By Promote ShetlandJuly 29th 2021

The island of Fair Isle is synonymous with knitwear but the southernmost Shetland island is also a fantastic place for a holiday, as local lass and influencer Leah recently discovered.

In the second of her island hopping adventures this summer, Leah visited Fair Isle, one of the only inhabited Shetland islands she’d never been to before. Flying in on the small plane from Tingwall for a 4-night stay, Leah, who runs the popular Instagram account Shetland Islands With Leah, was overwhelmed by the warmth and charm of the island community.

Here are her top tips if you’re planning a visit to Fair Isle…

1. See the puffins in summer

It was very emotional going to Fair Isle. I’d heard so much about it but had never been before. Flying in on a bright, sunny day, I was struck by how beautiful it was from above.

As a Shetlander, I’m a huge fan of puffins and seen them countless times before, but nothing prepared me for the sheer number of them on Fair Isle. Seeing them up close at the North Lighthouse at sunset is a memory I’ll treasure forever. Another great place to see them is the cliffs around the ferry terminal, looking southwards towards Sheep Rock.

As well as puffins, there’s so much more bird and wildlife to encounter. See the Fair Isle Bird Observatory website for more information.

2. Look at the lighthouses

Fair Isle has two lighthouses at either end of the island – North and South – and each has a fascinating history. Both were built by the famous Stevenson brothers, Charles and David, and were first illuminated in 1892. The South Lighthouse is the tallest in Shetland and stands at 85 feet high. It’s well worth a walk to both lighthouses and to have a read of the information placards outside.

The South Lighthouse is also home to a small six-hole golf course and you can book and play a round, all equipment supplied. I don’t play golf but the experience of hitting golf balls surrounded by sea and cliffs is quite an experience!

3. Visit the museum

Fair Isle lies 24 miles south of the Mainland and has its own unique history, so a visit to the George Waterston Memorial Centre and Museum during your stay is a must. As a Shetlander, I found it fascinating. I learnt all about the history of the island, and about its acclaimed knitwear and all the shipwrecks there’s been over the years.

The museum is named after the man who bought the island after the Second World War and co-founded the island’s bird observatory in 1948. Fair Isle is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland.

4. Buy authentic Fair Isle knitwear

Fair Isle knitwear is known around the world and the patterns have been copied and interpreted by designers for decades, but if you want the real deal, you need to head to Fair Isle. There are a number of locals who continue to create genuine Fair Isle knitwear to this day. The best way to see what’s available is to ask a local when you arrive and they’ll point you in the direction of the knitters and crafters. I picked up a beautiful kep (hat) and it will always remind me of my time in Fair Isle.

5. Attend a Sunday service

If you’re visiting Fair Isle over a weekend, it’s definitely worth going along to the church service on Sunday morning. Even if you’re not overly religious, it’s a beautiful experience. The whole community come together and to hear the congregation sing is just amazing.

When you visit a small island you might expect people to be stand-offish but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone on the island was so friendly, inviting me into their homes and making me feel welcome. It was so heartening.

6. Enjoy a coastal walk

Fair Isle is 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, so ideal for hiking around over a day or two. The views and cliffs are just spectacular, with plenty of stacks and arches to admire from above. The highest point on the isle is Ward Hill, which is marked by a cairn.

7. Shop local

Fair Isle has a brilliant, fully stocked shop, Stackhoull Stores. If you’re planning a visit, resist the urge to take too much of your own groceries with you as it’s well stocked with food and drink. Money spent on the island goes back into the community and supports the economy. The shop is open every day in the summer, except Thursdays and Sundays.

See more of Leah’s adventures in Fair Isle on our Instagram page. Simply click on Leah: Fair Isle in our highlights.

Visiting Fair Isle
  • There are regular flights to Fair Isle from the Shetland Mainland. See the Airtask website for the latest timetable and prices.
  • The Good Shepherd IV ferry takes 2.5 hours from Grutness in the South Mainland and must be pre-booked. See the SIC ferry website for more details.
  • Flights to Fair Isle have limited baggage allowance, so if your luggage exceeds the limit you can arrange for it to be taken in on the ferry in advance of your arrival. Ring the booking office for more information: +44 (0)1595 760363
  • There’s rental and bed and breakfast accommodation available.
  • Stackhoull Stores sells groceries, household items and has a post office.

Discover more about Fair Isle