10 reasons to visit Shetland

If you’re an intrepid traveller seeking an incredible adventure - book your ticket now! Here are a few of the reasons your trip will be an unforgettable experience…

Enjoy a wildlife paradise, unique arts and crafts, festivals galore, world-renowned trips and tours, stunning islands, breathtaking scenery, gourmet delights, a vibrant rich culture and the warmest of welcomes. What’s not to like? See you soon!

1. Shetland offers a wildlife extravaganza!

Where can you easily see dolphins performing spectacular acrobatics in shimmering voes, seals sunning themselves near the local supermarket, otters and cubs at play in their original and undisturbed natural habitats, harbour porpoises cruising just offshore or killer whales hunting?

Where is it the work of a moment to organise a breathtaking trip to some of the finest of Scotland’s nature reserves? Perhaps you’ll visit the gannet colony at Hermaness, the truly world-class seabird city on the island of Noss or the red-necked phalaropes at their favoured wetland in Fetlar.

Where can you do all this without endless hikes or over-priced cruises?

Shetland, of course! Reach 60° North in just over an hour from one of Scotland’s main airports or take to the high seas and book an overnight trip with NorthLink Ferries. Easy as!

Shetland is a wildlife adventure recommended by naturalist Simon King and otterholic Charlie Hamilton James. Unlike farther-flung destinations, you’ll probably want to visit more than once in a lifetime. Simon and Charlie are both regular visitors and they can’t be wrong!

Visit Sumburgh Head and the Visitor Centre, open daily from (Apr - Sep). Make a day of it, pack a picnic and explore the recently refurbished lighthouse and readily accessible RSPB Nature Reserve – eye spy guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and comical puffins, known locally as tammie norie

2. A world-class island-hopping destination

Where the road ends – the adventure begins! Catch the ferry to otter capital, Yell and keep an eye out for whales on the crossing or fly to stunning Fair Isle for a spot of birdwatching and explore the island that gives the iconic knitwear pattern its name. Visit the most northerly inhabited island in the UK, Unst, which boasts a plethora of fabulous walks, including the fascinating Gutter Lasses trail, two National Nature Reserves and a Boat Haven. Don’t miss Foula – a wildlife extravaganza – where you can experience a thrills and spills expedition into the 60m deep Da Sneck ida Smaalie – hold fast! Fetlar, known as the ‘garden of Shetland’ and home to ninety percent of the British breeding population of the red-necked phalarope is sure to enchant. And beguiling Whalsay, an island that inspired some of Hugh McDiarmid’s poetry, offers easy coastal walking and a fascinating museum in Symbister Pier House. Happy hopping!

Hopping handy facts:

  • For the latest bus, ferry and flight times head to travel.shetland.org
  • Visit the Old Haa Museum, Yell, built in 1672. Superb displays, great tearoom and a tranquil garden.
  • Did you know the seas around Out Skerries offers some of the best diving in Britain? There are many shipwrecks around the coastline to explore.

3. Uncover the mystery of Shetland

Visit Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement - a multi period settlement embracing 4,000 years of human history - and explore the mysterious underground passages, while listening to an audio guide about this incredible site, uncovered during violent storms at the end of the 19th century. Go geocaching: seek hidden items and follow in the footsteps of the Vikings. Hunker down with a Shetland murder mystery novel penned by award-winning crime writer Ann Cleeves and explore the islands in the spine-tingling footsteps of detective Jimmy Perez. Channel Jacques Cousteau and discover Shetland’s teeming underwater kingdom (and view a Giants Leg!) on a boat equipped with a remotely operated submarine camera. Stop off at the excellent Scalloway Museum and learn about the top-secret Shetland Bus Operation run from the islands during World War II.

Visit Shetland and unearth a kist full of secrets…

4. Discover the ‘last untamed corner of the UK’

Extreme weather and extreme fun! Shetland is the place to visit for outdoor pursuits. Why not go horse trekking across Burra with Houlls Horses & Hounds, home to five beautiful Icelandic horses, with their distinctive gait known as Tölt. Or book a bed in one of the Camping Böds; each has a fascinating history and they’re great bases from which to discover the islands on foot. If you want to explore Shetland’s fabulous coastline, venture on a sea kayaking expedition and, come the evening, fire up the barbie for a trout supper – there are over 300 lochs abundant with feisty brown trout! If crag hopping is your chalky bag – get on the Climb Shetland website and hook up with a local. For freewheelers, bring your bike or hire one when you get here – traffic is light and there are over 1,000 miles of road to pedal. What’s not to like? The ‘last untamed corner of the UK' is the place for adventurous travellers, as recommended by the Lonely Planet crew.

