Most people would think it is insane to spend only a weekend in Shetland as it’s so remote. But, if you’re based in a major city in Scotland and you’ve always wanted to go, it’s completely reasonable to spend a weekend in Shetland! That being said, Shetland often seems like the sort of place people only go if they really want to, but it’s a lovely and unique place to visit even if you haven’t heard of it before. Shetland is where Nordic and Celtic traditions really come to a head. It’s the northernmost point in Scotland, and an incredibly beautiful, relaxing, and cozy place to be!
Your Weekend In Shetland: How To Get There
If you have the budget to fly, that saves you a lot of time. Lucky for you, I flew in and took the boat back, so I can speak to both experiences. Operated by LoganAir, Scotland’s own airline, the airplane to Shetland is teeny tiny. I’m used to flying on propellor planes, as those are the only kind of planes that fly to Thunder Bay (where I’m from). I’ve only once been on a plane that small once before, so it did make me a little nervous! The flight was just over an hour, manageable even if you’re a bit afraid, or if it’s a bit bumpy. You’ll land in Sumburgh and have to rent a car, have ordered a taxi in advanced, or planned to wait in the airport for the next bus to Lerwick. I waited for the bus, which took about an hour after we got going, and was very affordable.
By Boat (And Train!)
The boat, on the other hand, takes twelve hours. TWELVE! And that just takes you from Lerwick to Aberdeen. If you’re me, you’ve still got to take a train for another three hours to Edinburgh! Plus you have to board the boat early, and the hours start to really add up. That being said, the boat was way more comfortable than I expected. We got a four bunk bearth (there were three of us), and I slept the whole time. I took anti-nausea pills and I was pretty much fine, albeit a bit woozy. While the boat/train is a bit more affordable, it’s not that much of a savings from Edinburgh. And if you’re only spending a weekend in Shetland, it would be worth splurging a little for the flight.
Where To Go In Shetland?
Unless you’re going on a long trip, or you have family or friends in another part of Shetland, chances are you’ll be based in Lerwick. For only a weekend in Shetland, it just makes sense to stay central. Lerwick is the capital of Shetland, but it’s still a small little city of just under 7,000 people. There are loads of tourists who come in for the day on cruise ships, so there’s no shortage of shops and cafes! Lerwick is fairly well connected by ferries and buses to other parts of Shetland. But, if you’re hoping to really see a lot of Shetland while you’re there for the weekend, you best rent a car. Most of the island still shuts down on Sundays.
Where To Stay in Lerwick?
Lerwick may be small, but its Airbnb game is mighty. We rented this adorable house in one of the lanes. It had THREE floors, two rooms, enough space for three people to sleep comfortably. It had a full kitchen, a bathroom and ensuite, and a wood burning fire place. Our host was kind and helpful, and checked in on us after we arrived. Best part? Very affordable, and very close by the town centre and Market Cross! There are loads of Inns as well, but I would happily stay in an Airbnb again, especially if I’m travelling with a group.
The Best of Lerwick: What To Do?
Along with the many tourist shops, chocolate shops, soap shops, sweater shops, and cafes, there’s lots to see in Lerwick! The Shetland Museum is one of my all-time favourites. It’s very interactive in a way that doesn’t dumb down the history, and really entertaining and informative. You’ll learn all about the history of the city and the islands — and it’s a rich history!
There are a number of nice walks in Lerwick, too. You could easily just start at the port and walk in either direction and you’ll get beautiful, beautiful views. Walking along the coast from the city centre to the Fjarå Cafe Bar will give you a really lovely route. In fact, Fjarå was my favourite place for dinner, which brings me to…
The Best of Lerwick: Where To Eat
Fjarå Cafe and Bar is a bit out of the centre, and while it brings you to a new part of town and offers new sights, there’s lots of places nearby that are lovely too! The Peerie tourist shop has the best selection of tourist bits and all things puffins and sheep. The Peerie shop also has a yummy little cafe! I got a delicious cheese scone and coffee there. As I was travelling with my mom, who has celiac, I can confirm all of these places offer gluten free alternatives! Another honourable mention for a cafe is ‘The Dowry’ which is trendy enough to belong in Edinburgh! I mean… they have avocado toast. And waffles. YUM!
The Best of Lerwick: Where To Shop
Like I said, there are loads of shops in Lerwick’s centre. The Lerwick Antique shop offers a great place for a snoop. All of the tourist shops will have puffin, highland cow, and sheep branded goodies. Of course, we can’t forget the traditional Shetland woolly sweaters. You’ll find some traditional wool products in the charity shops – mittens, gloves, hats, etc. Jamieson’s is the traditional brand that makes wool products from Shetland sheep. I bought a basic navy sweater of theirs that I love. It makes me feel like Jimmy Perez. Shetland also has a few of its own soap brands so there’s a lot of skincare shops to be found! My all-time favourite was Love From Shetland. It reminds me a ton of the Lovely Body shop in Thunder Bay, a locally owned skincare shop that’s actually run by my neighbour!
Love From Shetland is highly ethically conscious and making every effort to be sustainable. They have their own goats (seriously, go on their instagram and you’ll find their baby goats!), and they use their milk to make their products — which are all palm oil free. I’m in love with their wool-wrapped soaps which make the perfect exfoliant. I could go on and on, but you should just go read about them yourself! All I’ll say is I was in their shop less than a month ago, and I’ve already placed an order for more of their stuff.
Puffin Sighting From Lerwick
Loads of people go up north to Shetland to see the puffins nesting there. We didn’t have a car, so we couldn’t get to Sumburgh or one of the other puffin sighting locations very easily. Technically, you could take the bus back to Sumburgh Airport and walk from there, but it’s about an hour each way and we didn’t have it in us. Luckily, it’s a short hop and skip over Bressay to see puffins! So, you can take a short 20 minute ferry from Lerwick to Bressay, and then another boat ride from there to see the puffins. On our Saturday there, they even had an open day where all public transport was free and people were encouraged to go! The catch? There was a sea-swell and it all got cancelled. We didn’t know until we got to Bressay, so we had to make do.
What To Do In Bressay
Read: What to do in Bressay when you’ve gotten there and your puffin-sighting-plans are cancelled. Luckily, Bressay is a cute, quiet little island fit for lots of long walks and beautiful views. After having a look through the visitor centre, we decided to go for the Bressay Lighthouse. This meant walking the length of the island in one direction. I moaned a little, I’ll be honest. But, we saw the best view of Lerwick from across the bay. And we saw baby seals resting on rocks at a tranquil beach! We saw Shetland ponies, and countless sheep. We walked past lonely phone booths, play parks, and little trickling streams. And then came the lighthouse. I love lighthouses. I’d happily be a lighthouse keeper.
The lighthouse is automatic now (crushing my dreams), it’s quiet and a bit eerie. But it has beautiful views of the cliffs, and it’s a good spot to stop, rest, and have a sloooooow walk around. Plus, a great place for Instagram pictures. Especially when you love lighthouses. We tried to spot some puffins on the cliffs there, to no avail.
We loved our weekend in Shetland! I was worried it wouldn’t be enough time, but I’m happy we went! It was more than enough time to see Lerwick. And I’ve decided I’d love to go back even if it’s just for another weekend!
Have you ever been to Shetland? Do you want to go? I’ll admit, we really went because we’d seen the show and that made it seem romantic (it was!). Have you seen puffins? I’m thinking of planning a trip to the Isle of May next year. It’s way closer, so if no puffins are spotted, it’s less of a let-down!