Located in the northernmost part of the British Isles, cruises to Shetland Islands provide travelers with an easy way to access this remote and rugged part of Scotland that’s made up of nearly 100 small islands. European cruises visiting this fascinating destination stop in Lerwick, the only town in the region.
Lerwick offers a lively and welcoming ambiance with plenty to see and do, and it’s just a short boat or ferry ride away from some of the more remote islands. While exploring the Shetland Islands, you’ll find miles of pristine beaches surrounded by towering cliffs, where bright blue waves crash around impressive rock formations. The archipelago is unlike anything you’ve seen before, making cruises that stop in the Shetland Islands a great way for travelers to get off the beaten path.
This local institution, built in 1883, has served as both the home of the local government as well as a venue for cultural events. Walk around Lerwick’s Town Hall to admire the gorgeous stained-glass windows and discover the stories behind each one.
Catch a glimpse of local and visiting boats in the harbor or grab a drink at one of the bars lining the Old Waterfront area. If you’re visiting another island during your time in port, you’ll likely catch your boat here.
The Shetland Museum and Archives is located in a new building that was constructed to provide more space for the exhibits you’ll find here, which include details about the history of Shetland up until the 1800s. You’ll learn about the environment of the islands, their early settlers, and how they made their living through agriculture and fishing. You’ll also learn about the early boats used around the area and hear about the old culture of the islands, which was rich in folklore. The museum houses a number of important artifacts and a massive collection of town records and local literature in its archives.
Originally built on the island of Clickimin Loch, this well-preserved stone structure now resides in Lerwick. The defensive building is interesting to see due to its location among the hills of the city along with its formidable exterior.
Though you might not have time to catch a show in Mareel, you’ll no doubt be impressed by the sleek lines of the design of this building. This creative center for the Shetland Islands houses both a cinema and a music stage.
Right in the center of Lerwick, you’ll find Fort Charlotte, an artillery fort that dates back to the mid 17th century. It was built during the First Anglo-Dutch War, but was mostly ruined by fire during the Third Anglo-Dutch War. In 1781, it was rebuilt, but has never been used in battle. In 1837, it was turned into the town jail and courthouse, and then a custom house and coastguard station.
There are no permanent inhabitants on the remote Shetland Island of Gungstie today, but in the mid-19th century, a population of 20 resided in a settlement called Noss. Though you won’t find infrastructure in Noss today, you will get to see the old settlement used by wildlife wardens who make this their seasonal home. Noss has been a national nature reserve since 1955.
At the Boat Shed located next to the Shetland Museum, you can watch boats being built and repaired. It gives visitors the opportunity to learn more about local boat-building techniques and the maritime history of the Shetland Islands.
If you’re at all interested in archaeology, you’ll want to head to the Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse settlement, which is one of the most important archaeological sites in Scotland. The site consists of ancient settlements that encompass the remains of more than 4,000 years of human history. Excavations from the site have even uncovered homes from the late Neolithic era, artifacts from a Bronze-Age village, and a medieval farmstead.
The Shetland Textile Museum lies in a four-square stone house located just a short walk to the north of Lerwick’s town center. This landmark has served as both a family home and a fish-curing station. Today, it houses examples of knitted and woven textiles in a variety of patterns that the Shetland Islands are famous for.
The cuisine you’ll find in port during cruises to Shetland Islands are heavily focused on local produce. While in Lerwick, you’ll have many opportunities to try some traditional cuisine made with local ingredients at one of the restaurants in town.
Head to Fjarå to sample local cuisine while enjoying incredible island scenery from its vantage point above a rocky piece of shoreline. Inside the Shetland Museum, Hay’s Dock offers dishes made with local and regional ingredients and a beautiful view of the harbor. Visit Peerie Shop Cafe for espresso and sandwiches, Mareel Cafe for small bites in a colorful and artsy atmosphere, and Fort Cafe for fish and chips and other delicious takeaway food.
The ancient settlements of the Shetland Islands date back 6,000 years, when the first inhabitants came to the islands after a treacherous journey by sea from Scotland. Around 800 AD, the Vikings invaded, replacing the Pictish culture with their Norse culture. Their impressive artifacts would be unearthed centuries later. The Viking influences on the culture of the Shetland Islands continues today. A big part of the festival culture in the Shetland Islands is Up Helly A, an annual celebration of its Viking history. Villages throughout the Shetland Islands have a fire festival to celebrate the midwinter rebirth of the sun, and Lerwick has the biggest one every January on the last Tuesday of the month. During this time, locals dress in Viking costumes and sing traditional Viking songs, longship replicas are pulled through town, and blazing torches are carried by those in attendance.
Cruises to Shetland Islands anchor offshore, and passengers are transported via tender boat to the Victoria Pier, which is conveniently located within walking distance of the center of town. There is a welcome pavilion at the pier, and you’ll be greeted by local representatives and the sounds of traditional Shetland music. Near the cruise pier, you’ll find public toilets and a wifi spot. For those wishing to head further away from downtown Lerwick, there is a taxi rank where you can catch a cab. A short two-block walk away from the pier is a tourist information office, where you can get maps and other tips for your time in port during cruises to Shetland Islands.
The majority of Lerwick’s attractions can be seen on foot, most of which are less than a 10-minute walk from the cruise port. There are also complimentary shuttles between the town center and the cruise pier. For sites that are farther away, you can take a taxi or bus, as many of the islands that make up the main archipelago are connected. If the site you want to see is on another island not accessible by land, there are also inter-island ferries. Ferries departing from Lerwick regularly connect to nearby smaller islands as well as Gutcher, Belmont, and Fair Isle.
You’ll find souvenir shops located right in the town center of Lerwick, which is adjacent to the pier where cruises that stop in the Shetland Islands tender to. For an authentic article of clothing from the Shetland Islands, head to the Lerwick Textile Museum to get locally made mittens, blankets, sweaters, hats, and more.
The official currency of the Shetland Islands is the Pound Sterling. In addition, many places take credit cards, but smaller shops and family-run businesses may not, so it’s good to ask before hiring a service or ordering food. Expect to tip around 10% of the total bill.