Travel United Kingdom

How To Visit The Shetland Islands

“Where are you off to on holiday then?”

“Shetland.”

“Shetland?! But that is so far away!”

This was basically what happened whenever I talked about my next holiday destination, and in fairness, I know why now.

Shetland is at the most northern tip of the British Isles and is not easy to get to. However, where else are you going to find the Most Northern Bus Stop, The Most Northern Post Office and the Most Northern Tea Rooms and the Most Northern…. everything!?

We were visiting some of J’s family who moved up there a few years ago but it is interesting to find out why other travellers come to Shetland; many for the bird-watching and hiking, or one couple who love lighthouses and were doing a tour of the lighthouses of Shetland.

There are only two ways you can get to this unique part of the UK:

1. get to Aberdeen and take the ferry across overnight

2. get to Aberdeen and fly to Lerwick (1h30 mins)

So basically, you really need to start your trip in Aberdeen, whcih I took full advantage of!

We took the train up to Aberdeen which took 6 hours, spent a night there so we could enjoy what the small city had to offer (see next post), and also to break up the journey, before boarding the ferry for, thankfully, a smooth crossing.

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The bin on the ferry attached to a pole, for when the crossing is not so smooth…

The ferry left at 5pm and stopped in Orkney on the way (Orkney lies between Shetland and the Scottish mainland), before docking in at Lerwick at 7:30am the following morning. The ferry back also goes overnight and leaves at 7pm from Lerwick.

I am very grateful that we forked out £70 extra each way for a twin cabin. On the crossing over, the ferry was packed with fed-up looking groups slumped over the couches in the bar areas, who looked like they were in for a long, uncomfortable night. There is some entertainment like a cinema, a shop, bars, a restaurant, but it is not going to occupy you for long.

The cabin was clean and basic, but had everything you could need: lighting, kettle and teas/coffees, bathroom with shower and towels, heating, bed sheets, etc. All it lacked was a window, as we got an inside cabin. Nevertheless, we made the most of the top deck when we set off and were approached Lerwick to see our first glimpses of the islands.

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First glimpse of Shetland!

I got here – now what?

You have successfully navigated the way to Shetland but now, you really need a car to get around.

Shetland does have public transport but services are not that frequent, depending on where you want to go. Definitely hire a car.

We went with Bolts Hire Car, who only had a little Skoda CityGo automatic available when we arrived. I’m more used to a manual but I did start to quite like it after I got used to it. J. wanted to do the driving, but when the hire company learned he had only passed his test 7 months go, the grimace on their faces said no! Luckily, I have been driving for 7 years, so I got lumped with the driving.

Luckily, Shetland is quite a dream to drive around. Hardly any cars, traffic lights or anything for that matter – just pure winding roads with dramatic views at all angles (unless it’s foggy, which is what happened to us!). Hardly any cars, hardly any roads for that matter! So it is quite difficult to get lost. Some trips may require you to take your little car on a ferry to the islands of Yell/Unst, and they were easy enough to navigate.

We packed a lot in to our 4 days, but mainly because we didn’t want to miss out as we had come such a long way. It was a very active holiday with lots of walking, good food and impressive lanscapes.

If you decide to arrive by plane into Sumbourgh Airport, it is about 35 mins to drive to Lerwick, but the very south of the island has plenty of interesting things to visit nearby – this is the area where we were staying.

Shetland was everything I was expecting it to be in the best sense – isolated, picturesque and a little quirky. It reminded me a lot of Iceland – somewhere I am dying to go back to. Yet instead, here I could still use my phone and the place names are easier to pronounce!

Stay tuned for what we did in Aberdeen and our four days in Shetland!

Robyn

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