A Shetland Adventure

If you’re looking for a castaway adventure – bring your yacht and access Shetland Marinas for information.

  • Shetland has over 15 well-equipped marinas
  • Many sheltered coves
  • Deserted islands
  • And more golden beaches than you can shake a stick of rock at.

5. The perfect romantic getaway

Why don’t you treat your loved one and pop over for a romantic get-away-from-it-all break? A long weekend spent at the atmospheric and isolated Eshaness Lighthouse is memorable (especially in wild weather!) and perfectly situated for the exhilarating Eshaness circular walk. Or, for a more traditional hotel break, stay at elegant Busta House Hotel (they have an excellent whisky selection) and enjoy fine dining in the hotel’s candlelit restaurant. For those seeking a luxurious break, travel to Unst and bliss out at Belmont House - a beautifully restored Georgian residence that’s Country Living perfect. For wildlife lovers, take a short boat ride across glassy waters to climb ancient Mousa Broch by moonlight, then watch storm petrels circle this ancient monument: mesmerising. Head south to visit the Croft House Museum and listen to the custodian regale you with tales of times past by a smouldering peat fire. In the afternoon, stroll hand in hand across the white sand tombolo to St Ninian’s Isle, famed for a hoard of Celtic silver discovered back in the 1950s; here, you can unearth your very own treasure, for this emerald jewel of an island awaits your loved one.

For budgeteers – wild camp under a canopy of twinkling stars and with a glass of fizz in hand watch for stunning Aurora Borealis, dressed in luminous turquoise green, perform a mirrie dance. The best light show in town and it’s free!

6. A gastronomic paradise

Check out the Taste of Shetland website (and pop up shop, which operates in summer months) and discover a smorgasbord of seasonal bounty. Visit the regular farmers’ markets and indulge in local produce, including Shetland Cheese (must try: spiced Peerie Truckles). Stop off at roadside honesty boxes and buy glorious eggs for your breakfast. Dine out on award-winning, croft reared organic lamb and beef, wonderful with Shetland black tatties. Stock up on Shetland delicacies at the many rural stores dotted across the islands, locally owned and the centre of community life. Devour a Bacchanalian feast of luscious rope grown mussels, ideally with a glass of perfectly chilled wine at the Scalloway Hotel. Or watch the world go by at Frankie’s in Brae – winner of many accolades and the perfect place for a moreish fish and chip supper – or, perhaps more of those seductive mussels! Kick back with a gin and tonic from Shetland Reel Gin and book a fine meal at The String or The Dowry, both on Commercial Street, where local seafood, lamb or beef is freshly prepared. For the folks back home, gift chocolatey Puffin Poo, utterly-butterly Shetland fudge and a selection of Valhalla Ales brewed in Unst or some of the brilliant beers from the Lerwick Brewery. Experience the authentic taste of Shetland and don’t forget the Food Festival in November; provenance is guaranteed and there’s gourmet grazing at its best. A loosening of the belt is ensured!

Shetland Foodie Delights:

  • Watch the sun set with a rich dark Tushkar from Lerwick Brewery.
  • Sample sugary delights at Shetland’s famous Sunday Teas – held at halls throughout the islands and fantastic community events. Check local listings for details.
  • Head to Mirrie Dancers Chocolatiers on Lerwick's Commercial Street for some beautiful chocolate truffles - they're bite-sized works of art!

7. Unique arts and crafts

Pick up a leaflet and follow the ‘craft trail’. You’ll be amazed at the diverse makers, artists and photographers who are inspired by Shetland’s elemental weather and unique landscape. Shopping in Shetland is an antidote to bland, mass-produced items and perfect for the person who seeks ‘products with personality’. Decorate your home with fused glassware from Glansin Glass or cuddle up with a gorgeous handmade Burra Bear produced from recycled Fair Isle knitwear. Dazzle in exquisite hand-made silver jewellery, designed by Mike Finnie of Red Houss; incidentally, his watercolours of traditional Shetland scenes are divine. Find vibrant knitwear with an urban-bohemian edge at Nielanell. Stop off at Paparwark and peruse stunning wooden gifts and handmade furniture.

