The peninsula, which runs 25 miles south from Lerwick, has some of beautiful sandy beaches and an extraordinary concentration of archaeological sites, including Europe's best-preserved broch and two remarkable Iron Age villages.

A quick introduction

Shetland's South Mainland is a fertile landscape with many working farms and crofts. It stretches from Gulberwick, just south of Lerwick, to Sumburgh. There is excellent walking along the coastline and through the hills which form the spine of the South Mainland. The views from Scousburgh Hill and Fitful Head are on an epic scale: crofts and farmland fringe shell sand beaches and secluded coves; while to seaward are the dramatic silhouettes of Fair Isle and Foula.

Ice carved this landscape out of ancient Old Red Sandstone rocks, some 370 million years old, although there are also much older deposits with soapstone and copper ores. The sandy soil and generations of good husbandry have made this Shetland's most productive farmland. The South Mainland also has Shetland's most extensive sand dunes – which have helped to preserve several archaeological sites such as Jarlshof and Old Scatness.

All through the district you will find fascinating traces of the past: miniature watermills and old croft townships built in the beautiful local stone; the patterns of ancient fields; and traditional double-ended Shetland boats whose lines speak of their Viking origins.

How to get to the South Mainland

From Lerwick, follow the A970 south and it will take you all the way to Sumburgh. Villages such as Bigton, Sandwick and Fladdabister are signposted along the way. For bus routes, see the ZetTrans website.

Where to stay

There's a wide range of accommodation options in this area, including self-catering, bed and breakfasts, hotels and campsites. See our Accommodation page for a list of useful websites and our Caravan and camping pages for campsites. You can also stay in Betty Mouat's camping bod (read more about Betty's remarkable story below).

Places to visit in the South Mainland

Fascinating facts

  • Mousa Broch has appeared on many ‘must-see’ lists but not only because it’s one of the wonders of European prehistory. It’s also a favourite site with ornithologists. Storm Petrels raise their young in its stone walls. The bird incubating the eggs occupies the nest during the day and its mate brings food in the ‘simmer dim’ – the twilight that replaces darkness in Shetland’s summer months. A night excursion to the broch, to hear their eerie calls, is an experience not to be missed.
  • Next to Old Scatness is the former home of a woman called Betty Mouat. In 1880, she became a national celebrity after drifting alone to Norway. She had boarded the fishing smack Columbine, for a routine trip to sell her knitwear in Lerwick, when the skipper fell overboard. The remaining two crewmen launched a boat in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to save him. The Columbine sailed on with Betty and the crew were unable to catch up. Nine days later she was wrecked and rescued on the Norwegian coast. Her old cottage is now a camping böd, one of several historic buildings offering basic accommodation around Shetland.