The history of the Shetland islands is tied up with the Norse who ruled the land until 1469 when it passed to Scotland. Both backgrounds are evident in the Shetlands today. Windswept with few trees, the islands are remote but reachable by ferry and air. The main attractions are prehistoric remains and birdlife. Shetland Visitor Information Centres
Although there are 100 islands in the group, only 15 are inhabited, and of those, few are of interest to the tourist. Mainland is the largest island in the Shetland group. Itís long and narrow with distinctive northern and western sections. Its northern coast consists of red basalt lava cliffs. Among the other islands are Yell, Unst, Mousa, Whalsay and Fetlar. Shetland is famous for its woolen goods.
The harbour of Lerwick, Mainland is the only real town on the islands. There are a number of cliff walks and spots for seabird viewing. The RSPB is in charge of three sites. The Shetland Museum at Lerwick will fill you in on the local history. Inside is an important collection of Pictish silver ornaments and utensils from the 8th century. Exhibits include archaeology, maritime history, folklife, textiles and art.
A Viking Fire festival takes place on the island in January, and is explained in the Up Helly Aa exhibition. A folk festival takes place in April and May.
Fort Charlotte, at Lerwick, is a five-sided artillery fort. Its high walls, first constructed in 1665 as defence against the Dutch, were rebuilt in 1781. Clickhimin Broch, a mile southwest of Lerwick, dates to the Iron age. The Croft House Museum at Boddam fills in the details of rural life in the mid 1800s.
Twenty-two miles south of Lerwick at the village of Sumburgh lies the Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement. Historic Scotland manages this three-acre site dating over several millenniums from the Stone age remains of a broch, a Bronze age village with oval stone huts, an Iron Age broch, and an entire Viking settlement. The popular site was also home to a medieval farmstead and a 16th century hall. Thereís a visitor centre giving all the details of Iron Age life and the history of the site.
Staneydale Temple, another Historic Scotland archaeological site, is near Walls. Here are the ruins of houses, walls, cairns, and a Neolithic hall with a large oval chamber.
Scalloway, on Mainlandís west coast, is the site of Historic Scotlandís Scalloway Castle, built in 1600 for the Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland, known for his extreme cruelty. North of Scalloway is the Tingwall valley, home to an agricultural museum.
Unst is an island at the northern tip of Shetland. Ferries run from Lerwick. The National Trust for Scotland oversees the rolling hills, rocky coastline, beaches and cliffs of this island noted for its birds and plants. A heritage centre has an exhibition on local history. Historic Scotlandís Muness Castle on the island is a late 16th century tower with interesting architectural details.
Mousa Broch, on the uninhabited island of Mousa can be reached by boat from Sandwick, south of Lerwick. Historic Scotland lists this as the finest surviving Iron Age broch tower. Itís 40 feet high and 50 feet in diameter. Its three doorways, reached through a long passage, lead to chambers and another leads to a staircase.
Fair Isle is an isolated island, reached by mail boat from Gurness. Itís owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is open for bird observations in the summer.
Yell has little to recommend it except for coastal and hill walks and the RSPB Lumbister reserve. The Old Haa visitor centre has a display on local flora, fauna and history. The island of Fetlar also has a RSPB nature reserve. The Feltar Interpretive Centre details island facts.
Market Cross, Lerwick, ZE 1 0LU
Tel. 0 8701 999 440
Open: April -June: Mon-Sat 9am-5pm; Jul - Oct: Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 11am-4pm
Sumburgh Airport VIC
Sumburgh Airport, Sumburgh, ZE3 9JP
Tel. 0 8701 999 440
Open: Mon-Fri 7.30am-7.45pm; Sat 8.45am-5.15pm; Sun 10.15am-5.45pm (no months given)
For full details of attractions see the Attractions section of our website.
BŲd of Gremista Museum
On the northern outskirts of Lerwick, Mainland
One mile (1.6km) southwest of Lerwick, Mainland
On the A970
Tel. 0 1856 841 815 (Skara Brae)
Croft House Museum
Boddam, on the A970 Lerwick to Jarlshof road, Mainland
Isolated island reached by summer sailings of mail boat from Gurness, Shetland
Tel. 0 1595 760 222 or 0 1595 840 246
Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement
Sumburgh Head, 22 miles (35.4km) south of Lerwick, Mainland, on A970
Tel. 0 1950 460 112
On the uninhabited island of Mousa
Accessible by boat from Sandwick, off the A970 south of Lerwick, Mainland
Tel. for ferry 0 1950 431 367
Scalloway, six miles (10km) from Lerwick
Shetland Museum and Archives
Lower Hillhead, Lerwick, Mainland
Tel: 0 1595 695 057
Web: Shetland Museum
3.5 miles (5.8km) east of Walls, Mainland, on minor road off the A971
Tingwall Agricultural Museum
On the B9074 north of Scalloway, Mainland
Tel. 0 1595 840 344
Unst and Yell
Estate at northern tip of Shetland
Reached by ferry from Lerwick, then two more ferries by car or bus; also by plane
Tel. Lerwick TIC at 0 1595 693 162
Photos courtesy of Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows:
Fair Isle Shetland from air, Fair Isle bird observatory, Shetland wool: Dr Julian Paren
Whalsay standing stone of Yoxie: John Dally
Eastern tip of Mousa, Fort Charlotte: Lis Burke
Lerwick harbour, Shetland Museum, Unst Heritage Centre: Mike Pennington
Staneydale, Up helly a: Anne Burgess
Jarlshof prehistoric village, Mousa Broch, Mousa Broch interior: Colin Smith
Jarlshof: Nicholas Mutton
Scalloway castle: Robbie
Muness Castle: Colin Park
Breckon Sands on Yell: Ruth Sharville
Feltar burn: Tom Pennington
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