4 Days in the Shetland Isles

It honestly feels like an eternity since I have been on a plane, train or ferry, but thanks to this little trip I ticked off all three! It has also been an eternity since I last left Normandy, so a travel blog post is incoming… Be sure to catch up with my latest travel posts here. Be sure to grab a cuppa, sit back and relax and enjoy my 4 days in Shetland experience.


map of Great Britain, Ireland and the islands
Map of the UK, Shetland Islands are the top right (North-East)

A Little bit About Shetland Isles

Before I bore everyone with my experience of Shetland, let me tell you a wee bit about the archipelago in the North Sea. Shetland is at 60 degrees, being more in line with Norway than Scotland. It is also closer to Bergen in Norway than the Scottish Mainland. It is a collection of islands, much like its neighbors Orkney and Faroe. The islands boast a wealth of fauna and flora, opportunities for adventure, and rich history. Safe to say 4 days may not be long enough to unpack everything the island has to offer.

Now I am no Shetlander or claim to be an expert so if you want to know more about the dreamy islands visit their official website here.

view of houses from the sound
View of houses off the beach on the sound

My 4 days in Shetland

If you want to see what the isles have to offer, feel free to scroll down!

From Day 1 I was completely enamored with the landscape of Shetland. Getting off the ferry to have my first look at the mainland, it was hard to keep my mouth shut from the sheer beauty of the place in the perfect blue sky and sunshine. The landscape is almost barren of trees, thick with gorse, stone walls, and small squat grey houses. After settling in and catching up with friends for the wedding, I took the opportunity to explore Lerwick and its coastal paths. The place I was staying was an incredible home, full of sky-lights and coastal views, and really awesome hosts.

Walking down to the coast, to a place locally known as the sletts took a whole thirty seconds where you are greeted with a stunning coastal landscape of rocks, cliffs, islands, and sparkling sea. Not going to lie, I was very excited about getting my fix of seabirds as living in a very flat part of the world, the beaches only attract wading birds and not my favourite cliff roosting birds.

The coastal path I followed led to a place, a small headland, called the Knabb. Here a rocky outcrop extends into the sea, giving sweeping views all around. Later I learned this was a popular place for spotting marine life, whales, seals, and orcas. Later on, while browsing my camera roll I realised I had, in fact, caught an orca on camera, just it’s head and prominent dorsal fin, but an orca all the same! Continuing the walk takes you past a coastal gun placement on the right and a cemetery overlooking the sea on the left. It must be such a peaceful place to be, even in the rain, to overlook such a vast seascape.

Finishing the coastal walk brings you into town. Lerwick is not a big town, having a population of around 7500 people. It is however full of beautiful independent shops, cafes, and restaurants. I took this opportunity to have my first fish and chips of the trip. Also my first fish and chips in 3 years! Safe to say, this would not be the only fish and chips I would have on my trip.

The afternoon consisted of wedding prep and a little trip to Sumburgh Head, where I was lucky enough to see what I had been hoping for. Puffins! As well as all my other favourite cliff seabirds, such as fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, and kittiwakes. It is incredible to drive down the mainland and see how varied the landscape goes from the ragged coastal cliffs, white sand beaches, vast peat bogs, and then the rough terrain of Sumburgh Head.

Most of the other days were spent walking, seeing sights, exploring beaches and bars, and walking around 15km a day. It was one of those trips where you need a holiday after the holiday! Now I don’t want to bore you on with my meandering walks around Lerwick so here is some generic information that can help you plan your dream trip to the Shetland Isles!

How to Get There

There are two ways of getting to the isles, via ferry to Lerwick, or by flying into Sumburgh. Flights are limited from certain airports, such as Aberdeen, Edinburgh Glasgow, and Kirkwall. Alternatively, you can fly from Bergen to Norway! Flights from the Scottish Mainland typically take 1 hour and 20 minutes.

I took the ferry as a foot passenger from Aberdeen. The ferry is relatively easy to find for both drivers and foot passengers. I arrived two hours early and walked straight onto the boat itself, cabin key in hand. The ferry does take around 12-13 hours overnight, so getting a cabin is recommended to get a good night’s sleep. Onboard, there are plenty of activities, games, a restaurant, shop a bar and of course the viewing deck. Personally, I recommend the fish and chips in the restaurant (as do most of my fellow shetland goers!). On arrival, there is the option of staying on board for breakfast, so if you are not a morning person, you have sufficient time to wake up!

What to do

Unfortunately, I did not have ample time to do everything I wanted on Shetland, mainly because the reason I was there was because one of my good uni friends was getting married, and wow that was pretty much everything you could ask for in a wedding. Anyway back to the what to do in shetland piece…

As with most places, you can do pretty much anything you put your mind to, however, there are some things you must do that are distinctly Shetland!

image of sunny day and 5 people running into the north sea
Running into the North Sea

A few ideas:

  • Try the Fish and Chips
  • Experience the chill of the North Sea
  • Hike up to the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse
  • Join a whale-watching experience, or take your binoculars!
  • Visit one of the many historical sites or museums (Jarlshof, Croft House, and Mousa Iron Age fort for example)
  • Shop in Lerwick
  • Learn about the unique knitwear and Fair isle pattern
  • Go Pony spotting
  • Spend an evening at a ceilidh
  • Take a boat out and explore the rest of the islands
  • Simply enjoy the beautiful landscape, rain, or shine!

Wildlife

Not going to lie, this is my main draw. I have always loved seabirds and finding out that it was Puffin season was honestly a dream come true. There are several spots on the isles where migratory birds hang out so to speak. The landscape is so diverse in terms of ancient rocky cliffs, sandy banks, peat bogs, and Mediterranean-esque beaches. Being in the middle of the North Sea means there is also an incredibly diverse marine life too. Be sure to find otters, seals, whales, and even killer whales wandering in the waters. I was personally lucky enough to catch a glimpse of an orca during a little walk around the coast!

Of course, it goes without mentioning the infamous Shetland ponies that roam wild around the islands!

Festivals

Now, this is on my bucket list for my next Shetland trip. Experience one of the many festivals that happen on the isles. For a full list visit the Shetlandvistor website here.

Most of the festivals are celebrations of culture, music, and art – Shetland, of course, being famous for its fiddlers and folk traditions. Most notably the Shetland Folk Festival is celebrated over all the isles in late April/May each year.

Hopefully, I can write about it soon!

Gun placement from World War Two just outside of Lerwick
Gun placement from World War Two just outside of Lerwick

As always, thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed this content, leave me a like, comment, and follow to be notified when I next post!

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Published by Briony-Molly

Reader, artist and Politics lover.

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