Explore 5,000 years of human history at some of Shetland's best-known historic sites.

The fact that Shetland has never been densely populated or intensively farmed means that many archaeological sites have survived across the centuries. This list highlights the most popular heritage sites for visitors but you'll find the remains of settlements and buildings scattered across Shetland, all with their own stories to tell.

Clickimin Broch

Clickimin Broch is in the heart of Lerwick on Clickimin Loch, which straddles the Old Town and Sound areas. Brochs are ancient stone round houses only found in Scotland. Clickimin is a terrific example and has evidence of settlement spanning over a thousand years. The broch itself is surrounded by other buildings said to date from the late Bronze Age. Very little else is known about Clickimin Broch, which makes it all the more intriguing!

The broch is easy to access and open all year round. Find out more on the Historic Environment Scotland website.

Location: South Road, Lerwick ZE1 0RD


Just a mile south-east of Old Scatness is Jarlshof, a settlement that spans 4,000 years of human activity, stretching from the Neolithic period into the 1600s AD. There are impressive remains from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Viking and mediaeval periods. Again, there’s a broch, this time accompanied by a large roundhouse, four wheelhouses and an extensive Viking farmstead with its characteristic longhouse.

Jarlshof is one of best maintained historic sites in Shetland and has an excellent visitor centre. For more information, including opening times and ticket prices, see the Historic Environment Scotland website.

Location: Sumburgh, Shetland ZE3 9JN

Old Scatness

Accidentally uncovered during road construction in 1975 and excavated from the late 1990s, Old Scatness is a large broch, dating from between 400BC and 200BC, and is tightly surrounded by an Iron Age village. The structures were later adapted by Pictish people and then by Vikings. Situated near Sumburgh Airport in the South Mainland, it offers a fascinating time capsule into how people used to live in Shetland.

For more information and opening times, see the Shetland Amenity Trust website.

Location: Sumburgh, Shetland ZE3 9JW

St Ninian's Isle

Best known for the spectacular sandy tombolo linking the mainland to the island, St Ninian's Isle itself has an intriguing history. On the east-facing slopes of the island stood a chapel where, in 1958, a Shetland schoolboy was helping with excavation of the site. He lifted a slab marked with a cross and found 28 items of Pictish silverware that included jewellery, various bowls and weapons, apparently hidden here to escape the attention of Viking invaders. Replicas are in the Shetland Museum and the originals are in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

You can visit the chapel freely at any time, except when – as happens during high tides in winter – the tombolo is flooded.
Location: Bigton ZE2 9JA

Shetland is packed with sites of historic interest, and unearthing stories from the past helps us understand Shetland's rich and diverse culture today. Find out what life was like 5,000 years ago at Jarlshof, or ponder over the St Ninian's Isle, and unpick gruesome tales of tyranny at the hands of the Stewart Earls.

Mousa Broch

This broch on the island of Mousa (“Mossy Island” in Old Norse) is the finest example of this type of building in Scotland. It’s astonishingly complete and you can (carefully) climb the stairs and stand on the wallhead. It was last used as a refuge by an eloping couple in AD 1153, as detailed in the Orkneyinga saga.

Mousa is also the breeding place of the largest colony of Storm Petrels, Europe’s smallest seabird. These tiny birds nest within the stone walls of the broch, returning during the cover of darkness to avoid predators. Visitors to Shetland can take a late night trip to the island during the summer months to see them.

You can travel to Mousa by passenger ferry from the hamlet of Leebitton and although there’s a fare to pay for the trip, entry to the broch itself is free. Find out more on the Mousa website.

Location: Mousa Boat, Sandsayre Pier, Sandwick ZE2 9HP

Scalloway Castle

Scalloway is the ancient capital of Shetland and home to an impressive castle in the centre of the village. It was the home of Patrick Stewart, earl of Orkney and Shetland, known as‘Black Patie’. He had a terrible reputation and was notorious for his oppression of the Shetland people. The castle itself is a good example of a 15th century tower house and is one of only two castles built in Shetland.

The castle is next to Scalloway Museum and unlocked when the museum is open. Admission is free. Find out more on the Historic Environment Scotland website.

Location: Castle St, Scalloway ZE1 0TQ

Muness Castle

The northern island of Unst is home to Shetland's second castle, Muness Castle, built in the late 1590s. The castle was built under orders from Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie, half brother to Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney, and uncle to the tyrannical Earl Patrick Stewart (who built Scalloway Castle, mentioned above). Muness Castle is a fine example of tower house architecture and has some interesting features, including small turrets and dummy gun loops. The castle was sold by the Bruce family in 1718, and had fallen into ruin by the end of that century.

Muness Castle is free to visit and open year-round. Find out more on the Historic Environment Scotland website.

Location: Near Uyeasound, Unst ZE2 9DL

The Stenness Sound Walk allows visitors to explore the beach as it once was – an important fishing station unitl the late 19th century. The soundscape encourages you to re-imagine the beach as a hive of activity, where communities of fishermen and traders made temporary homes over the summer months.

Placed in the landscape are audio fragments of sounds and voices – observations of early travellers visiting Stenness, archival documents relating to ‘haaf’ fishing, agreements binding men to the summer fishing, indebtedness, accounts of storms and loss of life, and even what the fishermen bought for their tea – so you will encounter many different voices.

Brought to life as part of a collaboration between artists Jo Millett, Janette Kerr, with the help of artist Rob Gawthrop, and in partnership with Satsymph, the soundscape merges recordings of sounds and spoken word, placed on the beach using Satsymph's locative technology. There are about 20 'sound clouds' to explore in the area of the beach, bringing the fascinating history to life.

Explore more of Shetland's history