Great Britain’s most northerly enclave can be found midway between mainland Scotland and Norway. Along with neighbouring Orkney, the Shetland Islands archipelago was under Norse rule from 800AD until 1468 and still boasts more than a hint of Viking influence. The name ‘Lerwick’ translates from Norse as muddy (or clay) bay, a reference to its natural harbour, while street names make reference to Scandinavian Kings. Notable events and personalities from the Norse period can be found decorating the stained glass windows of the Town Hall.
If you’re lucky enough to visit during January, you may catch preparations for the annual Up Helly Aa festival – when 900 locals take to the streets in a Viking-style fire celebration. Just over 30 minutes south, at Jarlshof and Scatness, are archaeological excavations, while longhouses and replica longship can be found 50 miles north of Lerwick, on Unst.
Discover the archipelago’s full story with a visit to The Shetland Museum and Archives at Hay’s Dock, or explore Fort Charlotte, which housed a garrison during the Napoleonic Wars. Take away a Scottish souvenir from narrow Commercial Street, where Fair Isle knitwear, locally-made jewellery and CDs from local musicians are usually on offer.
Get a feel for Lerwick’s daily life by strolling through its gently sloping stone streets. Watch fishermen bring in their day’s haul, make friends with a native Shetland Pony, enjoy superb views from the Knab coastal path, or wander past rolling hills full of heather.
Wildlife is also a key attraction in the Shetland Islands, even more so during the Shetland Nature Festival in July. The nature reserves at Sumburgh Head, Noss and Hermaness offer avid bird-watchers the opportunity to view thousands of breeding Gannets, Guillemots, Puffins, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmar, plus many more seasonal species. Take a boat tour past dramatic cliffs, or walk over rolling hills for an awe-inspiring glimpse at these impressive colonies. As well as being renowned for their sensational seabirds, many of these spectacular locations are also great places to watch for sea mammals.