The Shetland Islands in Scotland are the most northerly point of Scotland and a stunning place to spend your holiday! The archipelago of islands that make up the Shetland’s islands is an incredible destination to travel to, and you’ll be surprised to discover the sheer number of things to do in Shetland while you’re here.
The Shetland Islands have a fascinating and detailed history, from their Iron and Bronze Age ruins, prosperous Norse settlements inhabited by Vikings that travelled from Denmark to the proud Scottish heritage that populates all corners of Shetland.
One of the biggest attractions of the Shetland Islands is their remote isolation from the rest of the bustling cities of Scotland. In fact, the Shetland economy is built primarily on fishing and maritime produce! But rest assured, there is an excellent selection of Shetland accommodation that allows you to experience the tranquil coast and islands of the region without sacrificing comfort.
So, when you’re planning to travel to Scotland, make sure to turn your attention north of the Scottish Mainland and consider checking out these unique and fascinating islands – you’ll be surprised at the sheer amount of things to do on the Shetland Islands.
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Things to do in Shetland
The Shetland Islands are stocked full of activities, events, and amazing sights to see. You won’t go a day without making a memory at one of Shetland’s attractions that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
The many islands that make up Shetland are gorgeous, and the fans of the Shetland TV series will realise that many of the stunning attractions look far better in person! You can fill your whole holiday with exciting and spectacular sights, from the beautiful coast and surprisingly accessible historical sites that detail Shetland’s history to the cultural events that show the blend of Shetland and Norse cultures.
We’re sure that a holiday to the Shetland Islands will be one of your favourite places to visit, so don’t hold back and book yourself a ticket as soon as you can! See our list for the top things to do in Shetland!
Enjoy a visit to Shetland’s Islands
Many islands make up the wondrous Shetland, and each contains a special and unique opportunity for your next holiday destination. The largest island is known as Mainland Shetland and includes most of the region’s population.
The Mainland of Shetland holds many beautiful natural landscapes, including a UNESCO global geopark, and can provide accommodation and local amenities for your travel. Shetland’s smaller islands contain hidden gems that you cannot miss out on seeing.
We’ve detailed our favourite choices that you should undoubtedly consider while exploring Shetland and its islands.
Fair Isle is a jewel of an island found on the southern tip of Shetland. It’s famous for its many natural attractions and wildlife.
You can enjoy bird spotting a wide variety of seabirds that make their home on this quaint Isle, most common around the island’s fishing village of Stonybrek. There is also an abundance of shipwrecks you can see around the coast of Fair Isle, which is the perfect addition to any hiking trail.
Start your visit off to the Shetland Islands with a trip to the lovely Fair Isle and get a taste of how beautiful Scotland can be.
Isle of Noss
The Isle of Noss holds a fantastic reserve isolated by the narrow Sound of Ness and is an incredible attraction for those who came to the Shetland Islands for its picturesque wildlife.
The Isle’s cliffs tower a staggering 180-metres above the sea and are like skyscrapers for the immense density of bird species you can find here. You can even spot distant whales and porpoises that breach the waves while walking along the coastline, with jaw-dropping views from these high vantage points.
The Isle of Noss is on the east side of Bressay and is an excellent day trip if you want the best scenery that the Shetland islands offer.
If fishing is your favourite pastime, then look no further than the island of Whalsay for some prime angling on the Shetland Islands.
Whalsay can be found just off the northern Mainland of Shetland and welcomes visitors with a warm atmosphere and friendly locals. You can try your hand at loch angling while hearing the history of Shetland Island’s fishing roots from one of the local anglers. Those that want to dive deeper into the profound account of Whalsay can do so at the Whalsay Heritage Centre.
The gorgeous fields of Whalsay are famous for their beautiful wild flowers and wildlife, so much so that the first 19-century explorers gave the island’s arable land the nickname of ‘the bonnie island’.
Fetlar is called the ‘Garden of Shetland’ and holds the most stunning natural landscapes in the Shetland Islands. If you have the chance to wander through the lush and verdant islands in Shetlands, take it as fast as you can!
Fetlar is also on the precipice of Norway, the Danish Faroe Islands, and the Shetland Islands, making it a great destination to travel to when you want to experience a cultural blend of all three of these regions.
It’s essential to the Scottish Government that the arable land and natural beauty of Fetlar is maintained, and two-thirds of the island is considered to be a heritage site.
Fetlar is truly a wildlife paradise filled with rolling green landscapes and wild flowers – there’s no better place to get away from the hustle and bustle of your life than the island of Fetlar.
Jarlshof Prehistoric and Nordic Settlement
The Jarlshof Settlement is an extraordinary attraction that you have the chance to see while you’re in the Shetland islands, combining over 4000-years of history into one incredible location.
