Shetland is one of those places many have heard of but few visited, although recent TV successes such as the ‘Shetland’ series have spurred interest. I’ve been visiting Shetland regularly since 1988, though perhaps not as often as I’d like! This section provides information and links about the islands. Don’t just follow my tips, though – talk to the locals, explore, and the staff at the Tourist Information Centre in Lerwick are a wonderful mine of information.
NOTE: This page was created pre-COVID – make sure you check any details of your trip with Visit Shetland, as some of this may now be out of date!
First of all, the basics. When you visit Shetland you are going further from the mainland than anywhere else in the UK. You’ve probably heard the stories before, and they’re true; closer to Bergen than Aberdeen, nearer to Oslo than London… (Although I have to bust one myth: the nearest railway station is at least in the UK, Thurso, on the Far North Line from Inverness). This distance and the strong Scandinavian influence is at least partly responsible for shaping the Shetland of today.
That distance doesn’t mean you’re ‘out in the sticks’. There are good air and sea links, you can still find ATMs, and although mobile phone coverage can in a few places be patchy, many accommodation providers now include WiFi. There are leisure centres that put many UK mainland towns to shame; a range of museums; and a good choice of places to stay, eat and drink.
Ferries from Aberdeen and Orkney arrive in the capital Lerwick, whilst flights from the UK and Norway arrive at Sumburgh Airport, which is at the southern tip of the mainland.
Shetland is an archipelago, with 16 of the islands being inhabited. Although there’s lots to see in Lerwick where many of the shops are, you’ll be missing out if you don’t explore some of the more remote parts.
Frequent car ferries or bridges link all 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 connect 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 winds, a bicycle…
Planning Your Trip
Your first point of call should be Shetland.org, an excellent locally based resource with both information and inspiration for your visit. The official Scottish Tourist Board website also provides some useful info, as does the website of Northlink, the ferry company.
When you are in the Isles, there is a tourist information point at Sumburgh Airport, with the main office at Market Cross in the centre of Lerwick. The staff are knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, so do drop in and see them for tips and advice.
See the pages below for some more details:
Page updated 05/02/22