All over Shetland, you can visit artisans in their workshops, attend farmers’ markets or perhaps find a local craft fair. You shouldn’t miss the atmospheric Shetland Textile Museum at the Böd of Gremista or the whimsical Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, which has a great little conservatory café. Local shops will let you choose memorable gifts for friends and family back home, with a warm welcome and no pressure to buy. That’s retail therapy at its very best.

Don't miss Shetland Wool Week

  • A local and international gathering of uber talented folk and fascinating events celebrating Britain’s most northerly native sheep.
  • Discover more at shetlandwoolweek.com

8. Shetland is festival crazy!

Festivals can be a life-changing experience which can transform you into a free spirit, if only for a few days! A gathering of like-minded folk enjoying life to the max offers a great way to meet locals. Where better to start than with a deep-rooted local festival that’s also a fiery, world-famous spectacle, nowadays attracting a global audience? That would be Lerwick Up Helly Aa, held annually on the last Tuesday in January. A replica longship is burned, a thousand ‘guizers’ march through the town and a massive, euphoric all night party is held in local Halls. It’s not to be missed! Shetland spoils music lovers, with homegrown talent and international artistes performing at annual events such as the renowned Folk Festival and Folk Frenzy. But it’s not all about ‘da tunes’. For film buffs: Shetland’s Screenplay offers over 95 events and is curated annually by respected film critic Mark Kermode. For bookworms, Wordplay offers book launches and readings and is sure to inspire all budding authors. In addition to the major festivals, there are numerous smaller events across the islands, so keep an eye out for listings in the local press and bring an open mind – Shetland offers a culture of creative possibility.

  • Traditional informal music nights are held at Asta Golf Club, Douglas Arms and The Lounge in Lerwick. Check with the tourist information centre in Lerwick for dates and times.
  • High Level Music in Lerwick stocks music featuring Shetland artists.
  • Mareel, sited on Lerwick’s waterfront, is a creative hub and the buzzy centre for musical and arts events. View what’s on at mareel.org

9. Kids love Shetland!

Shetland is the perfect location for the whole family to have a unique and memorable adventure together. There are countless child-friendly activities to choose from, including Shetland pony trekking, letting off steam in one of the 74 play parks and pretending you’re a fierce Viking raider on the Skidbladner longship in Unst! If you’re a water baby, dive into the Giant Bubble Pool at Clickimin Leisure Centre followed by a film and yummy popcorn at Mareel, our arts centre. For exhilarating fun, mountain bike down Ronas Hill, explore rock pools by golden beaches and camp in wooden wigwams. For creatives, visit the family-friendly pottery, Aa’ Fired Up, in Lerwick, say hello to the animals at Burland Croft and play hide and seek in idyllic Da Gairdins i Sand - look out for the ‘Beware of the Crocodiles’ sign! Shetland offers a ‘do you remember’ family holiday!

10. Excellent guides and tours

Did you know that Shetland is a UNESCO global geopark? Discover more about our geology and make a holiday out of discovering ancient volcanoes and fascinating fault lines. For wildlife tours, choose from various tour operators, including Shetland Nature and Shetland Wildlife. They work with small groups but offer big adventures: eco tourism at its best. If you want to learn about Lerwick’s colourful past, step back in time with local historian and tour guide Douglas Sinclair, whose vivid tales of smugglers’ tunnels will captivate. If you’re seeking to improve your photography skills, get snap happy with local photographers, including award-winning and widely-published Richard Shucksmith. For creatives, join a four-day Textile Tour with Global Yell. For ramblers, Shetland Field Studies Group hosts fascinating guided walks. To learn about Shetland’s rich heritage, join a free guided tour at Shetland Museum and Archives. For the time-poor – and those who understand the essential traveller’s mantra, ‘always seek local knowledge’ – Shetland is the ideal holiday destination. Sit back, relax, be guided and enjoy all that Shetland has to offer.

Rock hound hints and tips:

  • Head to the beach at the Back o Ollaberry and walk over a MASSIVE fault line that stretches as far as the west coast of Scotland!
  • Follow Shetland’s geological timeline at Shetland Museum and Archives and pick up free Trail packs.
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