The Shetlands consist of an archipelago of over 100 islands north of Scotland, 15 of which are inhabited. Though Scottish in traditions, the regional accent has a decidedly Norse flavor left over from its days under Viking rule. With rugged sea cliffs, dramatic coastal scenery, and rampant wildlife, the Shetlands are definitely worth a few days’ exploration. Hike one of the area’s many nature trails at Noss Nature Reserve. Hop a ferry to Unst, where you can see the famous Shetland ponies running free. Or play a game of golf at the 18-hole Whalsay Club, the most northerly in the UK. Catch a boat to colonies of seabirds, dolphins, orcas, porpoises, and seals.
History buffs will find a home in the Shetlands, which boasts a plethora of historical sites like castles and ruins. Step back in time at Iron Age Mousa Broch and the Norse settlement of Jarlshof. In Lerwick stands Fort Charlotte, a garrison built in 1665 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Unique museums include the Crofthouse Museum in Boddam and the Tangwick Haa Museum in Eshaness, a former laird’s house. If crafts is your thing, check out the knitwork at Shetland Textile Museum, or head to the Shetland Storytelling Society for some atmospheric storytelling. Stop by Unst Boat Haven to view some of Shetland’s unique, traditional boats modeled on early Viking ships.
The weather changes frequently, but the wind is ever-present! The best time to visit is of course summertime, when the weather is still fairly cool and winter storms haven’t yet rolled in. Every May, the Shetland Folk Festival erupts in the village halls, bringing with it concerts, dances and performances that last long into the night. The days are at the longest, reaching their peak in June–the sun sets but it never fully grows dark, creating what the locals call the “Simmer Dim.” In the winter time, Europe’s biggest fire festival Up Helly Aa marks the end of the Yule Season. Up to thousands of actors march through the villages in themed costumes.
How to Get There: the simplest way is by ferry, which run regularly from Aberdeen to Lerwick. Loganair also flies into Sumburgh Airport about 30 miles south of Lerwick, but due to lack of competition the fares tend to be expensive. Ferries connect most of the islands, but note that many of these must be booked in advance and some do not accommodate vehicles. You can also connect to the Faroe or Orkney Islands by ferry or air.