• Home
  • Blog
  • 7 reasons to visit Shetland in autumn
By Adam CivicoSeptember 13th 2023

Autumn is an excellent time to visit Shetland and experience the islands' dramatic beauty, incredible wildlife, rich cultural heritage and wonderful food and drink. We highlight seven reasons why you should visit Shetland in autumn.

1. Embrace the untamed beauty of Shetland in autumn

Autumn is an ideal time to experience the stunning landscapes and dramatic coastlines of Shetland and truly get away from it all.

If you’re feeling adventurous it’s even worth heading to the coast after one of the autumn storms which can roll in off the Atlantic Ocean. You may need to wrap up and wear a windproof jacket, but it’s worth the effort to witness impressive waves, and marvel at the power of nature.

Feeling the spray of seawater on your face as you walk along dramatic clifftops is undeniably a life-affirming experience. Contrast that with the serenity that comes on a flat calm day. Why not head to one of the beautiful beaches, where you quiet possibly could be the only person there?

2. Go wild and immerse yourself in natural Shetland

Shetland is a bucket-list destination for many bird watching enthusiasts, and there’s no better time than the autumn.

September and October offers excellent opportunities to witness the incredible variety of migratory bird species that visit Shetland during the autumn.

Each year from Fair Isle to Hermaness in Unst, migratory and vagrant birds are regularly spotted, causing excitement among locals and visitors alike. It is a popular time for nature-lovers to visit the islands, often inspired by the chance to spot rare birds as well as more commonly seen migratory species.

But autumn wildlife watching is not just about birds. You are likely to witness seals, otters, and possibly whales along the coast. Shetland's waters are rich in marine life, and autumn is the perfect time to catch a glimpse of these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat. The late autumn is an ideal time seeing young otter families.

3. Discover the rich craft traditions of Shetland

Shetland has a thriving craft industry with many skilled craftspeople making exquisite products, often inspired by the beautiful landscapes and natural world.

The islands are renowned for its skilled craftsmen and women who continue to produce beautiful and intricate pieces. Whether it's a handwoven shawl, skilfully made furniture, or a beautifully crafted piece of pottery, you're sure to find something that captures the essence of Shetland's craft traditions.

If you want to meet the skilled craftspeople who make these beautiful items, you can follow the Shetland Craft Trail and see some of them in action. It’s best to get in touch beforehand and double-check opening hours.

You won’t want to miss the annual Craft Fair which brings dozens of skilled craftspeople together, and providing the opportunity to treat yourself or buy exquisite gifts for others.

4. Indulge in the exquisite textiles of Shetland

Shetland is world famous for its high-quality textiles, particularly wool, which is renowned for its softness and durability.

The skilled knitters and weavers of Shetland are known for their exquisite lace products, creating intricate patterns and designs, and the iconic Fair Isle patterns that never go out of fashion.

Shop for high-quality knitwear, such as sweaters, scarves, and hats, made from Shetland wool. Whether you're looking for a knitted jumper, hat or gloves to keep you warm or a stylish accessory to complete your outfit, Shetland's knitwear has something for everyone.

Supporting local craftspeople helps sustain the local and contributes to preserving Shetland’s traditional craft and cultural heritage.

With a wonderful world of wool to explore it’s no surprise that Shetland Wool Week is a hugely popular event. Visitors from around the world flock for the annual celebration in September/October which celebrates the textiles industry and the native Shetland sheep which produce the wool that goes into many traditional garments.

5. Step back in time at captivating museums and heritage sites

When visiting Shetland in autumn, take the opportunity to explore the fascinating museums that showcase the rich history and culture of the islands.

Shetland Museum and Archives

Immerse yourself in the captivating exhibits at the Shetland Museum and Archives. Learn about the stories and traditions of the Shetland people, from their Viking heritage to the modern-day. Discover artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays that bring Shetland's past to life.

Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement

Embark on a journey through time at the Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement in the South Mainland. Explore the ruins of this ancient settlement, which spans over 4,000 years of history. Marvel at the well-preserved buildings and gain insight into the lives of the people who once called this place home. The site, along with Old Scatness and Mousa Broch, is so important it is under consideration by UNESCO due to its outstanding universal value. The site is open between 10am and 4pm between October and March, but it’s best to visit the website to check opening.

Unst Boat Haven

If you’re in Shetland in the early autumn, you can uncover the maritime heritage of the North Isles at the Unst Boat Haven. Discover a collection of traditional Shetland boats, learn about their significance in the local fishing industry and hear stories of bravery and resilience from the fishermen who sailed these waters. The boat haven is operated alongside the Unst Heritage Centre, and it celebrates the important maritime heritage of the “island above all others”.

6. Savour the best of Shetland food and drink

Shetland’s food and drink scene is focused on using the exceptional produce available in the islands. That includes Shetland lamb and beef that grazes on the heathery hills, and an array of incredible seafood.

Seafood from the islands is exported around the world but there is nowhere better to sample delicious fresh seafood than Shetland itself.

Locally reared beef and lamb is incredibly tasty thanks to the quality of the grazing and low intensity farming methods used. Shetland lamb even has protected destination of origin status recognising its flavour and the traditional methods of animal husbandry.

Autumn visitors should sample traditional Shetland dishes, such as Shetland bannocks with salt beef or reestit mutton – a Shetland delicacy of salt-cured lamb. You can also indulge in delicious homemade jams, chutneys and cakes made using locally grown produce.

Keep an eye out for the honesty boxes and cake fridges where many of these homemade items can be bought. And don’t forget to visit the local distilleries and breweries to experience Shetland's unique craft spirits and beers. Cheers!

You may want to coincide your visit with annual Taste of Shetland Festival, which brings together all these fantastic foods and drinks in one place. There are usually a few celebrity chefs in attendance too, so you may even get a selfie!

7. Look up and enjoy big skies and spectacular Shetland nights

Autumn is a season of transition, and Shetland’s ever-changing and awe-inspiring skies can reveal unexpected beauty.

Set off on a scenic hike and you will be rewarded with panoramic views of Shetland's rugged cliffs and rolling hills. The dramatic coastal vistas and untouched wilderness make for a remarkable experience, filled with magnificent landscapes.

With the setting of the sun comes the opportunity to marvel at Shetland’s night skies. There’s minimal light pollution making Shetland an excellent place for stargazing on a clear evening. And at 60º North, as the nights darken, there is the chance of witnessing the northern lights.

For an off-the-beaten-path adventure, explore some of Shetland’s outer islands, which offer incredible ‘big sky’ views. The northernmost populated island of Unst is also home to the charity Wild Skies Shetland, celebrating the incredible ever-changing skyscape.

If the weather is not ideal for skywatching, why not consider a film or concert or at Lerwick's Mareel arts venue, or try one of the local pubs, restaurants or hotels for a relaxed evening?

Plan your autumn visit to Shetland

With incredible native and migratory wildlife spotting opportunities, outdoor activities, and delicious food and drink on offer, autumn is an excellent time to visit Shetland.

Why not start planning your visit today on our Autumn, Seasons page.

Which Shetland will you explore?

Plan your Shetland visit todayarrow-right