bobbing in the water will often follow walkers round headlands on coastal jaunts. The sheer number of seals is the primary reason for another of Shetland’s regular visitors: orcas, which are seen through the year, but especially in June and July, when the seals are having pups. Humpbacks and other whales are also sighted.

    On land, of course, Shetland ponies are a frequent sight around the islands, evolved to be squat and hardy (as well as cute) through 4,000 years of roaming the exposed hills and moors of Shetland. Read more on Shetland wildlife.

  • What’s the food like?


    Shetland is all about fresh local produce – from some of the world’s best mussels to tender lamb and fresh eggs from honesty boxes around the islands. Milk, cream, butter and cheese are all made in Shetland, and vegetables are grown in polycrub greenhouse tunnels across Shetland. The best-known is the Shetland Black potato, which pairs well with local roast lamb or beef. Other famous local dishes include dried reestit mutton, often eaten in tattie soup and served with bannocks, the savoury local answer to scones. More and more local suppliers are working with local produce, from farmers to fishmongers and bakers, and making everything from Shetland marmalade to sea salt, gin and beer.

  • What drives the economy?


    Shetland is less reliant on tourism than many Scottish islands. The oil industry has been a major part of the economy for the past 40 years, helping to fund everything from leisure centres to great roads and cultural events through a series of charitable trusts. Now, the islands are in the process of gradually transitioning from oil to clean renewable energy, hoping to become a national and global hub for wind and tidal energy, and the production of clean hydrogen. But the energy industry here remains much smaller than the fishing industry. More fish is landed here than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined, and aquaculture has boomed in recent decades, especially salmon and mussel farming. New fish markets and docks in Lerwick and Scalloway, as well as modernisation of the pier at Cullivoe, suggest confidence in the continued growth of fishing and aquaculture after Britain leaves the EU. Shetland is also innovating in other areas, too, especially in the fast-growing space industry, planning to launch small satellites from the Shetland Space Centre in Unst in 2021 – using not just the islands’ helpful geography, but decades of engineering know-how. While many island communities have struggled in recent decades, Shetland has consistently had higher employment levels than the rest of Scotland, and the islands are often actively recruiting workers from the rest of the UK, especially for public sector jobs.

    Some quick facts about the Shetland economy

    More fish is landed in Shetland than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined.

    Shetland harvests 40,000 tonnes of salmon a year, worth £180 million.

    6,500 tonnes of mussels are grown in Shetland, more than 80 per cent of the total Scottish production.

    Shetland’s Bluemull Sound is home to the world’s first tidal energy array.

    By 2050, Shetland aims to provide five per cent of the UK’s low carbon energy.

    The Shetland Space Centre on Unst is set to become the UK’s first commercial rocket launchpad in 2021.

    The employment rate in Shetland is 10 per cent higher than the Scottish average.

    Shetland’s tourism economy grew by £12.6 million between 2017-19 – with more than half of visitors giving their trip a perfect rating.

  • Will I understand what people are saying?


    Yes, though you might miss some words and struggle to decipher some conversations between born-and-bred Shetlanders, like Yell mussel farmer Christopher Thomason (above). Shetland dialect is a unique blend of Lowland Scots and Norse languages. There’s no practical need to learn any, but the words below will give you an idea:

    Bruck Litter

    Da Moarn Tomorrow

    Dee or du You

    Draatsi Otter

    Eenoo Just now

    Faert Afraid

    Gaff Laugh

    Gansie Traditional knitted jumper

    Mak Make

    Mirrie Dancers Northern Lights

    Peerie Little

    Peerie-wyes Carefully, cautiously

    Pleep Whine or complain

    Reestit Smoke-dried

    Simmer Dim Twilight on a summer’s evening

    Tammy Norrie Puffin

    Trow A mischievous fairy

    Twa Two; a few

  • Is it like the Shetland TV series?


    Yes and no. You’ll find the same heathery moorlands and dramatic skies, and Jimmy Perez’s cute waterfront house, which is in reality The Lodberries in Lerwick. But not every scene in the Shetland TV show was filmed here, and we like to think the real thing is even more spectacular. More to the point, there’s far less crime. This is an extremely safe place, where the community looks out for one an other. And while it’s often assumed that Shetland might be the kind of place that people come to escape and hide out, for the most part the opposite is true – it’s a place to be enfolded by the community.