Scattered off the north coast of Scotland, this sprawling chain of more than 100 isolated islands is a place of wild and windswept natural beauty. The Scandinavian influence on the Shetlands, which were under Norse rule until the 15th century, is still visible. Despite being a wealthy hub for oil production, nature still reigns supreme.
Visiting these remote Scottish islands requires time but if you make the effort, you will be well rewarded with magnificent seascapes, prehistoric sites, and ample wildlife-viewing opportunities, with birds, seals, orcas, minke whales, Shetland ponies, and otters all present. Hiking and biking are popular ways to experience the scenic UNESCO Shetland Geopark.
Tours to the Shetland Islands depart from major Scottish cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. Most tours are multi-day excursions, and include round-trip ferry transportation from Aberdeen or Orkney, as well as overland connections.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Shetlands are a must for travelers who want to get off the beaten path.
- Bring sturdy walking boots; exploring the natural landscape is a key part of the Shetlands experience.
- Wear warm clothes—the Shetlands can be cold, even in summer.
How to Get There
The Shetland Islands are accessible by sea and air. Loganair flights depart from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, and Kirkwall (Orkney), with seasonal summer departures from Bergen and Manchester. Alternatively, take the year-round NorthLink ferry from Aberdeen or Kirkwall to Lerwick.
When to Get There
The best season to visit the Shetlands is summer, when days are long and relatively mild. The Up Helly Aa fire festival, which celebrates the island’s Viking heritage, takes place in Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January. The festival is the highlight of the Shetlands’ annual calendar, and features torch processions, marches, and the burning of a Viking longship.
What to Do on the Mainland
Lerwick, the main town on the Mainland—the biggest island in the Shetlands—is a popular home base for travelers. There are ample attractions to be discovered here, from the 17th-century Fort Charlotte to the enlightening Shetland Museum and Archives to the Dim Riv replica Viking longboat. Farther south on the Mainland, you’ll find the Pictish Broch of Mousa on the offshore island of Mousa, and Jarlshof, one of the Shetlands’ most impressive archaeological sites.