Best Things to Do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands: Top 12 Attractions to Visit

by Emil Backup
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Are you thinking about visiting Scotland’s Shetland Islands this year? Here are some of the most fun and unique things to do in Shetland Island. These picturesque sights, activities, and attractions are sure to make for an unforgettable vacation experience.

Ah, the Shetland Islands—a place where rugged cliffs meet the untamed sea and where the call of seabirds is your daily soundtrack. Nestled in the far north of Scotland, this archipelago is a treasure trove of experiences just waiting to be discovered. If you’re yearning for a destination that combines natural beauty, rich history, a dash of mystery, and things to do in the Shetland Islands, look no further.

From the moment you set foot on these islands, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a different world. One where Shetland ponies roam freely, and the Northern Lights dance across the sky. Whether you’re an adventurer at heart, a history buff, or someone who just wants to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, Shetland has something for everyone.

But let’s not forget about the local culture that makes this place truly special. With roots deeply embedded in Norse history, the Shetland Islands offer a unique blend of Scottish and Scandinavian influences that you won’t find anywhere else.

So, grab your hiking boots and let’s dive into the ultimate guide to the best things to do in the Shetland Islands. Trust me, by the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be itching to book your next trip to this northern paradise. Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands.

The best things to do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands right now.
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Best Places to Visit in Shetland Islands

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in Shetland Islands? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this enchanting vacation spot in Scotland. So keep reading to discover all these unique Shetland Islands places to visit.

Are you looking to explore rugged coastlines while birdwatching? Or would you prefer enjoying traditional music festivals and engaging in outdoor adventures like hiking, fishing, and wildlife spotting? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in Shetland Islands can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in the Shetland Islands that you should know about.

1. Burland Croft Trail

When you’re considering unique things to do in the Shetland Islands, a day with the iconic Shetland Ponies at Burland Croft Trail is an absolute must. Located on Trondra Island, this croft provides a close and personal encounter with these charming, small-sized equines that are closely tied to the essence of Shetland’s identity.

These aren’t just any ponies; they’re a resilient breed that has adapted to the Shetland Islands’ often harsh climate. At Burland Croft Trail, you can not only pet and feed these charming creatures but also learn about their historical significance. Once bred for pulling carts and carrying peat, these ponies are deeply woven into the fabric of island life.

But wait, there’s more! The croft also offers guided pony trekking experiences. Imagine riding one of these sturdy little guys through scenic trails, with panoramic views of the surrounding islands and sea as your backdrop. It’s an adventure that captures the essence of Shetland’s natural beauty.

So, if you’re crafting your list of Shetland Islands places to visit, pencil in a day at Burland Croft Trail. Whether you’re an animal lover or a history buff, this experience is a heartwarming blend of both. It’s not just an activity; it’s a journey into the soul of the Shetland Islands.

Burland Croft Trail: Discover the natural beauty of this picturesque hiking destination.
Burland Croft Trail: Discover the natural beauty of this picturesque hiking destination. Photo credits: mgprontheroad

2. Eshaness Cliffs

Curious about where to go in the Shetland Islands to see the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis?  Experience this celestial marvel at Eshaness Cliffs, where the sky meets the sea in a dramatic fashion. As you stand on these rugged cliffs, the sky above bursts into a kaleidoscope of green, pink, and purple hues. It feels as though the universe itself is serenading you.

Eshaness Cliffs, with their jagged formations and panoramic sea views, offer one of the most stunning vantage points in the Shetland Islands to witness the Northern Lights. The remote location means minimal light pollution, and the islands’ high latitude ensures you’re almost touching the Arctic circle, making for optimal viewing conditions. The best time to catch this mesmerizing display is between October and March.

The cliffs themselves add an extra layer of magic to the experience. Imagine the silhouette of the jagged rocks against the luminescent sky, the North Sea stretching infinitely below, all illuminated by the ethereal glow of the Aurora Borealis. It’s a must-see in the Shetland Islands that will leave you utterly enchanted.

Don’t forget to earmark a night—or perhaps several—under the Eshaness Cliffs’ sky, chasing the Northern Lights. Believe us; this is a spectacle that merits a prime spot on your bucket list. This makes it easily among the best things to do in Shetland!

Where Rugged Beauty Meets Dramatic Coastal Views.
Where Rugged Beauty Meets Dramatic Coastal Views.

