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Visit Shetland – A Stunning Destination Any Time of the Year

Planning to Visit Shetland?

Shetland is an amazing place to visit. It is very different from the rest of Scotland. It has its own very distinct culture, language, food, landscape, and history.

There is a great deal to see and enjoy when visiting.

Is Shetland worth visiting?

Yes, it absolutely is. It has its own unique identity, really friendly people, wonderful wildlife, and great scenery. There is also a heap of fantastic history to explore, along with great museums and cake sheds!

Visit Shetland

2. Where Do You Fly From to Get To Shetland?

There are direct flights to Shetland from;

  • Aberdeen
  • Kirkwall (Orkney)
  • Dundee
  • Glasgow
  • London (London City)
  • From May 2023 there will be flights connecting Sumburgh and Heathrow

These flights are operated by Loganair which also operates codeshare flights with British Airways.

All flights are to Sumburgh Airport which is at the Southern end of the mainland.

Loganair planes are smaller aircraft. Sometimes there are two seats facing backward at the front of the plane (these are emergency exit row seats). The seats are in a 2 x 2 configuration.

Due to the smaller plane size the lockers are smaller also so depending on the size of your luggage it may have to go into the hold.

During the flight you are generally served with tea or coffee, water and a shortbread or Tunnocks caramel bar.

The plans are generally prop (propeller) planes.

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2. Sumburgh Airport

Where do you fly into for the Shetland Islands?

You fly into Sumburgh airport which is located at the Southern tip of mainland Shetland. There is a tiny airport at Tingwall but this is only for inter-island flights.

Sumburgh Airport has two runways.

The approach from the South via the lighthouse can make for a dramatic arrival as the airplane has to drop down quite quickly once it is past the lighthouse.

If approaching from the East/West the runway is crossed by the main road. Local traffic is stopped via barriers when planes are landing or taking off.

Sumburgh is a busy airport with most of the flights each day coming from Aberdeen. These are workers going to work on the oil rigs. They transfer to helicopters at Sumburgh and then fly to the oil rigs.

Sumburgh is the only airport in the UK where helicopters take off and land on the runway rather than a helipad. It always makes for an interesting view.

Upon arrival at Sumburgh Airport, you will head into the main airport building. There is one small luggage carousel.

Next to the carousel is a car hire desk. There are also toilets.

There is a regular bus service that connects Sumburgh Airport with Lerwick.

Is the cafe open at Sumburgh airport?

Yes, it is but currently only in the departure lounge. This little cafe has a selection of sandwiches, juices, cakes, and pastries. There are a range of hot drinks available and they also do croissants too. There are plans to open the cafe in the main public part of the airport in 2023.

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3. How Do You Get From Aberdeen to Shetland?

A cheaper way to travel to Shetland is to take the Northlink ferry from Aberdeen or Orkney. The journey from Aberdeen is an overnight sailing. Depending on the day the ferry leaves Aberdeen at 17.00 or 19.00. It then sails to Orkney and leaves Orkney at 23.45 arriving into Lerwick at 7.30am.

Check out the current Northlink timetable

Foot passenger fares start at £17 per person. Cabins start from £2.50 (per cabin not per person) and vehicles are around £60 each. The prices vary depending on the season. These prices are from Aberdeen to Lerwick.

Find the current Northlink fares here

There is a lack of capacity on the ferries so booking well in advance is recommended, especially if you want to have a cabin overnight.

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Visit Shetland

4. Shetland Weather!

Weather plays a huge part in everyone’s life in Shetland so expect to talk about and hear about the weather quite a lot!

Shetland has a slightly milder climate than you might expect for somewhere that is on the same latitude as St Petersburg. This is because of the Gulf Stream influence which warms Shetland. This means it generally doesn’t freeze in winter, but it also doesn’t get very hot in summer.

Shetland does get a great deal of wind – everything from gentle breezes to really strong winds. The unofficial record for the strongest wind was over 190 miles per hour. It’s unofficial as the wind was so strong it blew the measuring equipment away.

The weather can be extremely changeable. Whilst in the Highlands we often have 4 seasons in one day, Shetland can have 4 seasons in one hour!

Does it ever get warm in Shetland?

Actually, it doesn’t usually get that cold in Shetland. The average winter temperature is a low of 4 degrees and a high of 7 degrees in December. There is quite a consistent wind which often makes it feel cooler.

Does it rain a lot in Shetland?

There are over 200 days of rain a year in Shetland. It tends to rain most from October to March when there can be heavy rain and winds.

Does Shetland have a summer?

Shetland has a summer but it is shorter than the rest of the UK. The temperatures don’t get hot and the wind can make it feel cooler. The average high temperature in summer is 13 degrees.

