10 Tips for Traveling to the Shetland Islands
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The wild beauty of Scotland doesn’t stop at the mainland. Continue your journey north across the sea for 130 miles, and you’ll land in the remote and enchanting world of the Shetland Isles.
Famous for a variety of wildlife, rugged landscape, archaeological sites, and unique heritage, the Shetland Islands are a must-see location to add to your travel bucket list.
If you plan a trip to this memorable destination, here are 10 fantastic tips to get the most from your visit. Use these recommendations to explore the best this travel hotspot has to offer.
1. Getting There
Before booking your trip to the Shetland Islands, it’s worth looking at the typical weather forecast for the time of year you intend to travel.
During the winter months, these islands can be windy, wet, and cold. More extreme Shetlands weather conditions such as fogs or ice storms might delay your journey, so consider this when planning your vacation.
The Shetland Islands are a group of islands far north of Scotland, even further north than Orkney. The largest island, commonly known as “the Mainland,” measures 373 square miles in area, making it the fifth-largest island of the British Isles.
The three biggest and closest Scottish cities to Shetland are Inverness, Aberdeen, and Lerwick (the capital city). There are several ways to get to Shetland from the UK or Norway.
The two main options for traveling to the Shetlands are via ferry from the mainland or by air.
How to get to the Shetland Islands by Ferry
The overnight journey by boat to Shetland is the most leisurely method to get there, and the anticipation of settling down for the night and waking up in a new location is part of the excitement.
Northlink offers a scheduled ferry to Lerwick in the Shetlands Islands, United Kingdom. It departs daily from Aberdeen or Kirkwall on the Scottish mainland and carries cars if you prefer to drive from the British mainland.
How to get to the Shetland Islands by Air
The Scottish airline Loganair offers daily flight service to Sumburgh Airport if you prefer a faster route to Shetland. https://www.loganair.co.uk/
You can catch a direct flight from mainland Scotland (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness or Kirkwall, England (Manchester), or Norway (Bergen). If you are coming from overseas, you can book a flight from London Heathrow to these airports.
2. Discover Festival Dates
Throughout the year, the Shetland Isles host some fantastic festivals and events. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience these for yourself when traveling, as they can add some unique memories to your vacation.
Here are four of the most notable events on the Shetland calendar.
Up Helly Aa
Tradition, history, dancing, Viking costumes, a dragon ship, and a torch-lit procession through the street, Up Helly Aa is an annual Shetland spectacle not to be missed.
Shetland Folk Festival
If you love folk music or simply want a fun festival full of dance and joy, visit the annual folk festival that takes place between late April and early May.
Bergen Yacht Race
This annual sports event in June is perfect for yacht enthusiasts. It takes place between Bergen, Norway, and Lerwick, Shetland, and you’ll have the chance to cheer on 40 or 50 yachts competing in this high-profile race.
Taste of Shetland
For the foodies among you, pencil in an October date for your visit to Shetland and sample the many delights of this island in the annual food festival hosted in Lerwick.
3. The Ideal Vacation Length
You’ll need at least a week to explore the islands and view everything this beautiful place has to offer to visitors. If you can, aim for two weeks.
The best way to explore the islands is by road, and if you intend on taking a road trip, make sure you include some of the beautiful beaches that this location has to offer.
There are plenty of rental businesses if you want to hire a car after arriving in the Shetlands.
The most remote islands are reachable via ferry but don’t forget that travel in the most inaccessible places will be more of a challenge in the mid-winter.
4. Pack Practically
The Shetlands is the perfect place to explore the great outdoors. But make sure you pack clothes suitable for hiking in cold, windy conditions.
Bring spare clothes, extra layers, waterproof shoes, and a warm hat. And be prepared to get muddy when you walk off the beaten track to explore all the striking natural landscape that the Shetlands have to offer.
It’s also worth bringing a backpack to carry first aid, snacks, water, and a spare pair of socks.
24-hour shops in Shetland are uncommon, so it’s worth keeping food on you at all times. In other words, come prepared for all eventualities.
If you’d prefer to cycle rather than walk, the Shetlands has plenty of on-road and off-road cycle tracks. So don’t forget to bring your riding gear for the trip, too.
