Most of the sandstone buildings on the waterfront date from the 18th century, although a few, such as 10 Commercial Street, are older. The narrow main street still follows the old shoreline but modern harbour works have been built out in front of shops and warehouses that once stood in the sea. Perched on a hillside overlooking the harbour, the town's lanes retain their charm - and their shelter from the prevailing south-westerly gales.
No-one designed the old town - it just grew - but, up beyond the Hillhead, Victorian architects laid out a "new town" of spacious villas and public parks, dominated by Lerwick Town Hall - a monument to the civic pride of the 1880s. Going west, or "oot ower", the suburban sprawl of the past half century is less picturesque, but housing standards are high.
Lerwick is the commercial and industrial centre of the islands and also the hub of a busy cultural and social life. Shetland Islands Council has its headquarters here and The Shetland Times and two local magazines are printed and published in the town. BBC Radio Shetland broadcasts news, views and an entertainment diary each evening, while a commercial radio station, SIBC, is on air around the clock with music, news bulletins and weather.