Exploring Shetland – Where Scotland Meets Scandinavia

Shetland is where Scotland and Scandinavia meet, making for a unique experience that is unlike anywhere else. From history and culture to the natural world and outdoor activities, these islands are sure to blow you away from the moment you arrive.

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Where is Shetland?

Shetland sits around 100 miles north-west of the Scottish mainland and around 50 miles from its closest neighbour, Orkney. The islands aren’t so far from Scandinavian neighbours, including Norway 200 miles to the east, the Faroe Islands 200 miles north-west, and Iceland another 300 miles beyond Faroe.

Getting to Shetland

You can get to and from Shetland very easily in a motorhome by ferry, the Aberdeen-Lerwick route runs all year round, also calling at Kirkwall in Orkney three times a week. This crossing is an overnight 12-13 hour trip meaning you can board the ferry, make your way to your cabin for a comfortable sleep and wake up refreshed and ready to explore Shetland.

Geography and Weather

Although Shetland sits on the 60th parallel of latitude, the same latitude as parts of Scandinavia, Greenland, Alaska, and St Petersburg in Russia, it has a milder climate due to the warm currents that flow there. From clear, idyllic sunshine to awe inspiring storms, the weather in Shetland is anything but predictable, creating stunning, dramatic scenes against incredible landscapes.

Stargazing

Shetland is an ideal location for stargazers to enjoy looking to the skies and perhaps even seeing the Northern Lights, known locally as ‘merrie dancers’. Shetland’s position closer to the North Pole than any other part of the UK makes it one of the best to see the Northern  Lights, especially due to the low light pollution.

Shetland’s History & Culture

The islands of Shetland are thought to have been inhabited for around 6,000 years, with settlers making the journey from the Scottish mainland via the islands of Orkney and Fair Isle. By 6 AD the islands had a Pictish culture that was shared with the Scottish mainland, latterly Christianity would spread as it had throughout the British Isles. Around 800 AD Viking invasions began, wiping out the Pictish culture on Shetland and replacing it with Norse, evidenced by the huge number of Viking swords, brooches and other artefacts found on the islands. The Norse influence on Shetland also included ancient buildings and language, which can be found in many place names, including the capital Lerwick, from the Old Norse ‘Leirvik’, meaning Muddy Bay.

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Natural Produce

Fishing

As you might imagine for an island community, fishing is a huge part of the culture, history, and economy of Shetland. The seafood industry generates over £300m per year for the local economy, encompassing catching, farming and processing both fish and shellfish. When visiting Shetland you can enjoy exceptional, fresh seafood that has went from the sea to your plate within hours.

Wool & Lamb

The islands of Shetland are ideal for rearing sheep with the local breeds living on the hills year-round thanks to their fine and soft wool that is used for the world famous Shetland and Fair Isle knitwear that you’ll find in a number of shops on the islands.

Shetland’s sheep also produce meat that is lean and deep in flavour due to the quality of grazing that includes heather, salt-misted grass, and even seaweed. Sampling some local lamb when in Shetland is an absolute must, the delicious and flavoursome meat never disappoints.

Assorted Local Food & Drink

When visiting Shetland you’re sure to be impressed with the sheer volume of locally produced food, including bread, cakes and biscuits from bakeries across the islands. More recent additions to the local food scene include chocolate, fudge and other confectionery such as ‘Puffin Poo’, a combination of chocolate, mallow and coconut.

There’s also two breweries on the islands, 60 North, based in Lerwick, and Valhalla on the island of Unst. Unst is also home to Britain’s most northerly distillery, Shetland Reel, producing gin using the local botanicals.

Step Back in Time

Shetland’s links with the Vikings are well known but the history of the islands stretch back much further to the Neolithic period and the evidence of their presence can still be seen at incredible archaeological sites and ruins. You can explore Iron Age brochs and Pictish settlements that date back 4,000 years.

If the Viking period is something you want to explore there is, of course, plenty of opportunity to do so, with a whole host of museums and archaeological sites covering Nordic Shetland. If you want to experience a modern take on Viking culture then make sure you’re in Shetland during the world famous Up Helly Aa festival that reaches its climax with a torchlit procession that is followed by the burning of a galley.

