Unst is the ultimate Shetland destination - the absolute end of every Great North Road in Britain, it has the northernmost of everything. It is also one of the most spectacular, varied and interesting islands in Europe.

A quick introduction

Unst is one of the richest Viking heritage sites in Europe, with over 60 longhouses uncovered by archeologists at Underhoull, Belmont and Hamar. At 61 degrees north, the island was said to be the ideal resting spot for Norse travellers on the trading route between Scandinavia, Greenland and Newfoundland. Many Norsemen settled in this northerly outpost, working the land and making it their home.

Thanks to its extreme location, Unst has always played an important role in the nation's defences. The remains of a very early Second World War radar station can still be seen and the Ministry of Defence radar base on top of Saxa Vord, visible from much of the island. The base was reactivated in 2019 and new equipment installed.

Many Unst families are still involved with the traditional crofting life, but there's a variety of other work , including quarrying, fish farming, craftwork (fine knitwear in particular), wildlife tourism and even space exploration.

How to get to Unst

To get to Unst you need to travel through Yell. Scheduled daily ferries run frequently from Toft (Mainland) to Ulsta (Yell) and from Gutcher (Yell) to Belmont in Unst. Allow 30 minutes to drive between Ulsta and Gutcher.

Where to stay

You'll find a list of accommodation options in Unst on the Visit Unst website, including self-catering, bed and breakfast and camping.

Useful information
  • Unst has three shops, all in Baltasound: The Final Checkout, Henderson's Stores (known as Ethel's) and Skibhoul Stores, next to Britain's most northerly post office and with an acclaimed bakery.
  • Stop for tea and cake at Victoria's Vintage Tearooms. There's indoor and outdoor seating, free WiFi and disabled access.
  • Fuel is available in Baltasound.
  • There are public toilets at the ferry terminal, Uyeasound, Baltasound and Hermaness Visitor Centre.
  • Gardiesfauld Youth Hostel has hook-up points for motorhomes and camping pitches.

Things to do

Hermaness National Nature Reserve

Hermaness is Unst's northerly headland and is an important seabird colony managed by NatureScot. Most of the seabirds arrive in late April. Visit in spring and you’ll see fulmars, gulls, shags and gannets as well as puffins and kittiwakes, while in summer you can marvel at the ferocious bonxies (great skuas), who are prone to dive-bombing anyone who gets too close to their nests.

Across from Hermaness, you'll see a group of offshore rocks known as ‘Da Waithing Skerries’. Most prominent is Muckle Flugga with its iconic lighthouse perched on top (as shown in the photograph at the top of this page). Beyond this is Da Shuggi or Out Stack: Shetand's, and indeed Britain's, most northerly point.

You'll find details of a good hike around the Hermaness headland on our Walks page.

Keen of Hamar Nature Reserve

Situated just outside Baltasound and also managed by NatureScot, your first impressions of the Keen of Hamar are probably of a stony wasteground – barren, bleak and lifeless. But a closer look will reward you with a delicate carpet of tiny and often very rare plants including Edmondston's Chickweed – found only in Unst.

Explore Viking heritage

The island of Unst is rich with the archaelogical remains of Viking settlement. There are at least 60 longhouses, the highest density of rural Viking sites anywhere, including Scandinavia. Three have been excavated and you can see a longhouse reconstruction at Haroldswick as well as the 'Skidbladner' – a replica Gokstad ship. Find out more on our Follow the Vikings page.

Muness Castle

This 16th century tower house is Britain's most northerly castle. It was built for Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie – a prominent figure during a turbulent time in Shetland. The castle's ruins can be found on the south-easterly tip of the island, not far from the village of Uyeasound. Find out more about Muness Castle on our World-class archaeology page.

Unst Heritage Centre and Boat Haven

The Unst Heritage Centre gives a fascinating insight into life in Unst over the centuries. The collection of fine lace knitwear on display here is world-renowned. Workshops on knitting and weaving are held there regularly and there are residential knitting weekends in autumn and winter.

Meanwhile, discover the history of Unst's maritime heritage at the Boat Haven, home to a collection of over 20 wooden fishing boats. You'll find out all about the herring fishing years, when Baltasound’s population swelled in the summer to almost 16,000 and was one of Europe's biggest fishing ports.

Shetland Distillery

The distillery at Saxa Vord is the most northerly distillery in Britain and provides guided tasting tours for visitors. Based in the former RAF base, the Shetland Distillery Company produces Shetland Reel gin and whisky. Other attractions on the once-redundant site are the Saxa Vord Resort accommodation, restaurant and bar, while the proposed Shetland Space Centre is another connected venture.

Fascinating facts

  • The northerly headland of Hermaness is said to have once been home to a giant named Herman who fought with another giant, named Saxa, over a mermaid. The giants threw rocks at each other and the legend is that these are the rocks and stacks that surround the headland.
  • Author Robert Louis Stevenson's father and uncle were the main design engineers for the lighthouse on Muckle Flugga (as well as the lighthouses in Whalsay, Bressay and Out Skerries). Young Stevenson himself visited Unst with his father, and the island is claimed to have become the basis for the map of the fictional Treasure Island.
  • Baltasound is the main settlement in Unst and no visit is complete without seeing Bobby's Bus Shelter. The shelter was due for removal when young Bobby wrote to the council asking for it to be saved... and the rest is history! Read our blog to find out more.