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5. Lerwick

Is Lerwick worth a visit?

If you are visiting Shetland then you should really visit Lerwick. It’s the main place for shops, and banks, and it has a great museum and arts centre too, plus a good choice of places to eat.

Lerwick is the capital of Shetland and 50% of the population of Shetland (the whole of Shetland only has 23,000 people) live within easy reach of Lerwick.

Lerwick translates as muddy bay and the town first developed in a very ad hoc way to trade with the Dutch fishing boats that were coming to the area to fish for herring. However, this was frowned upon by the capital Scalloway who twice burned the new settlement to the ground.

Lerwick has one main street with shops, Commercial Street. This curving street follows what used to be the shoreline before the town was extended and the harbour and pier area were built. In its heyday Commercial Street would have been thronging with people and packed with shops.

Now it has a quaint and friendly feel, marked by an absence of chains instead of focussing on local shops. You can find wool shops, a great independent bookshop, banks and cashpoints, a post office, several cafes, jewellery and gift shops, shoe shops, a chemist (Boots), a camera shop, a music shop and Harrys which sells a bit of everything.

It’s a pleasant place to take a stroll and a browse.

Check out;

The Shetland Times Bookshop – a really great independent bookshop with some lovely curated books. Lots of books and as you would expect a huge range of books about Shetland too.

Jamiesons Wool Shop – this shop always has an inventive window display. If you want to know about wool these are the people to see!

Tourist Information Centre – you will recognise this from the TV series Shetland. It’s got very helpful people inside, lots of information, including free maps. It’s also the only place I have found Up Hellya T shirts for sale.

Fort Charlotte – take a look around the battlements and see the guns. You also get a great view across to Bressay and over Lerwick from here. It’s still in use as an army barracks today and is a listed monument.

Check out more things to do in Lerwick on Tripadvisor

Where is Jimmy Perez’s house in Shetland?

Jimmy Perez’s house is in one of the remaining Lodberries which is still a private residence today. To find his house walk along the harbourfront at Lerwick keeping the sea on your left. Pass by the sculpture of a large Buoy and follow the road round to the right. Turn left when you reach the zebra crossing and follow this street along. You will come to Bain’s Beach first on your left-hand side and Jimmy Perez’s house has its back to the beach. Continue on for a view of the other side.

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6. Bressay

Is Bressay worth a visit?

Bressay is just a short ferry ride across from Lerwick. It is worth a visit if only to go and see the island of Noss and to visit the lovely Speldiburn cafe.

What is the population of Bressay?

The population of Bressay is around 360 people.

How do I get to Bressay?

There is a ferry from Lerwick that takes around 7 minutes. It takes vehicles and foot passengers.

A ferry runs between Lerwick and Bressay regularly throughout the day. It takes around 7 minutes to cross. The ferry takes cars and foot passengers.

You can find the timetable here. There is no need to book the ferry.

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7. Sumburgh Head Lighthouse

Where is the Sumburgh foghorn?

The Sumburgh foghorn is located in the visitor centre at Sumburgh Head. You can sound the foghorn if you are a visitor.

Lighthouse Hotel Shetland?

There is no such place as the Lighthouse Hotel in Shetland. Sumburgh Head was used as the filming location, with the exterior shots and the cafe scene being filmed there.

When to see puffins in Shetland?

Puffins come back to nest in Shetland from April until around August time. You can see them at Sumburgh and also at Hermaness in Unst.

Sumburgh Head is a lovely spot to visit. You need to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up to the lighthouse. Along the walk, you will pass by nesting seabirds, including puffins during their breeding months.

The lighthouse has an interesting visitor centre, which tells not only the history of the lighthouse but also the marine life of the area.

Don’t miss visiting the cafe – Katja’s Unken Kaffee for the best cakes and a truly stunning view from the panoramic windows. You can enjoy swirling seas and great coastal views while you sip on lovely coffee.

On clear days you can see across to Fair Isle.

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8. Jarlshof

Where is the Jarlhshof archaeological site?

Jarlshof is located at the Southern end of the mainland in Shetland, close to Sumburgh airport. It is on the Western side of the coast with the airport to the East.

How old is Jarlshof?

Jarlshof covers remains that date back over 4,000 years.

Jarlshof is an amazing archaeological site. In the space of 1 hour you can walk through remains of houses from 4,000 years ago and end up at a 17th Century tower. Along the way, you can see how housing developed, including some lovely wheelhouses and a broch.

I really loved seeing things like the midden, the pile of discarded shells from seafood eaten by previous inhabitants, and the stones used to grind flour.

You can walk into and around all the buildings and the remains.

