Jarlshof is a look into the past. A look into a time before history and the fascinating Norse culture that settled on the Isle of Shetland. If you love history and want to see a real Norse settlement, houses from the Bronze Age and a laird’s house from the 16th century, then Jarlshof is for you. It’s one of the most inspirational archaeological sites in Scotland and deserving of a visit if you’re planning to see the Shetland Islands.

Over 4,000 years of human history are present at Jarlshof, and we’ll be breaking down everything you need to know on your visit. From it’s history, folklore, how to get there, and things to do, let’s dive right into it.

Jarlshof History

History of Jarlshof

The far-flung Shetland Isles are so far from the Scottish Mainland that it’s impressive to consider how prehistoric humans travelled here. Early humans likely reached the Jarlshof site sometime 5000 – 6000 years ago, with evidence of settlements dating back to at least 2700 BCE.

Bronze Age

Historians believe that Jarlshof started as a home for Bronze Age humans. This Bronze Age settlement holds several fascinating artefacts for people to discover and gives incredible insight into the time. Since it is the earliest remains to be found at this archaeological site, there may even be a chance that there was a settlement before.

While Scotland’s hidden history from the Bronze Age may be lost to time, it’s truly unique. We can peer back so far and learn about the early centuries of humanity.

Iron Age

Before long, much of the Bronze Age village was partially built over by an Iron Age settlement instead. Their homes were likely round, spacious accommodations, and two even had underground passages! Historians believe they were used as stores for grain and other items that were cultivated on prehistoric farms.

The Iron Age prehistoric site offers more physical evidence, including a broch that held the village livestock. There is also evidence of artefacts, some of which likely came from Europe – which means that residents traded with Europeans across the North Sea from Scotland’s Northern Isles.

This prehistoric site has held people for several centuries, and there are signs of more advanced settlements dating back to the early ACE. At least four wheelhouses were found, as well as huts that contained Christian motifs, which link it to Scotland’s Pictish period.

Arrival of Norse Settlers

There is evidence of a Norse settlement at Jarlshof since the early 800s, with a Viking longhouse in the centre of the farmhouse. In fact, this longhouse was the very first evidence of a Viking household in Britain!

The longhouse was the centre of a farming complex, which historians agree means that the Norse settlement likely stayed at Jarlshof for several centuries. Norse houses of this Viking site were used for several generations (at least 12 – 16, according to Historic Scotland).

Jarlshof is one of the most prominent locations where you can see Norse buildings in Britain, and it should be on the list of history buffs everywhere.

Laird’s House

Shetland passed control from Norway to Scotland in 1469. Several decades later, the Shetland and Orkney Ises came under the control of Earl Robert Stewart, who was the illegitimate son of James V. The Isle was passed onto his son, Earl Patrick (also known as Black Patie), who built the Old House of Sumburgh. Earl Patrick was a terrible leader and would hoard wealth from Shetlanders with excessive taxes.

The estate was given back to the Bruce family once the tyranny of Earl Patrick ended, but in retribution, the property was destroyed towards the end of the century. Today, what’s left of its ruins is a clear indication of Scotland’s often turbulent history. The ruin of this site, as well as Jarlshof, make an appearance in the Sir Walter Scott novel ‘The Pirate’, meaning that the famed Scottish poet likely visited the cultural site.

Jarlshof Tickets and Opening Times

This prehistoric and Norse settlement is open throughout the year, although opening times may differ depending on when you plan to visit.

  • 1 – 28 April: Jarlshof is open between 9:30 – 17:30 (with the last entry at 16:00) except on Sundays.
  • 29 April – 30 September: Jarlshof is open every day between 9:30 – 17:30 (last entry at 16:00).
  • 1 October – 31 March: Jarlshof is open between 10:00 – 16:00 (last entry at 15:00) except on Sundays and Mondays. It is also closed for lunch between 12:30 – 13:30.

Opening Times

Ticket prices for Jarlshof are incredibly affordable and are used to continue the maintenance of this prehistoric site. Adult tickets cost £7.50, child tickets cost £4.50, and there is a variety of family tickets available between £15.00 – £25.50.

