Lying off the west coast of the Shetland Mainland, Papa Stour’s coastline has been sculpted by the Atlantic Ocean to produce an unrivalled spectacle of cliff scenery, stacks, arches and caves, all supporting a range of marine flora and fauna.

A quick introduction

Like many of Shetland's islands, Papa Stour shows signs of life dating back centuries. Its name Papa Stour – Papey Stóra in Old Norse– means big island of the priests. Missionary Celtic priests are thought to have settled here as early as the 6th century, although the island was first populated around 3000BC.

Suspected leprosy sufferers from the Shetland Mainland were once banished to huts, the foundations of which you can see on Hilla Fielle. To survive, they relied on islanders to leave food for them by the hill dyke.

At its peak, Papa's population was around 380 in the 19th century, when a fishing station was opened at West Voe. However, it's dwindled ever since and today is a permanent home to fewer than a dozen people.

Papa Stour is popular with kayakers and divers (there are numerous shipwrecks). The peaceful island also has plentiful birdlife, wild flowers and seals, as well as the more elusive otter.

How to get to Papa Stour

The inter-island ferry from West Burrafirth takes about 45 minutes to reach Papa Stour and operates four days a week. Booking is essential. Although the ferry carries cars, there's only one short road on the island, so the best way to see Papa is on foot.

Inter-island flights also operate to the Papa Stour airstrip from Tingwall. See the Airtask website for more details.

Where to stay

There’s a small camp site at the pier, but no shop, so enough supplies for your stay should be brought with you. There's also accommodation to rent on the island via Airbnb.

Useful information
  • Public toilets are available in the ferry waiting room.
  • The Papa Stour Kirk is always open. The small history centre in the vestry offers postcards, souvenirs, artwork and tourist information.
  • Berthing for yachts and boats is available at the old pier at Housa Voe.
  • There is no shop on Papa Stour, so all supplies must be brought in from the Mainland.

Things to do


Papa Stour has some of the most impressive sea caves and reefs in Britain, which support a range of marine flora and fauna. For that reason, it has been designated as a marine Special Area of Conservation. The full force of the Atlantic Ocean has carved the western cliffs into beautiful arches, stacks and caves - the most famous of which is the Kirstan Hol. In calm weather, kayakers can enter this labyrinth of magnificent caves where a riot of submarine life carpets the cavern walls. See our Kayak page for details on booking a guided trip.


As well as explore the rich and varied coastline, divers can visit the wreck of the 2,500-ton SS Highcliffe, which ran ashore near Papa Stour in February 1940. For diving charters, see our Dive page.

Walking in Papa Stour

A challenging walk around the west coast takes in the stunning coastal vistas of Maiden Stack, Kirstan's Hol and Aesha Head, as well as showing off Papa's geological highlights. The north and east of the island offer more sheltered voes, with some fishing station ruins visible. See our Walk section for a self-guided circular route around Papa Stour.

Fascinating facts

  • Shetland’s oldest surviving document, dated 1299, relates to Papa Stour and mentioned a stofa – a Norse wooden house. Between 1977 and 1982 excavations at Da Biggins ( bygð – Old Norse for a hamlet/village) revealed the remains of a wooden floor, believed to be that of the stofa, and this has been partially reconstructed. Interpretive panels explain the historical background and the process of reconstruction.
  • A ring of stones above the beach at Housa Voe is thought to be the remains of a ting, or local assembly, where Lord Thorvald Thoresson, accused of corruption in the 1299 document, fought and won a duel.
  • The subterranean caves and passages are some of the best examples in the UK; the 360-metre long Hole of Bordie is the fourth longest sea cave in the world.