By Toby SkinnerApril 29th 2021

Whether you’re a local or a visitor, Shetland is a great adventure waiting to happen, whether discovering deep nature, ancient history or the best Shetland seafood. Over the next few months, we’ll unveil the ultimate Shetland bucket list as inspiration to get out there and get exploring. Here, in no particular order, are the first ten

1. Catch a really big swell at Eshaness

Eshaness, the beautiful peninsula on the northwest of the Shetland Mainland, is worth a visit any time – a place of stacks, blowholes, waterfalls and wild geological drama on walks across its cliffs and bays. But this corner of Shetland is particularly epic during a storm, when huge swells crash against otherworldly stacks like Dore Holm, which looks like a horse supping water, and roll in towards the steep cliffs, throwing spray as high as the lighthouse on the cliff edge.

2. Watch the gannets plunge at Noss

Shetland is home to two of Scotland’s largest gannet colonies – at Hermaness, on the northmost edge of the islands, and at Noss, an island off Bressay to the east of Lerwick. Here, the 181-metre tall cliffs run for close to a mile, like a high-rise seabird city, with around 30,000 gannets nesting on the cliffs in the summer, and diving like fighter planes for the shoals of herring and mackerel that flit through the waters. The Noss Boat RIB leaves from Lerwick daily from April to September, rounding Bressay on the way to Noss. With gannets breeding here through those months, the boat trip also offers the chance to see seals and the occasional whale or dolphin.

3. Ride the waves at Quendale

Quendale, a beautiful crescent-shaped sandy beach on the South Mainland, is a gorgeous spot for a walk or a swim. But it’s particularly beautiful on the occasional day when the swell comes in, and it turns into a spot for surfing or just splashing in the waves. Read more from outdoorsy Shetlander Ritchie Williams on surfing at spots like Quendale, as well as cliff-jumping, kayaking and adventuring across the islands.

4. Hook a halibut from Cullivoe

The fishing grounds to the north of Shetland are famously rich, but for a long time were mostly the domain of commercial fishermen. Now, the Oberon and Compass Rose boats leave from the Cullivoe pier, on the North Isle of Yell, taking visitors out to fish around the Muckle Flugga lighthouse (Britain’s northernmost point) and beyond. The chug up the Bluemull Sound, under the steep cliffs of Unst, isn’t just beautiful, but Cullivoe locals Kenny Graham and Kevin Tulloch know exactly where to find the biggest cod, haddock or ling, and even ever-elusive halibut.

5. Search for otters at West Sandwick

West Sandwick is one of the most beautiful beaches on the North Isle of Yell, with little white-sand bays and dramatic rocks along the coastline. If you’re lucky (and ideally the wind is offshore), it’s also a great place to spy an otter playing on the rocky shoreline. If you struggle, you can always get your camera and go on a Shetland Nature tour with otter expert Brydon Thomason, or on one of the wildlife photography tours run by local photographer and videographer Richard Shucksmith.

6. Get up close with Muckle Flugga

The walk across bleak Hermaness to see the Muckle Flugga lighthouse should be world-famous. It’s an epic hike, first across boggy moorlands with menacing bonxies (great skuas) circling overhead, and then along the edge of dramatic cliffs to the end of the headland, where the edge of the British Isles is marked only by a humble wooden sign. The tiny islet of Out Stack is technically the northernmost point in the UK, but the Muckle Flugga lighthouse, on a little stack just beyond the headland, is the photo opportunity. The story goes that it was formed by a battle between the giants Herma and Saxa, who had fallen in love with the same mermaid and took to hurling rocks at one another, before both drowning trying to follow the mermaid to the North Pole. It takes about three hours to walk from the car park to the wooden sign and back – and it’s hard not to feel a sense of mythic awe on one of Shetland’s most iconic walks, especially the moment when you pass the crest of the hill and see the sea.

7. Watch the waves roll in at Deepdale

If you ask Shetlanders for their favourite walks and views, many will plump for Deepdale, out on the west side of the Mainland – a gorgeous beach backed by steep cliffs, with swooping fulmars and waves breaking across strips of turquoise and dark blue. It’s reached via a lovely 45-minute walk from the road. It’s also possible to make it part of a longer circular route along the coast, taking in Sandness Hill and starting and finishing at the pretty Dale of Walls.

8. Gaze at Mousa’s swirling storm petrels

In Shetland, history and nature often come together in beautiful ways. Mousa, a little island of Shetland’s South Mainland, is home to the best-preserved broch in Scotland – an Iron Age roundhouse that stands 13 metres and is thought to have been built around 300BC (it’s considered one of the oldest buildings in the UK). But while it’s a draw for history buffs, it’s also a draw for breeding storm petrels, the elusive birds that were said by ancient mariners to foretell stormy weather. As the sun sets in the summer, the storm petrels return to their nests in the broch en masse from feeding out at sea. Seeing them swirling around the broch, calling with their curious gurgling song, is a unique Shetland experience – and the Mousa Boat takes guests out to see that very spectacle through the summer.

9. Paddle through Britain’s longest sea cave

Papa Stour, an island just off Sandness on Shetland’s west coast, is one of the more dramatic places in the UK to see from the water, with its stacks, caves and steep reddish cliffs. The ultimate kayaking experience is to paddle through the dramatically lit Hol O Bordie, which is said to be the fourth-longest sea cave in the world, at more than 300 metres. Be sure to go with a local guide. Sea Kayak Shetland runs tailor-made trips for locals and visitors of all abilities.

10. Cycle the Shetland Alps

Shetland doesn’t quite do Tour De France-worthy mountains – but the hilly road between Voe and Aith, known locally as “the Shetland Alps”, is one of the more beautiful in the islands, and well-known among local cyclists (it’s a lovely drive too). With a 21,000-foot elevation change along the eight-mile route, you can justify stopping at the Cake Fridge at East Burrafirth, which started as a roadside honesty box selling cakes and is now a cafe. If you’re coming from Voe, it’s worth carrying on past Aith to Weisdale, possibly stopping for a selfie at the sign to Twatt.