How to Get to Jarlshof

The Shetland Isles is not the easiest destination to reach, especially for casual visitors who have come to explore the Scottish Mainland. Here are the easiest ways to reach Jarlshof by air, land, and sea.

By Ferry

Some ferries can take you to Lerwick, the main town of Shetland Isles, from either Aberdeen or Kirkwall. If you’re planning to drive around on the Isles, you’ll be happy to know that you can take your car, motorhome, or bike along with you.

These ferries are equipped with cabins, lifts, toilets, and wheelchair access.

By Plane

Planes are a quick and easy way to reach the Shetland Isles from the Scottish Mainland or the United Kingdom. There are flights from Scotland’s major cities, including Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness, as well as London and Manchester.

Flight times vary from 40 minutes to three hours, depending on where you fly from, but they’re far quicker than ferries.

By Car

From Lerwick, Jarlshof is only a 30-minute drive away along the beautiful Shetland Isles coastline. Here’s how to reach the Jarlshof prehistoric and Norse settlement with your car:

  • Exit Lerwick via the A970 and head southwest and then south.
  • Following this route takes you most of the way, but make sure to keep an eye out for the Broch of Clickimin, Catpund Norse Historical Palace, Old Scatness Broch and Iron Age Village as you make your way to the southern tip of the Shetland Isles.
  • As you drive past the Sumburgh Head Airport, follow the signs for Jarlshof and turn right and then left (there is restricted road usage). Jarlshof’s parking is available at the Sumburgh Hotel, although coaching may require additional payment.

Best Time to Visit Jarlshof

The Shetland Isles are the northern Isles of Scotland, which tends to dissuade casual visitors. The best time for visitors to come to Jarlshof is likely summertime, although April, May, and September are still extraordinary times to visit.

Puffins, adorable little penguin-like birds, are present on the island from April to early August, and Orcas and Minke Whales also swim in the waters between May and August. The long days of summer also offer the opportunity to see Jarlshof for several hours more than in winter, with balmy and clear weather.

Things to Do at Jarlshof

Jarlshof is one archaeological site that you can’t miss out on. From exploring the remains of a Viking settlement and Medieval farmstead to seeing artefacts from Bronze Age houses, here are all the things you can look forward to during your visit to Jarlshof.

Explore the Iron Age Broch

Iron Age Broch

Before you visit the Norse period settlements and a Medieval farmhouse, take a step back in time to the Iron Age Broch. Despite centuries of coastal erosion from wind and waves, this incredible piece of history persists to the modern day.

You can explore late Neolithic houses, or at least their remains, to your heart’s content. It’s recommended that you stop for a moment to read the informative signs that describe how Iron and Bronze Age settlements were discovered, as well as the artefacts that were uncovered along with them.

Indulge in the Dramatic Coastline

Dramatic Coastline

While the Western Isles, like the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Lewis, boast incredible coastlines and beaches, the Isle of Shetland is just as gorgeous to behold. The Jarlshof Neolithic site is located right on the southern tip of the Isles and offers dramatic coastlines.

Whether it’s for taking photos, enjoying a picnic by this Stone Age settlement, or just to appreciate the weather, why not take some time to admire Scotland’s beautiful coastline? It can get quite windy, so be sure to pack appropriately.

Meet Some Exceptional Shetland Ponies

Shetland Ponies

While Jarlshof offers an exceptional trip through time, with opportunities to see Norse settlements and a Medieval Lairds house, you may be lucky enough to meet some Shetland ponies, too. That’s right, only a few people know that the Shetland ponies come from the Isle of Shetland, Scotland!

They can often be seen grazing and running around the prehistoric site, as you may have seen in Jarlshof photos. A Shetland pony is a small but feisty four-legged animal similar to horses and has a long history on the Isle. If you want to spice up your visit once you’ve checked out the Iron Age houses of Jarlshof, these ponies may be willing to take a picture with you.

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