The bustling archipelago of Shetland, with its oceanic climate, lies across the 60th line of Latitude North, with the capital, Lerwick, almost sitting in the centre of a triangle formed by connecting Aberdeen (Scotland), with Bergen (Norway) and Torshavn (Faroe Islands). The southern tip of the Shetland mainland is about 100 miles from the nearest point on mainland Scotland. More than a hundred islands, just 15 of them inhabited (approximately 22,200 people), span the hundred miles between Fair Isle and Out Stack, the northernmost point of Britain.
Visit Shetland at any time of year and you'll be enchanted by the rugged beauty of the landscape. The dramatically changing colours and textures will take your breath away. There are many areas set aside to protect the local fauna and flora, including a number of important seabird nesting sites. With over 1,500km of coastline and 138 sandy beaches, spectacular scenery is around every corner. Although you can walk almost anywhere, a great deal of work has recently gone into marking and improving some of the more popular walking routes, ensuring that they are have stiles wherever necessary.
Shetland also boasts several major archaeological sites, with new discoveries continually being made. Wherever you go you can see evidence of people who lived here thousands of years ago. The best preserved broch in the world is on the island of Mousa (South Mainland) and Clickimin Broch, another good example, stands by a loch in the middle of Lerwick. In addition, the recent archaeological dig at Old Scatness (South Mainland) has turned up some amazing finds. Also in the South Mainland is the ancient settlement of Jarlshof, with a record of human occupation going back 5,000 years. The quality and importance of Shetland's archaeological sites was recognised by the 2006 Rough Guide to Scotland, where Mousa broch was named as Scotland's top visitor attraction with Jarlshof coming third.
Shetland is famous as a world-class location for bird watching, as well as seal and otter spotting. The several wildlife reserves located in Shetland are testament to the islands' pristine environment. Shetland is also home to some unique species which have adapted to the islands, such as the wonderful miniature Shetland ponies.
However, there is much more to Shetland than the awe-inspiring nature and wildlife. Shetland has a unique culture, as you'd expect of an island group that has been inhabited for over 6,000 years. This is evident in the dialect, heritage, place names and it’s world-renowned traditional music.
Shetland’s early historic period was dominated by Scandinavian influences, especially Norway, with the islands only becoming part of Scotland during the fifteenth century. This joint Norse/Scottish heritage is celebarted in the popular Up Helly Aa fire festival (last Tuesday in January), and Shetland’s traditional music both of which attract visitors from far and wide. The islands have also produced numerous writers of prose and poetry, many of whom use the local dialect.
When Shetland became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, trade with northern Europe decreased, although fishing has remained an important aspect of the economy up to the present day. The discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s significantly boosted Shetland incomes, employment and public sector revenue.
A substantial amount of the funds Shetland has gained from oil have been invested in state-of-the art leisure centres. The largest of these is the Clickimin Leisure Complex in Lerwick, (see information on Lerwick) but other parts of the islands are extremely well provided for too. The islands of Yell, Unst and Whalsay each have a leisure centre with games hall, squash court, swimming pool and a range of fitness facilities as does Aith on the west side of Shetland. At Sandwick, in the south mainland, there is a swimming pool and games hall. Brae in the north, has a swimming pool with fitness suite and squash court and Shetland’s old capital, Scalloway (approximately 6 miles west of Lerwick) has a swimming pool.
Most districts have well maintained, outdoor pitches and children’s play areas and there are two 18-hole golf courses in Shetland, at Dale (near Lerwick) and Skaw Taing on the island of Whalsay. There are also two nine-hole courses, at the Knab in Lerwick and Asta, just north of Scalloway.
Inspired by Shetland's scenery, heritage and culture, Shetland’s Arts and Crafts producers offer a unique and diverse range of products, including, woodcraft, knitwear/textiles, fancy goods and fine art. Shetland’s Arts & Crafts Association launched Shetland’s Craft Trail in 2011, which resulted in around 40 craftspeople opening their workshops or studios to visitors throughout the isles. In addition, many of the items produced are available in shops on Commercial Street, the quaint old town shopping street in the centre of Lerwick.
Whether visiting our islands for business or pleasure, on your own or with friends or family, Shetland has so much to offer. In fact, as many visitors find, once will never be enough!