The Natural World

Spectacular Scenery

You’ll enjoy an incredible range of scenery in Shetland, form the rocky crags and breathtaking cliffs to heather hills and rolling fertile farmland.

Bird Watching

Get up close and personal with tens of thousands of breeding Gannets along with Guillemots, Puffins, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, and Fulmars. The top spots in Shetland for bird watching are Sumburgh Head, Noss and Hermaness nature reserves. Watch out for the Great Skuas, known as Bonxies, a rare type of birds around the size of a gull that’s a notoriously aggressive dive-bomber.

Shetland Ponies

The world famous Shetland Pony can be seen throughout the islands on heather covered hills, beaches and even on the roadside. Although small, Shetland Ponies are a hardy breed that often roams freely, tended to by crofters.

Sea Mammals

You can watch sea mammals throughout the year in Shetland, from seals and otters to harbour porpoises, there’s plenty to spot. Other sea creatures that can be seen in Shetland, although more rarely, include Orcas (Killer Whales) that come inshore to hunt seals, Dolphins chasing shoals of fish, and even the occasional Minke whale.

The Island’s Flora

Shetland has a huge range of wild flowers, heathers and grasses that offer incredible displays, particularly during early summer. The plants and flowers are as diverse as the island’s environment, with different types in the inland area, on the sandy beaches, clinging to coastal cliffs, and on the hilltops.

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Outdoor Activities

If you enjoy getting out and about then there is no shortage of activities for you to enjoy.

Walking

The islands offer fantastic walking throughout the year with a combination of stunning coastal and cliff-top scenery and calmer inland lochs and hills.

Sea Diving

Shetland offers incredibly clear underwater visibility, making it the perfect place to enjoy some scuba diving, just make sure you wear a dry suit in the chilly waters! There are truly amazing views to be enjoyed beneath the waves with deep sea cliffs, stacks and caves.

Fishing

Shetland is one of the UK’s finest fishing locations for both sea and loch fishing. One day you can be out on the open ocean on a chartered boat catching mackerel and haddock and the next you can be on the banks of a peaceful loch angling for wild brown trout.

Canoeing and Kayaking

The extensive Shetland coastline makes it an ideal location for keen sea kayakers. Along the coast you’ll find stunning cliffs, deserted beaches, and more sea caves than you could ever explore. Take your own kayak or hire one when you arrive and enjoy a guided tour.

Climbing

Shetland is one of the most unique rock climbing locations you can enjoy in the whole of the UK. The backdrop of wild seas, remoteness and ever-changing weather mean there’s nowhere else in Britain that’s quite like it.

Special Events

Up Helly Aa

Incredible costumes, flaming torches and rousing music make this an incredible festival to behold. Although the early part of the year can seem bleak in much of Scotland, Shetland makes it a time of year to look forward to.

Visitors from around the world enjoy these Viking style celebrations that mark the end of the winter period and the return of the sun. You can expect to see hundreds of ‘Vikings’ dressed in sheepskin outfits, carrying axes and shields, and holding burning torches aloft as they march down the streets to the sound of traditional Up Helly Aa songs. The festival reaches its climax with burning of a life-size replica galley that is set alight by the torches being thrown into it by the Viking marchers.

Shetland Folk Festival

The Shetland Folk Festival takes place in May and has been on the go for over thirty years, bringing a wide range of performers to the islands. Concerts are held all over Shetland over the course of a few days, culminating in a marathon concert at three venues that features 15 or more bands. Be sure to book tickets for concerts in advance to avoid disappointment as they are in heavy demand.

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Motorhome Hire – The Best Way to See Everything Shetland Has to Offer

As you can see, there is a huge number of things to do and see while in Shetland, a motorhome hire is a fantastic option if you want to explore the islands in comfort and style from a flexible base. There are a number of licensed sites for motorhomes across Shetland, all with at least four hook-ups. It’s very easy to get to the Shetland in your motorhome hire with a ferry from Aberdeen operating regularly. Once on the islands you’ll find a number of them are connected by bridges and others are reachable by ferry for a reasonable price.

Speak to the Motorhome Hire Experts

Visit our motorhome hire page to see the range of vehicles we have to offer you, including dog friendly motorhomes. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any queries about travelling to Shetland, motorhomes, or bespoke requirements.