Join us as we go off the Scottish mainland and go over to Shetland, a picturesque island with a rich history, amazing wildlife, close ties to the Scottish fishing industry, a focus on renewable energy (wind turbines), the location of well-known festivals such as Up Helly Aa and even a rocket launch pad courtesy of the Shetland Space Centre!
It truly is the island that has it all, read on to find out more…
Where are the Shetland Islands?
Where else to start exploring all that Shetland has to offer than by addressing the (virtual) elephant in the room… the fact that Shetland is in fact an archipelago, made up of around 100 islands!
Nestled within the North Sea, the term Shetland Islands actually covers multiple islands, with just shy of 23,000 people calling the 16 islands that are inhabited their home.
Whilst the Shetland Islands are part of Scotland, Shetlanders have their own way of speaking, tend to vote differently than the rest of Scotland when it comes to elections (don’t worry though, hereon in this is a politically-free zone!).
Geographically, the Shetlands are actually positioned closer to the second-largest city in Norway, Bergen, than it is to our very own Inverness here in the United Kingdom!
Things to see in Shetland
When it comes to things to see in Shetland, the list is long, and we must be honest, we’ve struggled to pick just a few select sites and landmarks to include in this article! It’s no real surprise that the Shetland Islands were selected as a top European destination by Lonely Planet back in 2019. Yet without further ado, let us begin with…
The capital and only town of Shetland, it’s thought that Lerwick is home to around 7,500 people. Within easy distance of the airport on the island, Lerwick has a somewhat starry and shady history – starry due to its appearance in the Shetland TV series (more on this later) and shady due to its role as an “unofficial marketplace” during the 17th century.
Nowadays the only marketplace you’ll find in Lerwick is that of the shops, banks and coffee shops on Commercial Street, also known as Da Street by Shetlanders. So when you visit, make sure to indulge in a bit of retail therapy by paying a visit to Da Street.
And while you’re waiting to visit Shetland, why not watch the TV series of the same name? Based on novels written by Ann Cleeves, this BBC murder mystery series follows DI Jimmy Perez as he fights crime in the community. It’s difficult to say which is more striking though – the crimes that take on the fictional Shetland, or the beautiful landscapes and scenery that are featured on the real Shetland!
Jarlshof and Sumburgh
Sumburgh can be found on the Shetland mainland, with Jarlshof situated in Sumburgh (near Sumburgh Airport) at the tip of Shetland. If you’re an archaeology buff, Jarlshof is likely a name that you are familiar with.
A settlement that dates back to Viking times, Jarlshof is the site of homes from the Neolithic area, Bronze Age villages and a medieval farmstead.
Jarlshof is just one of the many archaeological treasures that you can visit on a tour of the Shetland islands.
Sumburgh on the other hand is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, with a wide range of animals often paying appearances in Shetland. From birds such as puffins to whales and dolphins, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled when you visit, as you never know what you’ll find!
From locations to a Shetland landmark – one of only two castles you’ll find on the islands, Scalloway Castle may look impressive, but unfortunately its history is a dark reminder to Shetlanders of the oppression they experienced at the hands of the Earl of Orkney and Shetland, Patrick Stewart, during the time Scalloway Castle was built.
Witch trials were also said to have been carried out within the walls of the castle, with those accused of being witches sentenced to death.
Eventually, Earl Patrick Stewart was executed and Scalloway was no longer the power force it once was. Whilst the present day gives visitors a chance to take in this magnificent building and imagine it in all its glory as it once was, the murky goings on will always serve as a reminder of what once was…
There’s nothing quite like standing in front of a broch, also known as a roundhouse from the Iron Age, a tower made of stone that dates back thousands of years yet remains standing to this day… and a unique feature of Scotland.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to see a Scottish broch before, Mousa Broch is a good place to start! The most intact broch in Scotland, it has a history that stretches back all the way to 300BC, and even appears in some Norse tales.
Mousa Broch stands at 13 m in height and is made all the more remarkable when you consider that these towers were built so long ago without the modern construction techniques we have today.
And finally, if you’re wondering where the term broch comes from, wonder no more! The Lowland Scots term “brough” was said to be where the word was derived, although these stone structures have also been called “burgs” which is from the Old Norse language, specifically the word “borg”.
Whatever you call them, experiencing a broch for yourself is highly recommended when you visit Scotland!
Unst Bus Shelter
If you’re reading this and don’t understand why a bus shelter has made the list of things to see in Shetland, then let us enlighten you! Thanks to Bobby McCauley, a bus shelter in Unst has affectionately been called Bobby’s Bus Shelter, with the shelter being transformed into a “home away from home”… it’s the one time you’ll wish your bus wasn’t on time!
Each year, the bus shelter is given a different theme, with previous themes including the Queen’s Jubilee and outer space, so if you’re in Shetland, it’s well worth a trip to see what theme it is at that time.
Still not convinced a bus shelter is worth the trip? All we can say is that you’ll need to take a trip and see for yourself… just don’t forget to take some photographs!
How could we write an article about Shetland without including some of the arguably cutest inhabitants of these islands? We’re talking about Shetland Ponies of course! These ponies have been around for thousands of years, known for their distinctive look, hardworking history (they used to work in the coal mines) and resilience. Known for being petite, it’s said that in order to gain “Shetland Pony status”, adult ponies cannot exceed 42 cm, according to The Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society.
This pony breed has even got their very own Grand National dedicated to them, aptly called the Shetland Pony Grand National, where keen child equine enthusiasts can release their inner jockey – we would love to see this race take place!
Shetland Islands Tours
You’ve read all about it, and now you want to visit the Shetland Islands for yourself… well, fortunately we’ve got just the tour for you. Our Highlights of Orkney and Shetland tour is a 6 day, 5 night tour that will take you to see some of the landmarks and sights we’ve looked at in this article. After arriving in Lerwick by ferry, you’ll then head on over to Jarlshof and visit Scalloway Castle, guided by our professional tour operators and drivers. There’s no better way to take in all that Shetland has to offer if you ask us!
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