Shetland is one of those places many have heard of but which few visited, although recent TV successes such as the ‘Shetland’ series have spurred interest in the isles. I’ve been visiting Shetland regularly since 1988 (though perhaps not as often as I’d like!) and this section of the website is devoted to providing some information and links about the islands. Don’t just follow my tips when you’re up there, though – talk to the locals, explore, and don’t forget that the staff at the Tourist Information Centre in Lerwick are a wonderful mine of information.
First of all, the basics: When you visit Shetland you are going further from the mainland than any of the other island groups around the UK. You’ve probably heard the stories before, and they’re true; closer to Bergen than Aberdeen, nearer to Oslo than London (although one myth busted: the nearst railway station is actually in the UK, the remote branch line of Thurso). This distance and the strong Scandinavian influence is at least partly responsible for shaping the Shetland of today.
Map Courtesy of Open Street Map
Alternatively, click to view Shetland in Google Maps.
About the Isles
That distance doesn’t by any factor mean you’re ‘out in the sticks’. There are good air and sea links to the Isles, you can still find ATMs, and although mobile phone coverage can in places be patchy, many acommodation providers include WiFi. There are leisure centres that put many mainland towns to shame, a wealth of museums and a good range of places to stay, eat and drink. Ferries from Aberdeen and Orkney arrive in the capital Lerwick itself, whilst flights from the UK and Norway arrive at Sumburgh Airport at the south of the mainland.
Shetland is an archipelago, with 16 of the islands being inhabited. You are likely to spend most of your time on Mainland, but each part of the isles is worth exploring – from the remote Fair Isle to Unst in the far North. Lerwick is the capital and has the most facilities, as you might expect, and the original capital, Scalloway (6 miles away on the West Coast), also has much to offer.
Frequent car ferries or bridges link all of the main islands, whilst the more remote islands of Fair Isle, Foula and Papa Stour are also served by flights from the small Tingwall Airport, about 5 miles by road from Lerwick. Bus services link most parts of the islands, and it is certainly possible to explore much of the isles by public transport (I did!) but you may find it easier to hire a car. Or, if you are confident of braving the Shetland wind, a bicycle…
Your first point of call for planning your trip should be Shetland.org, an excellent locally based resource with both information and inspiration. The official Scottish Tourist Board website also provides useful info, as does that of Northlink, the ferry company. When you are in the Isles, there is a tourist information point at Sumburgh Airport and the main office at Market Cross in the centre of Lerwick. Staff are knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, so do drop in and see them for tips and advice.
Page updated 29/07/18