3. Scalloway Museum

Ah the Scalloway Museum! If you’re wondering where to visit in Shetland Islands for a deep dive into maritime history, this is your spot. Situated in the charming village of Scalloway, this museum is a treasure trove of Shetland’s seafaring past, World War II artifacts, and local folklore.

The museum is housed in a modern building overlooking the harbor, but don’t let its contemporary facade fool you. Inside, you’ll find a wealth of information that spans centuries. From the Shetland Bus operation that helped Norwegian resistance fighters during WWII to the intricate models of ships that once sailed these waters, the museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the islands’ maritime heritage.

One of the coolest activities in Shetland Islands is participating in the museum’s interactive exhibits. Try your hand at traditional rope-making or take a virtual tour of a Viking longship. It’s not just a museum; it’s an experience that educates and entertains.

Before you leave, make sure to climb the tower for panoramic views of Scalloway and the surrounding sea. It’s a fitting end to an enriching visit and a must-add to your list of Shetland Islands things to do.

Step into Shetland's Past: Scalloway Museum unveils fascinating stories and artifacts.
Step into Shetland’s Past: Scalloway Museum unveils fascinating stories and artifacts.

4. Jarlshof 

When it comes to the best places in Shetland Islands, Jarlshof should be at the top of your list. Located at the southern tip of the Shetland Mainland, this archaeological wonder offers a journey through time, from the Stone Age to the Viking era and beyond.

Imagine walking through ancient stone circles, Bronze Age houses, and Viking longhouses, all in one location. Jarlshof provides this extraordinary experience. The site is so rich in history that it feels like an open-air museum, where each step takes you further back in time.

The well-preserved ruins are accompanied by informative plaques, giving you context for what you’re seeing. And let’s not forget the stunning coastal views that serve as a backdrop to this historical marvel. The crashing waves and rugged cliffs add an extra layer of drama to your visit.

Before you leave, make sure to stop by the visitor center for some insightful exhibits and perhaps a souvenir to remember this incredible journey through time. Trust us, Jarlshof is a must-see in Shetland Islands that you won’t want to miss.

Unearth Ancient Wonders at Jarlshof: A timeless archaeological site in Shetland.
Unearth Ancient Wonders at Jarlshof: A timeless archaeological site in Shetland.

5. Noss National Nature Reserve

When it comes to the things to do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands that you shouldn’t miss, a boat tour to Noss National Nature Reserve is an absolute must. Envision you’re on a boat, the salty sea breeze tousling your hair, as you make your way to one of the most stunning wildlife havens in the region. Noss is a paradise for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike, boasting an impressive array of seabird colonies—think puffins, guillemots, and even the majestic sea eagle.

As the boat glides closer to the island, you’ll be greeted by towering cliffs that serve as nature’s skyscrapers, housing thousands of nesting birds. The cacophony of calls fills the air, creating a natural symphony that’s both exhilarating and soothing. And let’s not forget the seals! These adorable creatures often make an appearance, lounging on the rocks or playfully swimming near the shore.

Shetland Islands places to visit wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Noss. The island itself is a spectacle, with its rugged landscapes and vibrant flora providing a striking contrast to the deep blue sea. Whether you’re an avid photographer or simply someone who appreciates the raw beauty of nature, Noss offers a visual feast that’s second to none.

So, when you’re jotting down the best places to go in the Shetland Islands, make sure a scenic boat tour to Noss National Nature Reserve is at the top of your list. Trust us, this is one adventure that you’ll reminisce about for years to come. It’s no wonder this is among the top things to do in Shetland for travelers.

Experience Natural Wonder at Noss National Nature Reserve: One of the best things to do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands.
Experience Natural Wonder at Noss National Nature Reserve: One of the best things to do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands.

6. St. Ninian’s Isle

St. Ninian’s Isle is one of those Shetland Islands attractions that you simply can’t afford to miss. Imagine a narrow strip of sand connecting the mainland to an idyllic island, creating a natural walkway that beckons you to explore. This is a tombolo, and St. Ninian’s Isle boasts the largest active one in the UK.

As you stroll across the sandy causeway, you’ll feel as if you’re walking on a bridge between two worlds. On one side, the azure waves of the North Atlantic; on the other, the calm waters of the Bigton Wick. It’s a surreal experience that captures the essence of Shetland’s natural beauty.

Once you reach the island, you’ll find ruins of a medieval chapel dedicated to St. Ninian. It’s a serene spot perfect for reflection or a quiet picnic. The island is also a haven for birdwatchers, with various seabirds often seen nesting in the cliffs.

