Bressay shelters Lerwick from the east and can be reached by car ferry from the town in under ten minutes. Noss lies off the east coast of Bressay and is famed for its spectacular seabird colonies. Both islands feature striking landscapes, coastal mammals and wild flowers.

A quick introduction

Bressay shelters Lerwick harbour from the North Sea and for many centuries Bressay Sound has been a port of refuge for shipping, since long before Lerwick was founded in the 17th century.

Vikings landed on Bressay in the 800s, taking shelter in the shallow inlets of Leira Voe, which translates as 'muddy creek'. A few centuries later, in the 1400s, the Dutch used Bressay as their main harbour. Each June, up to 2,000 busses (twin-masted fishing boats) would visit Bressay Sound for the herring fishery. It was said that at times you could cross from Bressay to the Mainland by stepping from boat to boat.

The success of the herring fishery saw Lerwick establish itself as Shetland's main town, succeeding Scalloway as the islands' capital. While Lerwick's population grew, Bressay remained a rural community. Today, it is home to around 360 people.

Noss, meanwhile, is thought to be a relatively new island. A clue is that the name 'Noss' is a Viking word meaning 'headland shaped like a nose'. If it had been an island when the Vikings arrived in the 9th century they would certainly have called it 'Nossay' - 'island shaped like a nose'.

The island has been settled by people for at least 4,000 years and has considerable archaeological interest. Today it is uninhabited except during the summer when wardens live on the island.

How to get to Bressay and Noss

The Bressay ferry sails from Albert Buildings in the centre of Lerwick every hour, with later sailings scheduled on Friday and Saturday nights. See the ferry services website for a full timetable.

There are two ways to experience Noss: excursion boat from Lerwick or the ferry from Bressay.

A boat trip is the best way to view most of the seabird nesting sites at close range (and the only way when the island is closed to visitors) but it doesn't include a landing on Noss. Wheelchair users are welcome on many of the boats which operate excursions, taking guests safely into the coves, right alongside the lower cliff ledges and, in calm weather, into the Cave of Noss. Find out more on our Trips and Tours page.

Or, if you're on Bressay, you can take the three-minute Noss Sound ferry, which operates five-days-a-week (not Mondays or Thursdays) during the summer season (May - late August) while the wardens are living on the island. The inflatable boat is not suitable for dogs. For the latest timetable and booking, call the Noss Ferry Line: +44 (0)800 107 7818.

Where to stay

Bressay has a hotel and a range of self-catering accommodation available to book. There is no accommodation available on Noss.

Useful information
  • Bressay has a pub, a shop, a post office and a public hall. For opening times and more information, see the Visit Bressay website.
  • There are public toilets in Bressay at the ferry terminal and Speldiburn Cafe. The Noss visitor centre has toilets, which are open 10am to 5pm daily – except Mondays and Thursdays – from May to the end of August.
  • Caravan parking with electric hook up points are avaliable at the Bressay Marina Caravan Park. Please ask local land owners permission if you'd like to put up a tent near to housing or livestock.
  • There's a marina at the Bressay Boating Club with a slipway for small craft and a spare berth for visiting yachts drawing less than 1.5m.
  • If going to Noss by the ferry, be sure to wear sensible footwear - the rocks on both sides of the sound can be slippery.
  • Visitors' dogs are not allowed on Noss. Even well-trained dogs can disturb wildlife and sheep.

Things to do

Bressay

Walking in Bressay

Just a short ferry journey from Lerwick, Bressay is an unspoilt island full of historic sites and stunning scenery. Highlights include a trip to the Bressay Lighthouse on the south end of the island and a walk up Ward Hill, Bressay's highest point, offering fantastic views across the whole of Shetland. There's also a good chance to spot plenty of bird and sea life on the Brough to Stobister Circular. See the Visit Bressay website for more notable sites of interest and walking route suggestions.

Bressay Heritage Centre

The ferry berths in Bressay right next to the Bressay Heritage Centre which features seasonal exhibitions on the culture, history and natural heritage of the island. The centre is open part time from May to September.

Garth's Farm

Go behind the scenes of a traditional Shetland croft at Garth's Farm in Bressay. Crofter Chris Dyer runs regular tours, introducing you to his heritage and native breed livestock, as well as showing you what local produce can be grown in Shetland's often challenging weather conditions! Watch this YouTube video to find out more about the croft and, to book a tour, contact Chris direct via his Instagram page.

Speldiburn Cafe

A 20-minute walk from the Bressay ferry and on route to Noss or the local play park, the bright and friendly café is a great stop when visiting Bressay. The Speldiburn Café was set up in 2016 by Bressay Development Ltd, a not-for-profit community group managed by volunteers who refurbished the former school canteen. As well as lunches and snacks, it offers a regular takeaway service. See the Speldiburn Cafe website for more details.

Noss

Bird watching

Noss is one of the most important seabird colonies in Shetland and is National Nature Reserve. With 180 metre high sea cliffs, visitors can experience a city of bird life, especially during the summer months when the cliffs come alive with nesting seabirds. Look out for Guillemots, Gannets, Fulmars (known locally as ‘Maalies’) and those photogenic little Puffins. At the peak of the breeding season the stupendous chorus of around 150,000 birds and chicks is unforgettable - as is the smell of the guano which stains the cliffs white!

Walking in Noss

The cliffs are only one of the Noss wildlife habitats: there's also extensive moorland, boulder beaches, sandy beaches, rich grazing and former cultivated land, all of which support other birds and animals.

A walk around the island takes about three hours. The path is over moderate ground and can sometimes be very steep. You’ll need sturdy footwear and waterproof clothing. Walking anti-clockwise is easiest and gives you the best views of the seabird cliffs.

Sea life

Look out for harbour seals and grey seals around the shores of Noss. You may even spot an otter – they’re often seen around the southern coast of the island. Listen out for porpoises, especially in Noss Sound – on calm days you’ll often hear a loud puff as they come up for air.

Fascinating facts

  • North of the Bressay ferry terminal is Gardie House, dating back to 1724 and one of Shetland's finest lairds' houses, which is still inhabited today.
  • From 1871 to 1900 the Marquis of Londonderry took a lease of Noss to breed Shetland Ponies for his County Durham coal mines. A display in the old Pony Pund tells the story of this rather cruel trade, which also involved building a stone wall around the higher cliffs to stop the mares falling over.
  • If you're interested in military history, a walk around the west shore of the Voe of Culbinsbrough in Bressay brings you to the old stone and slate quarries in Aith Ness, topped by the remains of a six-inch naval gun from the First World War. Like the gun on Bard Head at the southern tip of Bressay, this one was installed in the last year of the war and was never fired in anger.