10 of Shetland's hidden gems

We’ve always known that Shetland is one of the best places on the planet to visit, so we’re thrilled to make number 6 in the Lonely Planet’s list of European destinations to visit in 2019. Here are some places to add to your bucket list...

1. Bed down at the bod at Aithbank

Explore the tranquil beauty of the northern island of Fetlar, also known as the ‘garden of Shetland’, and go in search of a red necked phalarope. Fetlar is the main breeding site in the UK for these elegant, yet elusive, birds. Bed down for the night at Aithbank, a cute croft house which now operates as a camping bod, sleeping up to seven people. For just £12 per night, per person, you can make this your peaceful island home after a day of exploration. And, if you like the rustic back-to-nature experience of Aithbank, check out the other camping bods available during your Shetland visit.

Book a bed today

2. Otter spot with experts

One of Shetland’s most beloved sea mammals is the otter. These cheeky wee chaps can provide hours of entertainment, once you catch a glimpse of them that is. Shetland otters divide their time between the sea and their fresh water holts and, unlike their UK mainland counterparts who are nocturnal, they happily venture out during the day. Your best chance of seeing them is to go with a local wildlife guide who will know where to find them.

Search for sea mammals

3. Scuba dive in crystal clear waters

Shetland has 1,697 miles of coastline, making it a dream for recreational divers. With plenty of geos (coves), caves, voes (inlets) stacks and even some subterranean passages to explore, not to mention a range of historic wrecks and fantastic wildlife, a diving trip to Shetland could never be described as boring. Book a trip with a diving charter, to get insight into all the best diving spots.

Plan your diving trip

4. Discover Shetland’s fishing past at Fethaland

Fethaland in Northmavine was once one of Shetland’s busiest haaf (deep sea) fishing stations during the 15th and 16th centuries. Sixty open boats operated from the station, right up until the 20th century when more modern vessels were introduced, sailing from bigger ports. Today, you can walk around the pretty coast of Fethaland and see the ruins of the workers’ cottages, as well as the remains of a prehistoric house.

Enjoy a circular walk of Fethaland

5. Trek to the Ness of Burgi

The Ness of Burgi is an Iron Age fort situated on a narrow headland in the south mainland. It’s a fine example of a stone blockhouse, of which there are only three in existence and predate the brochs (towers) that are commonly found in Shetland. Walking to it is a bit precarious – picture a trail with a chained guide rope leading you across rocky cliffs – but it’s totally worth it to see this 2,000 year old defensive structure.

Visit the Ness of Burgi

6. Go in search of sea birds

One of the best ways to view Shetland’s abundant sea bird colonies is by boat. Get up close to shelf upon shelf of gannets, guillemots and fulmars at the back of Noss, where the clifftops loom 150 metres above the ocean. Or, if you prefer dry land, head to Sumburgh Head, Hermaness in Unst or the remote island of Fair Isle for your chance to encounter puffins, skuas, terns and much more.

Learn more about Shetland’s birds

7. Walk in Viking footsteps

Shetland’s most northerly island, Unst, was the first place the Vikings landed when they travelled across from Norway. As such, the island provides a wealth of information about how Shetland’s Nordic ancestors used to live. Over 60 settlements have been unearthed and you can view the remains of traditional Viking longhouses, as well as step onboard a replica longship at Haroldswick.

Discover more about Shetland’s Vikings

8. Take a midnight trip to Mousa

Mousa is an uninhabited island off the south east of Shetland’s mainland and best known for its fine example of an Iron Age broch (tower). The broch is special because it is home to a hundreds of small storm petrel birds who roost there at night after a day’s fishing at sea. Head there at dusk to see this awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.

Book a night trip to Mousa

9. See how lairds lived at Tangwick Haa Museum

The haa was built in the 1600s for the Cheyne family and is an example of a typical Shetland laird’s (landowner’s) house. Now a museum, it tells the story of the people of Eshaness in Shetland’s north mainland and gives you a real insight into what life in rural Shetland used to be like. This museum is just one of many fantastic heritage centres on the islands.

Plan your visit

10. Witness spectacular Northern Lights

Shetland is one of the best places in the UK to see the Northern Lights in all their mesmerising glory. Known to Shetlanders as ‘Merrie Dancers’, these outstanding light displays are most commonly seen on cold, clear winter nights. A word of warning: there’s no guarantee of catching them – they appear as and when the conditions are right – so it’s worth combining an aurora-watching trip to Shetland with other activities like walking or wildlife spotting.

How to see ‘Merrie Dancers’

Feeling inspired? Why not book your trip to Shetland now and start planning your trip. We promise you, Shetland is a place like no other; it's a place to fall in love with and offers an unforgettable experience.

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