If you’re seeking a peaceful escape that combines natural beauty with a touch of history, a visit to St Ninian’s Isle should be on your list of the coolest things to do in the Shetland Islands. It’s a slice of paradise that offers a unique blend of tranquility and awe.

St. Ninian's Isle: A tranquil oasis of history and scenic beauty.
St. Ninian’s Isle: A tranquil oasis of history and scenic beauty.

7. Lerwick’s Food and Craft Market

The bustling Food and Craft Market in Lerwick is a must-see. Held on the last Saturday of each month, this market is a gastronomic and artisanal wonderland. From freshly baked bread and organic vegetables to handcrafted jewelry and knitwear, there’s something for everyone.

The market is more than just a place to shop; it’s a cultural experience. Local vendors are always eager to share stories behind their crafts or offer samples of traditional Shetland dishes. Ever tried reestit mutton soup or bannocks? Here’s your chance!

What sets this market apart is its commitment to sustainability. Many vendors use locally sourced ingredients and materials, making it a fantastic spot to pick up eco-friendly souvenirs. If you’re a foodie, don’t miss the chance to buy some Shetland lamb or fresh seafood. Trust us, your taste buds will thank you.

For those who love to immerse themselves in local culture and flavors, the Food and Craft Market in Lerwick is one of the coolest activities in the Shetland Islands. It’s a feast for the senses that you won’t want to miss.

Lerwick Tourist Center: Your gateway to exploring Shetland's charms.
Lerwick Tourist Center: Your gateway to exploring Shetland’s charms.

8. Shetland’s Geopark

When it comes to the best places in the Shetland Islands, the Shetland Geopark is a hidden gem that’s begging to be explored. Visualize you’re standing on a cliff edge at Eshaness, overlooking the churning North Atlantic Ocean. The wind carries the scent of salt and seaweed, and the rugged landscape tells a story that dates back over 300 million years. You’re not just witnessing nature; you’re stepping back in time.

The Shetland Geopark isn’t your typical park. It’s a UNESCO-recognized area that showcases the geological history of the islands. From the ancient volcanic rocks at Eshaness to the fossil-rich cliffs at Sumburgh Head, the Geopark is a living museum. And the best part? You can explore it all: on foot, by bike, or even by kayak.

If you’re a fan of outdoor activities, this is one of the unique things to do in the Shetland Islands. Guided tours are available, where experts explain the geological formations and their significance. Or if you prefer, go it alone and let the interpretive panels guide you.

Cool destinations in the Shetland Islands? Make sure the Shetland Geopark is on that list. It’s not just a walk in the park; it’s a journey through Earth’s history, right here in the Shetland Islands.

Explore Earth's story at Shetland's Geopark unveiling geological wonders. Among the best things to do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands.
Explore Earth’s story at Shetland’s Geopark unveiling geological wonders. Among the best things to do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands.

9. Mousa Broch

Ah, the allure of ancient ruins! Mousa Broch is one of those places in the Shetland Islands that you simply can’t miss. Standing at an impressive 13 meters, it’s the tallest broch (a type of Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure) still in existence.

Picture this: you’re walking through a landscape that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. The broch itself is a marvel of ancient engineering, with its double-walled construction providing insulation and stability. As you explore its labyrinthine passages, you can almost hear the whispers of the Picts who once called this place home.

The island of Mousa is also a haven for birdwatchers. During your visit, you’ll likely spot storm petrels, a rare bird species that nests within the broch’s walls. It’s a surreal experience to hear their haunting calls echo through the ancient stone.

For history enthusiasts and nature lovers alike, Mousa Broch offers a captivating blend of the past and the present. It provides a tangible link to the mysteries of antiquity while allowing you to revel in the natural beauty of the here and now.

Step Back in Time at Mousa Broch: An Ancient Wonder in Shetland
Step Back in Time at Mousa Broch: An Ancient Wonder in Shetland.

10. Sumburgh Head Lighthouse

Curious about the best things to do in the Shetland Islands? Welcome to Simmer Dim at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse. Imagine standing on the cliffs beside the iconic lighthouse, as the sky refuses to darken, even at midnight. The horizon glows with a soft, ethereal light, creating a magical atmosphere that’s quintessentially Shetland.