There is a great audioguide that really explains the history very well and has lots of additional content to help you understand what life was like for people living at this site over the years.

Jarlshof is open every day from 9am to 5.30pm from 1st of April until the 30th of September. It closes for lunch from 12 noon to 1pm.

Check out this great video of Jarlshof from above which gives amazing views of the site and how the buildings would have looked

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9. Sandwick and Hoswick

If you have time take a little diversion off the main road to Sandwick and Hoswick. The Hoswick Visitor Centre is a really lovely spot with clean toilets, a little shop, museum and a lovely cafe run by local people too.

There are a couple of craft producers in the village too including a jewellers.

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10. Scalloway

Who lived in Scalloway Castle?

Patrick Stewart lived in Scalloway Castle. He was a harsh landlord who exploited his tenants and became known as Black Patie.

Scalloway used to the capital of Shetland. It is now a busy fishing port with a large fish market. It is also home to the Scalloway Museum which is well worth a visit if you get the chance. This museum has a great exhibition on local history but also a huge display on the Shetland Bus.

The Shetland Bus was a clandestine operation set up during World War 2 after Norway became occupied by the Germans. Fishing boats were disguised and used to smuggle weapons and undercover agents into Norway. The agents were all volunteers from the Norwegian Army who had been retrained in sabotage and other skills in Shetland.

There is also a lovely, albeit very small, memorial to the volunteers who died during this operation.

The Cornerstone Cafe is a great spot to stop if you want a bite to eat while you are in Scalloway. The service is always friendly and they are also very prompt with the food which is great if you are travelling elsewhere.

You might like this video about the Shetland Bus

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11. The Original Cake Fridge

If you are heading out to the West or North when try and head up the coast and fit in a visit to the Original Cake Shed at Burrafirth.

There you will find fridges set beside the road which are stocked and available 24 hours a day. Yes, you can access cake 24 hours a day in Shetland, what a genius idea!

There are always a range of lovely cakes, alongwith a hot drinks machine, snacks for children and some souvenirs too.

Behind the fridges is a cafe with a small gift shop and outside heating. A new addition are the pgymy goats which are in the grounds beside the cafe – gorgeous.

Do they really have cake fridges in Shetland?

Yes, they absolutely do. There are cake fridges on the main road from Lerwick to Sumburgh, in Lerwick itself and on the coast at Burrafirth.

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12. Brae

Brae is the largest settlement on the Western side of Shetland. It has a secondary school, leisure centre, a small selection of shops and is a good base if you want to explore the West and North Coast.

The main hotel is the Brae Hotel, set beside the main road.

There is a Co-operative shop which is also a local post office.

Frankies Fish and Chips is in Brae. This is the most Northerly fish and chip shop in the UK. The sell local mussels which are harvested from the waters around the area. If you visit check out the sign beside the car park which gives the distances to large cities around the world – it’s a good photo opportunity!

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13. Eshaness

Eshaness is a fantastic coastline on the West of Shetland. The cliffs are wonderfully high and dramatic particularly when it is windy and the sea is lashing against the coastline.

The area is geologically very interesting too. You can see volcano vents and part of the cliff is a cut through view of an old volcano too.

There are remains of old mills and a broch which makes for an interesting clifftop walk, as well as a lighthouse.

If you are going to up Eshness then call at the Braewick Cafe while you are there. They have fantastic views across The Drongs, a series of sea stacks, and they have great food as well.

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14. Sullom Voe

Sullom Voe is a huge oil and gas terminal that at one time produced 70% of the oil for the whole of the UK. Its impact on Shetland and the economy was significant and it remains very important to this day, although not to the same scale.

If you get a chance just drive out to have a look at the area. There is lots of military history in the area, not least the Scatsta Airfield built which is now disused. There are old war buildings, some of them now houses.

There is also a great deal of oil and gas infastructure, you can see some of it from the local roads. Unfortunately you can’t go into the site itself for security reasons.

If you are in the museum in Lerwick check out the film that is on the 2nd floor. This film was produced by BP and it gives a great overview of the whole of the Sullom Voe site.

You might also like this film which includes locals talking about Sullom Voe and it includes some of the BP film too.

Check out this great promotional video by Kate Humble about Shetland

Looking for Hotels in Shetland?

The best hotel in Shetland is, in my experience, Busta House Hotel. It’s also incredibly popular. Check out the details below to find the best prices on the internet.

Check below to find the best prices available for your travel dates.

Try this map search of hotels in Lerwick to quickly find the best prices across the town.

Shetland FAQs

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If you have found my Visit Shetland guide useful you might also like;

26 Things to Do in Shetland

Busta House Hotel – 10 reasons to stay there

You can find more information on my Travel Inspiration page

Further Reading

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