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Travel Guide to the Shetland Islands

I promised you a travel guide to Shetland, didn’t I? Well, here it is! Writing this already makes me long to spend some time on the islands again, so I’m sure you will be convinced too!


The Shetland Islands are a small group of islands roughly somewhere between Scotland and Norway. You can get there by plane or overnight ferry, and on the islands themselves you can mostly reach everything by car. For travelling between islands you usually have to take another short ferry trip, but sometimes there are bridges too. The islands encompass an area of 1466 square kilometres and a total of around 22 thousand people live there. The capital of the Shetland Islands is the picturesque fishing village of Lerwick. That is really the centre of activity and where most jobs are found. But don’t be mistaken, there are lively villages all over the islands.

Spiggie beach

Spiggie beach

Small as the group of islands may be, it offers a surprising amount of things to see and do. I will sum up some of the headlines for you. Starting off with the most important of them all, the beautiful nature! Honestly, I know I’m always going on about the lovely nature here or there, but on Shetland, it truly is amazing. You have the cute little valleys, rough highlands, spectacular rock-formations on the coast and tropical-looking beaches. You’ll be amazed at the diversity of landscapes you will find. The only thing you don’t have to look for are forests. There are none. Zero. A few planted trees have found their way into gardens by now, but that is all as far as trees are concerned. Shrubs, herbs and grasses are around in abundance, so there is no shortage of plants. It’s just the trees that have gone extinct. If you can live without those for a couple of weeks, then you will be just fine. For the rest of the nature, well, just look at it!



One of my favourite places on the islands is the coast at Eshaness. There are some amazing natural rock sculptures in the coast over there, including one resembling something like a horse. There is also a very nice two-hour walk, starting at the Eshaness lighthouse. I believe you can get the description for the walk over at the tourist information in Lerwick.

Another great place for nature lovers is Sumburgh Head. Especially if you like birds. There are so many winged beauties flying around there, it’s crazy! And the puffins, aww! They are adorable! If you get the chance to be on Shetland between March and mid-August, you should definitely go puffin watching at Sumburgh Head.

A puffin, found at Sumburgh Head

A puffin found at Sumburgh Head

Of course, nature is not the only charm of the islands. You will also find yourself surprised by the enormous friendliness with which the inhabitants greet you. They are very welcoming and extremely kind. In some holiday destinations, you are made to feel unwelcome as a tourist. Here, you will be welcomed and the people are actually genuinely interested in where you come from and why you are visiting Shetland. Every single one of the people I met on the Shetland Islands has left a happy memory, I think that is quite extraordinary.



Before I forget, I have to mention that wool is also a big “attraction” on Shetland. There is a very lively wool industry and many, many sheep roaming the islands. While I stayed on Shetland I have helped with shearing sheep and have visited many wool-related shops, factories and museums. (Mostly thanks to my wool-loving mom, but I did really enjoy all of it.) There even is a special “Wool Week” once a year when there are wool related activities all over the islands. It is apparently a very big happening. So, if you love or like wool, Shetland is the place to be, either during Wool Week, or some other time of the year.

Some of the oldest buildings in Lerwick, right next to the sea

Some of the oldest buildings in Lerwick, right next to the sea

And then, finally, there are all of the other attractions the islands offer. There are a couple of really nice excavation sites, containing houses and other buildings dating back to the days when the Picts roamed the islands. I particularly recommend the excavation site and visitor centre Old Scatness, which offers guided tours as well, and the excavations of Jarlshof, which are very large and very interesting.

A bit closer to Lerwick, walking distance from the harbour even, is Clickimin Broch. It’s a bit smaller, but still large enough to almost get lost in the small corridors. Walking around in those places, it is amazing to imagine how people lived there thousands of years ago.

Old Scatness

Old Scatness

If you’d rather stay more in the here and now, you can visit one of the many galleries or cafés. I really like the Peerie Café in Lerwick. It has the most delicious homemade cake you have ever tasted. Though you will have to put in some effort to seize a table, once you do, you will want to come back again and again. (Please don’t be discouraged by their not-so-flashy website, the café is completely different, I promise!)

The café at Bonhoga gallery is also worth it. There is a nice church garden next door, so you can easily combine those for a peaceful afternoon.

Speaking of gardens, don’t forget to visit “Da Gairdins” over in Sand. You can find the only “real” forest of the islands in these gardens, along with some beautiful ponds, kitchen gardens, and generally beautiful gardens. Plan to spend a morning or afternoon strolling around the tiny paths here and you will definitely enjoy yourself!

Around "Da Gairdins" are also a couple of footpaths for a nice walk along the fjords.

Around “Da Gairdins” are also a couple of footpaths for a nice walk along the fjords.

Finally, if it is a really, exceptionally rainy day, you can take shelter in the Shetland Museum, over in Lerwick. It is a very modern building containing information about the history of Shetland geologically as well as a complete history of its culture up till the present day. There is a lot to see and all very interesting. Also, I hear the restaurant in the museum is very good, though I have not been there myself.

Okay, I think this has officially been my longest post ever, so I will wrap it up now. Looking at everything I wrote on this page, I think it is safe to say that Shetland is a very interesting and amazing holiday destination, and I hope you will have the chance to visit it someday.

Enjoy your holiday planning!

All images by Bjartur Swart

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  • Reply Bernette

    Wow, never imagined that the Shetland Islands would be this beautiful! It now definitely is a place that I want to visist in the future.

    And as a Shetland pony owner I wonder: are there many wild Shetland ponies on the Islands?

    15/02/16 at 21:34
    • Reply Inge

      Thank you, I’m glad I could make someone else excited about one of my favourite places.
      As for the shetland ponies, there are not so very many of them on the islands. Or, well, they are there, but they are by far outnumbered by sheep. Most of the ponies on the islands are kept in (large) meadows, kind of like in the Netherlands, actually. :)

      16/02/16 at 17:30

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