Sumburgh Head offers an unparalleled vantage point for this natural spectacle, which occurs around the summer solstice. The sun barely dips below the horizon, casting a surreal glow over the North Sea and the rugged coastline. It’s a scene that photographers dream of capturing, and it’s right here in the Shetland Islands.

But what truly sets this experience apart is the sense of community. Locals and visitors gather at Sumburgh Head to celebrate with bonfires, traditional music, and storytelling. It’s a time when the island’s folklore and modern life blend seamlessly, offering a glimpse into the unique culture of the Shetlands.

When compiling a list of Shetland Islands places to visit, prioritize Sumburgh Head during the Simmer Dim. This isn’t just a natural phenomenon; it’s a cultural celebration that you’ll cherish forever.

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse: Guiding ships and inspiring views.
Sumburgh Head Lighthouse: Guiding ships and inspiring views.

11. Michaelswood

If a tranquil getaway is what you seek, Michaelswood is your answer. This woodland wonderland is one of the best places to go in the Shetland Islands for nature lovers and peace seekers alike. Nestled near the village of Aith, Michaelswood offers a labyrinth of walking trails that meander through a mix of native and exotic trees, ponds, and even a small waterfall.

The woodland is a tribute to Michael Ferrie, a young man who loved nature and dreamed of creating a forest in Shetland. His family made that dream a reality, and today, Michaelswood serves as a sanctuary for both wildlife and human visitors. You’ll find benches inscribed with inspirational quotes, perfect for moments of reflection.

Birdwatchers, bring your binoculars! The area is teeming with various bird species, from robins and finches to the occasional visiting osprey. And let’s not forget the delightful duck pond, where you can feed the ducks and take in the tranquil surroundings.

For a day of relaxation and a chance to connect with nature, Michaelswood is among the Shetland Islands attractions you won’t want to miss. It’s a slice of paradise that offers a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Michaelswood: Where nature's beauty and serenity embrace you in a tranquil oasis.
Michaelswood: Where nature’s beauty and serenity embrace you in a tranquil oasis.

12. Shetland Crofthouse Museum

As you outline your Shetland Islands things to do, be sure to incorporate the Shetland Crofthouse Museum – it’s a must-visit. Imagine stepping into a time capsule that takes you back to the 19th century, offering a glimpse into the lives of crofters who once called these islands home. The museum is a lovingly restored crofthouse, complete with thatched roofs and stone walls, situated in the scenic Dunrossness area.

Inside, you’ll find an array of artifacts that paint a vivid picture of daily life from a bygone era. From handwoven textiles to antique farming tools, each item tells a story. It’s not just a museum; it’s a living history lesson that lets you experience the islands’ cultural heritage firsthand.

But hold on, the experience doesn’t end indoors. The museum is surrounded by a working croft where you can see Shetland sheep grazing, giving you a feel for the land’s agricultural roots. It’s a harmonious blend of history and nature that offers a unique perspective on the Shetland way of life.

So, if you’re wondering what to do in the Shetland Islands, don’t miss the chance to visit the Shetland Crofthouse Museum. It’s a journey back in time that enriches your understanding of this fascinating archipelago, making it one of the unique places in the Shetland Islands for history buffs and curious travelers alike.

Explore the best things to do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands, Including a visit to the Crofthouse Museum.
Explore the best things to do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands, Including a visit to the Crofthouse Museum.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in the Shetland Islands

Looking for more content on the top things to do in the Shetland Islands? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to the Shetland Islands:

What is Shetland famous for?

Shetland, an archipelago located to the northeast of mainland Scotland, is famous for several unique cultural, historical, and natural attributes:

  1. Shetland Ponies: These small, sturdy ponies are native to the islands and are known for their strength, intelligence, and gentle temperament.
  2. Up Helly Aa: A renowned fire festival held in Lerwick on the last Tuesday of January every year. It celebrates the islands’ Viking heritage with a torch-lit procession and the burning of a Viking galley.
  3. Archaeological Sites: Shetland boasts numerous ancient sites, with the Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement being one of the most significant. It provides a window into 4,000 years of human history on the islands.
  4. Wildlife: The islands are a haven for birdwatchers, with puffins, guillemots, and other seabirds nesting in cliffs. Shetland is also one of the best places in the UK to see orcas.
  5. Shetland Wool and Knitwear: Shetland has a rich tradition of knitting, and its wool is prized for its warmth and quality. The intricate Fair Isle knitting pattern originates from here.
  6. Music: Traditional Shetland music, heavily influenced by Nordic tunes, is renowned, especially the fiddle-playing.
  7. Stunning Landscapes: From the dramatic cliffs of Eshaness to the serene beauty of St Ninian’s Isle tombolo, Shetland offers a diverse range of breathtaking landscapes.
  8. Geopark Status: Shetland has been recognized as a Geopark due to its unique geology, which tells the story of over 3 billion years of the Earth’s history.
  9. Nordic Heritage: While Shetland is part of Scotland, it has a strong Norse heritage due to Viking colonization, evident in place names, culture, and even the local dialect.