5. Sharpen Your Photography Skills
No introduction to the Shetlands would be complete without mentioning the array of wildlife that the area has to offer, providing a stunning backdrop from which to witness these marvels.
This location is ideal for budding photographers to sharpen those creative skills and capture the perfect picture.
Shetland wildlife includes a wide variety of seabirds. You will spot plenty of puffins, razorbills, shags, and guillemots along the coast.
Take a boat trip to discover some of the remarkable sea life on offer, too. You might be lucky enough to spot dolphins, seals, and even humpback whales.
Of course, probably the most famous animal on land is the Shetland pony. These adorable miniature ponies will be hugely popular with the younger tourist.
6. Be Prepared for a Digital Detox
There are plenty of places in the world that offer superb cell phone reception, but the Shetland Isles isn’t one of them! So when out and about, use traditional map books in place of Google.
Fortunately, you probably won’t notice the lack of internet access because that’s not why people visit this remote part of the world.
The Shetlands is the perfect place to get away from it all and enjoy a digital detox. Take a brisk walk in the fresh air, admire the stunning scenery, talk to the locals, and forget about the 24/7 news cycles for a few weeks.
When you return home feeling renewed and relaxed, you’ll be in no hurry to return to the endless scrolling of that shiny screen.
7. Leave Behind the Hustle and Bustle of City Life
If city life is synonymous with anonymity, then the charm of Shetlands is certainly the friendly Shetland Islands population you’ll meet and greet.
Wind down from the busy world and take in the fantastic hospitality offered in the B&Bs and local pubs dotted around the Islands.
If you want an authentic taste of Shetland life, take the time to visit a local community center on a Sunday to experience Sunday Tea.
Sunday Teas in this part of the world means conversation, hot drinks, and plenty of cake. What could be a more apt stop-off for a sugar boost in between your energetic hikes around the countryside?
8. Hoping to Spot the Northern Lights? Try October Onwards
The South Shetland Islands is around 60° North latitude. If you are lucky, you can occasionally see the Northern Lights in this part of the world. However, it isn’t as frequent as places like Iceland, Finland, or Norway.
To boost your chances of spotting this rare natural phenomenon, try scheduling your visit between the end of October and February.
You might also want to choose a time when the sky is dark, so avoid a full moon.
Don’t be too disappointed if you miss the Northern Lights. A nighttime walk in the Shetlands is still a breathtaking experience, and the dark skies will be a glittering ceiling of stars.
9. Book a Workshop
Despite the many outdoor adventures on offer in the Shetlands, there will be times during your visit when you’ll want to shield yourself from the elements.
Shetland is renowned for arts, crafts, and textiles. Book a fun indoor class or workshop as part of your tour.
Here are some of the many activities on offer in the Shetlands:
- Craft jewelry and return home with a beautiful keepsake
- Discover traditional weaving and knitting techniques in a textile workshop
- Book a pottery class
- Try your hand at glass blowing
Not confident about your crafting skills? You can still explore the many individual artists and craft shops around the islands. There is a wide variety of unique art that you’ll be able to take home and cherish forever.
10. Try the Local Specialties
The Shetlands is a paradise for food lovers with clear, unpolluted seas and wild landscapes for grazing cattle. Here are some of the food experiences you can try while you explore the islands:
- Fish and Chips: For a taste of this classic British fast-food dish, the fresh fish available on Shetland makes this an unmissable choice on your travels
- Reestit Mutton: Mutton may have fallen out of fashion in recent decades, but the expertise of the locals in producing this distinctive Reestit mutton is the ideal option for carnivores
- Oatcakes: Scottish oatcakes are a savory cracker with a dry, crumbly texture that makes them the natural sidekick to some mature British cheddar
- Mead: Explore the drink of the Vikings by tasting the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage
Of course, the best way to experience any of this food is to book your reservation at some of the many fantastic restaurants and cafes serving the Shetland community.
More tips for your Shetland Island Trip: 1 Magical Things to do in the Shetland Islands
Book Your Dream Ticket to the Shetland Islands
It’s no surprise the Shetland Islands feature high up on places to visit for the adventurous traveler.
Now that the world is beginning to reopen to tourists post-pandemic, it is the perfect time to book your vacation to this unique part of the world.
Once you have your reservations, don’t forget to download our countdown clock app – the best app that counts days until your dream vacation begins.