From the ancient Neolithic to Viking communities from Denmark, exploring the massive complex of ruinous homes and farmsteads allows you to glance back in time and walk amongst the settlement as if you were there when it was built!
You can receive a full scope of Scotland’s history when you visit Jarlshof Prehistoric and Nordic Settlement, with sites from the Bronze and Iron Ages and proof of Nordic communities in the most northern region of Scotland.
Shetland Museum & Archive
This 5-star attraction in Lerwick is one you can’t miss out on if you’re interested in the heritage and culture of the Shetland Islands.
The Shetlands Museum & Archive is filled with not only one of the most expansive collections in the British Isles but also holds many spectacular cultural events throughout the year. The Museum contains artefacts exclusively from the Shetland Islands, most of which were generously donated by generations of Shetlanders.
You can also gain access to the Shetland Archive, a necessary step for anyone who wants to see if their ancestry extends to these remote islands.
Broch of Mousa
Within the remote Island of Mousa in Shetland sits the most well-preserved broch in Scotland and a fantastic sight to see while you’re visiting the Isle of Mousa’s Natural Reserve.
Found east of the Shetland’s Mainland, the Broch of Mousa towers above its surroundings, standing at a staggering 13-metres tall! This historical site is believed to have been constructed over 2000-years ago, and it’s an artefact of Scottish prehistory that is daunting to see. The Broch of Mousa is one of the most impressive sights you’ll see exploring the breadth and width of the Shetland Islands.
You can reach Mousa Broch can be visited with a brief boat trip that takes you to the island, an excellent day trip to undertake while in the Shetland Islands.
Sumburgh Head Lighthouse
The Sumburgh Head Lighthouse holds a breath-taking view of the North Sea and is a grand, beautiful lighthouse you can visit while on the Southern tip of the Shetland’s largest island.
Home to a visitor centre and nature reserve, this lighthouse is a magnificent building that complements the ocean views and is a bastion of heritage covering the region’s history back to the Iron Age! You can learn about the lighthouse keepers and the abundant wildlife you can see in the area, from whales, puffins, and many more!
The Sumburgh Head Lighthouse is one attraction you need to see while on the south coast of the Shetland Islands – you won’t regret it!
Shetland Crofthouse Museum
If you’re ever lucky enough to head down to the delightful setting of Dunrossness, the Shetland Crofthouse Museum offers you an opportunity to explore a recreation of a 19th-century croft house.
The passionate tour guides here provide an unparalleled description and history of what Shetland life would have been like for those living in the Shetland Crofthouse. This spirited retelling, combined with the smell of the peat fire, the atmosphere of the old thatched cottage roofs, and its artefacts, make this experience one that you won’t soon forget.
The Shetland Museum also holds many cultural events throughout the year, so check out their website.
Hermaness National Nature Reserve
The sheer cliffs of the Hermaness National Nature Reserve are as daunting as they are beautiful. It’s hard not to be impressed as the waves crash against these stalwart cliffs, accompanied by whipping wind and vocal sea birds.
This national reserve is stunning, especially with the wide variety of wildlife displayed here. You can watch dexterous Gannets dive into the waters at blinding speeds and puffins meander and hop from rock to rock below.
The Hermaness Reserve takes about an hour to navigate to Britain’s most northerly point, Muckle Flugga, and is an excellent way to experience the wildlife that makes its home this far north!
Scalloway Castle is a magnificent building that automatically commands your attention with its impressive design and aged structure.
This Castle was once the home of Black Patie, an Earl of Shetland and Orkney infamous for oppressing and exploiting the labour of the people of Mainland Shetland. This unsavoury figure was executed in 1615, but their impressive 15-century castle still stands and can be explored in this harbour town.
The fascinating history of this Castle makes this an exciting attraction to visit as you explore the Shetland Islands, especially while in Scalloway.
Banna Min Beach
On the south side of Shetland mainland sits one of the more gorgeous beaches on the entire Isle of Shetland, Banna Min Beach.
Boasting clear blue waters, fine white sands, and a peaceful atmosphere, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this beach for one in the Caribbean. On a beautiful sunny day, there’s no place you’d rather be on the Mainland than soaking up the sun on Banna Min Beach and that’s a fact!
And if you’re fortunate, you may even be joined by a few plump seals who love sunbathing as much as you do!
Check out Bobby’s Bus Shelter
One of the unique attractions on the Shetland Islands is Bobby’s Bus Shelter, a decorated shelter that gains a new theme every year.
Located on the Isle of Unst, Bobby’s Bus Shelter is one of the most popular local attractions, equally kooky and charming. The Shelter usually features a colourful array of signs and decorations and is fully equipped with a microwave, table, chair, and carpet!