How do I get to the Shetland Islands?

To reach the Shetland Islands, you can take a flight from major UK cities like Aberdeen, Edinburgh, or Glasgow. Alternatively, you can use a ferry service from Aberdeen to Lerwick, the capital of Shetland. The islands can also be accessed via smaller flights from some other Scottish airports.

What’s the best time to visit the Shetland Islands?

The best time to visit the Shetland Islands is during the summer months, from June to August, when the weather is relatively mild and many festivals take place. This period offers the opportunity to explore the stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and vibrant cultural events that the islands have to offer.

Is it easy to get around the Shetland Islands?

Getting around the Shetland Islands is relatively manageable, with a network of roads and public transportation connecting the main areas. Buses, ferries, and flights between islands are available. However, it’s important to plan routes and check schedules in advance due to the more remote and rugged terrain.

Discover the Charms of Visiting Shetland Islands: Exploring Culture, Nature, and More.
Discover the charms of visiting the Shetland Islands: Exploring culture, nature, and more.

How many days do you need in Shetland?

The number of days you should spend in Shetland depends on your interests and what you want to see and do. However, for a well-rounded visit, a stay of 4 to 7 days is recommended.

  • 1-3 Days: This is a short visit, allowing you to see some of the main attractions in Lerwick, the capital, and perhaps a couple of nearby sites. You might visit the Shetland Museum and Archives, take a walk around the old town, and perhaps take a short boat trip or visit a nearby island.
  • 4-5 Days: With a few more days, you can explore more of the main island, including historical sites, nature reserves, and beaches. You might visit the Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement, Eshaness Cliffs, and St Ninian’s Isle. You’ll also have time to take in some local culture, perhaps attending a music session or visiting an arts and crafts shop.
  • 6-7 Days or More: With a week or more, you can venture to some of the more remote islands in the archipelago, such as Unst, Yell, or Fetlar. This gives you a chance to see some of the unique wildlife, like puffins, otters, and Shetland ponies, in their natural habitats. You’ll also have more time to immerse yourself in the local culture, perhaps attending a festival or event if your visit coincides.

What should I pack going to the Shetland Islands?

Pack warm, waterproof clothing, including layers, as the weather can be unpredictable. Sturdy walking shoes are essential for exploring rugged terrain. Don’t forget items like a rainproof jacket, gloves, and a hat. Also, bring a camera for capturing the islands’ picturesque landscapes and unique wildlife.

Are the Shetland Islands family-friendly?

Yes, the Shetland Islands are family-friendly. With their rich natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and cultural events, they offer engaging experiences for all ages. Kids can enjoy exploring beaches, observing seals and birds, and participating in local festivals. Family-oriented accommodations and activities are available for a wholesome visit.

What is Shetland Islands best known for?

Shetland is renowned for its dramatic landscapes, rich maritime history, and unique cultural heritage. From the iconic Shetland ponies to the mesmerizing Northern Lights, the islands offer a blend of Norse and Scottish influences that captivate visitors.

Is it worth going to the Shetland Islands?

Absolutely! The Shetland Islands offer a one-of-a-kind experience, from rugged cliffs and pristine beaches to vibrant festivals and ancient archaeological sites. Whether you’re an adventurer or a history buff, Shetland promises an unforgettable journey.

Final Thoughts in Visiting Shetland Islands

So there you have it, folks! The Shetland Islands are a treasure trove of unique experiences. Whether you’re a history aficionado, an outdoor enthusiast, or someone who simply loves to soak in the local culture, Scotland’s Shetland Islands places to visit are as diverse as they are captivating.

The islands beckon with their untamed beauty and rich tapestry of experiences. So why wait? Pack those bags and set your sights on this northern gem. After all, the best places in Scotland’s Shetland Islands are waiting for you to discover them. And remember, in Shetland, every day is an opportunity for a new adventure.

Best things to do in Scotland’s Shetland Islands for all types of travelers.
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