COVID-19 update: Shetland is now reopen to visitors, as per Scottish government guidelines, but please read our guidance on travelling responsibly.

Responsible Tourism

Practical advice for visitors to Shetland

Updated 24 August

Is Shetland open for tourism?

While Shetland hasn’t had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 for weeks now, the threat of the virus is still very real. We must continue to follow the Scottish Government's advice to stay safe, protect others and save lives.

Shetland has a long history of welcoming visitors from all over the world to our island home and tourism is an important part of our economy. We love meeting people! But, for the time being at least, we've had to make a few changes.

Social distancing restrictions mean that many shops, restaurants, cafes and attractions simply can't return to business as usual. We must also be mindful of our elderly and vulnerable population and this means putting restrictions in place about where people travel and how.

So, while we are very much open for visitors, please don’t think badly of us when we ask you to think carefully when planning your trip. The last thing we want is for you to be disappointed when you get here. With this in mind, we’ve put together this list of FAQs to answer your queries.

And remember, this guidance could change depending on the latest COVID-19 situation in the rest of the country. Please keep an eye on our website and social media for the latest updates.

Can I travel to Shetland?

You can get here by ferry or flight but both options have restrictions in place, so it’s essential that you book well in advance and check the latest updates before you travel. Visit the NorthLink and Loganair websites for the latest travel guidance and details of how to book.

If you are planning to travel to Shetland from overseas you may need to self-quarantine on arrival for 14 days. See the Scottish Government website for more information and for a list of exempt countries and territories.

What happens if I get coronavirus symptoms while staying in Shetland?

Should you, a family member or someone in your travel party feel unwell and display any of the common coronavirus symptoms, please don’t ignore the situation. It’s really important that you self-isolate immediately. Contact your accommodation provider and NHS Shetland to request a test. Please note that the testing system in Shetland is different, so please do not use the national website to request a test.

If your symptoms worsen and you’re unsure what to do, contact NHS24 on 111 for advice. Or, if you think it’s an emergency, do not hesitate: call 999 and tell them you have COVID-19 symptoms.

Please also be aware that if you are contact traced while visiting Shetland, you will be asked to remain in Shetland and self-isolate for 14 days. Find out more about contact tracing on the NHS Inform website.

Can I take a caravan or motorhome to Shetland?

Yes, the ferries allow you to travel with caravans and motorhomes. Check our Caravan and Camping 2020 blog for a full list of sites. Contact them directly to check which sites are open for business and pitch availability. Again, do this prior to travelling to Shetland to avoid disappointment.

Can I sail a yacht to Shetland?

Sailing is a popular way to enjoy Shetland’s islands and inlets and there are marinas dotted across the isles. The COVID-19 pandemic however means that not all marina facilities are fully open, so to avoid disappointment contact the harbour master or marina manager in advance to check what’s available. For the latest updates and a full list of marinas and contact details, visit the Shetland Island Council’s Yachting page.

Can I travel around freely when I get to Shetland?

If you plan on visiting any of the outlying Shetland islands you will need to pre-book your journeys. Details can be found on the Shetland Island Council’s Ferry Services website. You will also need to pre-pay for your ferry journeys in advance by applying for an Account Card. This applies to both car and foot passengers. Again, all the information to do this is on the Ferry Services website.

Public buses run to and from various locations across Shetland and you can visit the ZetTrans website for the latest timetables. There’s also the option to hire cars and bikes.

While we don’t want to actively discourage people from travelling around, we again ask you to be mindful of the people in our rural and island communities. Avoid travelling completely if you have any COVID-19 symptoms. If you do travel, ensure you wear face masks on public transport at all times (ferries, buses, flights and taxies) and respect social distancing guidelines.

Will anything be open?

Even though lockdown restrictions have eased, not all accommodation, shops, pubs, restaurants, tour operators and visitor attractions are open for business as usual. Like other tourist destinations across Scotland, some businesses have taken the decision to remain closed for the 2020 season or for the time being at least, while others are operating to limited opening hours. To avoid disappointment, check before your travel if the shops and attractions you are planning to visit will be open and book ahead where possible. You can do this by checking their dedicated websites or social media.

We are staying in self-catering accommodation. What is the best way to shop for groceries?

Lots of our smaller independent shops have adapted quickly to the COVID-19 situation, offering social distancing measures in-store and/or delivery services. They also tend to stock a good range of local produce, such as meat, fish, seafood and dairy, meaning you can get a real taste of Shetland during your stay. Supporting local retailers while you can will ensure that your money stays within the Shetland economy, which is really important during these challenging economic times. Check the Taste of Shetland website for more information on our island produce. Of course, if you do need your supermarket fix, we have those too! Just remember that it’s compulsory to wear a face mask in all shops across Shetland, as per the Scottish Government guidelines.

Can I enjoy Shetland’s natural environment?

Yes, of course. Our beaches, coastline and viewpoints are free and open to everyone. While our natural beauty spots are much quieter than other places in the UK, there will still be people around, so be respectful of others and maintain social distancing.

We’re also encouraging everyone who is out and about enjoying Shetland’s coast and countryside to be considerate. These are challenging and anxious times for everyone, so it’s more important than ever to be respectful of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and avoid acting dangerously or irresponsibly.

A few things to be mindful of:

  • Enjoy walks and cycle routes but please be respectful of private property and stick to designated routes and footpaths.
  • If you have to use gates or stiles, use gloves or hand sanitiser.
  • Use a gate where one has been provided and leave it as you find it. This means if it's closed when you find it, make sure it's closed again when you leave it. This is really important as it can prevent livestock from escaping.
  • Do not light fires or BBQs on farmland or open moorland.
  • Dog owners must keep their dogs on leads at all times.
  • Remember to take all your litter home with you.

Should I visit Shetland now or postpone my trip?

It’s entirely up to you! Our borders are open and that means you are welcome. Local businesses and services have been working extremely hard to prepare for visitors and please rest assured that when you get here, we’ll keep you as safe and healthy as possible. We want you to enjoy every minute of your Shetland experience.

But, if you’d prefer to wait a while and see how the COVID-19 situation develops in the coming weeks, then that’s perfectly understandable too. Shetland is open all year round and a wild winter experience can be just as rewarding, if a bit chillier, as a summer one.

If you have any further questions, please do get in touch via our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages, or drop us an email to info@shetland.org

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