The mastermind behind the novel attraction has made a point to include a particular theme each year to decorate the Shelter after – Queen’s Jubilee, outer space, and African have all been prominent themes throughout the years! This fantastic local attraction is fun and exciting and well worth your time to visit.
The Clickimin Broch is an excellent broch you can see and is just outside the town centre of Lerwick on the Shetland Islands.
This surprisingly accessible attraction is the perfect place to stop by and spend some time before catching one of the many ferries that will take you to the Northern Isles of Orkney. You can explore the Broch free of charge, and you’d be surprised how big it is on the inside.
Near Clickimin Broch are other historic site ruins dating back to almost 3000-years ago, including a sculpted set of stone feet speculated to be created during the Iron Age and symbolise kingship!
See the Northern Lights
The spectacular sight of the Northern Lights, or ‘Mirrie Dancers’ as they’re known locally, are the highlights of many people’s travel and is an incredible experience you have whilst on the Shetland Isles.
The Shetland Islands are the most northerly point in Britain, making it the best place in the UK to see these gorgeous dancing lights. Although you can see them throughout the year, your highest chance of seeing the Northern Lights are during the winter months, from mid-October to mid-March.
We highly recommend spending as much time as you can and visiting the many other lovely attractions of the British Isles of Shetland to make sure your holiday has the highest chance of seeing them and is also filled with things to do while you’re not!
See Shetland Ponies
Wandering the hills and moors of Scotland’s Shetland Islands are animals that will undoubtedly put a smile on your face – Shetland ponies!
These patchy-patterned equines have been living on the isles for over 4000-years! You’ll see herds of them throughout your travels, so make sure to stop by and take a picture. Although keep in mind that crofters of the Isles own all the Shetland ponies, so respect that fact!
Otherwise, these fantastic and resilient ponies are as part of the Shetland Islands as the people, and they’re a friendly face you’ll be seeing as you explore the islands.
Visit Lerwick, Shetland’s Capital
The beautiful Lerwick is the only proper town on the Shetland Islands, with a population of 7,500 people and many amazing things to do!
You can visit the historic 18-century buildings that line the town’s waterfront, boasting sandstone structures and ornate Dutch-style architecture. The Lerwick Town Hall also is an excellently designed building, resembling a miniature castle.
While you’re here, why not attend a tour and tasting at Lerwick Brewery, the most northerly distilleries in Scotland or cap off your day of touring the Shetland Isles at Mareel, the town’s beautifully made musical theatre and cinema!
You’ll likely be passing through this picturesque town when you arrive in the Shetland Islands, but we recommend thoroughly exploring the city before seeing the rest of the islands.
West Voe Beach
One of the most stunning beaches in the Shetlands Islands is West Voe Beach, which even won an award from Keep Scotland Beautiful!
You can find this beach just south west of the Sumburgh Airport, the main airport of Mainland Shetland. It treats you to spectacular views, complete with clear turquoise waters and white sands. The West Voe Beach is also remarkably close to Sumburgh Head and the two great historical sites of Jarlshof and Old Scatness!
If you’re landing at the Sumburgh Airport on the Shetland Islands, check out this tranquil beach when the weather’s shining!
Culswick Circular Walk
On the West Side of Mainland Shetland, the Culswick Circular Walk attracts hundreds of visitors with incredible sights every year.
With dramatic views of valleys, freshwater lochs, and the Culswick Broch – one of the best-preserved ancient ruins you can find in Mainland Shetland! The walking trail takes around 2 hours to complete, perfect for an early morning wake up to begin your journey through the Shetland Mainland.
The Shetland Islands don’t lack fantastic walking trails, but the Culswick Circular Walk is undoubtedly one of the best on the Mainland.
Tangwick Haa Museum
As you explore the area of Tangwick on the West Side of the Shetland Mainland, make sure to stop by the Tangwick Haa Museum, which holds a collection of unique artefacts and exhibits that show off the region’s history.
You should undoubtedly treat yourself to a tour through this Museum, and we guarantee that your knowledge and experience of the things to do in Shetland will be heightened because of it! The guides and volunteers are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate individuals and make the tour through the Museum a joy to behold.
If you have time when you’re enjoying your outdoor activities in Shetland, the Tangwick Haa Museum is one place you shouldn’t miss.
The Hollanders Grave
Near the town of Hillswick stands the Hollanders Grave, a monument grave dedicated to the naval war that took place between the Dutch East India Company and the English Navy in 1654!
This historic battle is marked and is a small monument with tranquil and spectacular scenery along the west coast of the Shetland Islands. This Grave is a must-see if you have any heritage or ancestry from these places and marks a monumental battle that this archipelago was involved in.
The Cabin Museum
Any history buffs will love the Cabin Museum in Shetland, especially the rare and unique World War II artefacts, photos, and items that detail Shetland’s history during this turbulent time.
The Cabin Museum is open from May to September every year and was founded in 1978, so make sure to book your holiday around this time if you’re interested in checking this attraction out! You can also discover a wide array of Shetland’s crafting history from whaling and fishing.
Equipped with cannons that overlook the Sound of Bressay, Fort Charlotte was the fortress used by the English to deter Dutch and French ships. This imposing fort is a must-see while visiting the beautiful Shetland archipelago.
Interestingly, a deterrence was all that this Fort actually was, and Fort Charlotte never actually fired their cannons. Today, you can see the outside grounds of the Fort, complete with a series of cannons, informative signs, and beautiful views of the Sound of Bressay.
If you’re a history buff looking to complete your holiday with some extraordinary sights, then Fort Charlotte is your choice!
Red Pool Virkie
If you follow the coastline north from the Ness Boat Club, you may come across the peculiar sight of Red Pool Virkie – a natural phenomenon that you won’t want to miss seeing!
This strange attraction can only be seen during the summer months, one of the best times to visit the Shetland Islands! Due to algae decomposing, the colour of the pool shifts to the brilliant crimson hue that gives the Red Pool Virkie its ominous look.
You can fully climb down the cliff edge and get superbly close to the Red Pool if you can withstand the smell of algae and be treated to a beautiful view of the South Mainland of Shetland, with the North Sea stretching out as far as the eye can see.
Old Scatness Broch & Iron Age Village
Uncovers the mysterious histories of the Iron Age and Scotland when you visit the magnificent Old Scatness Broch & Iron Age Village!
You can receive an excellent guided tour that takes you through multiple ancient ruins discovered in 1975, making this historic site relatively new and untouched. There is even a reconstructed Iron Age Village with a peat fire that evokes your imagination and immerses you into a world over 3000-years ago!
You can enjoy a guided tour on Fridays of every week, but you can still visit the site anytime by yourself – We highly recommend you do so!
On the northernmost island of Unst sits the mighty Muness Castle, an impeccably fine tower house that’s an excellent attraction to add to your to-do list while you’re on the Shetland Islands.
This remote Castle is a must-visit destination while you’re in Unst and provides travellers with informative learning boards that tell the castle’s fascinating history as you tour its interior and the grounds around it. Enhance your exploration by grabbing the torches from their sconces and touring the rooms as if you lived there!
The Isle of Muness itself boasts the spectacular scenery that Shetland is known for, and there’s no better place to enjoy its history than at Muness Castle.
Shetland Textile Museum
While you’re exploring the town of Lerwick, make sure to stop by the Shetland Textile Museum and dive deep into one of the unique historical museums you can find in the Shetland Isles.
The Shetland Textile Museum focuses on the evolution of textiles in Shetland, moving from history to contemporary! There’s a particular focus on hand knitting and its role, with plenty of exhibits that showcase how knitting is used on the island. The occasional live demonstration gives you unparalleled insight into its complicated process.
This Textile Museum is too close to Lerwick to miss out on and makes for the perfect afternoon destination to stop by and explore.
Bonhoga combines incredible artistry, generations of craftsmanship, and a splendid café with a wide selection of food and drink – what more could you ask for?
You’ll be treated to beautiful and provoking artworks made by local Scottish Mainland and Shetland artists, ranging from recreations of the spectacular scenery of Mainland Scotland to the Coastlines of Shetland. The Gallery has adopted an old barn house to house its artworks, creating a homely sense of warmth.
The Bonhoga Gallery is situated right in the centre of Shetland Mainland, making it a great destination to visit wherever you are in Shetland.
On the North of Shetland sits the incredible Eshanness Lighthouse, one of Scotland’s most remote and northern lighthouses!
The Eshannes Lighthouse sits on the craggy and cliff coastline of the Shetland Islands, offering some of the best views that you can receive of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not uncommon for the area to be covered in a dense fog, which is why the Lighthouse is there in the first place, but there’s a webcam available online that allows you to scout the weather before you go!
Take a walk along the coastline and experience the beautiful scenery that this small portion of Scotland is known for.
Other Things To Do in Scottish Isles
- Things to do in Arran
- Things to do in Brodick
- Things to do in Harris
- Things to do in Islay
- Things to do in Isle of Lewis
- Things to do in Isle of Mull
- Things to do in Isle of Skye
- Things to do in Kirkwall
- Things to do in North & South Uist
- Things to do in Orkney
- Things to do in Portree
- Things to do in Stornoway