History of Shetland

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Discover the fascinating history of Shetland at a diverse range of attractions which brings its past vividly to life.

Take in world-renowned ruins and monuments, learn all about Shetland's heritage from its Nordic roots to its role in the Second World War at excellent museums and visitor centres, and discover castles, historic buildings and more.  

Shetland’s history stretches back over 6,000 years and there is an abundance of amazingly preserved archaeological sites which include ancient houses, burial chambers, standing stones and Iron Age brochs. The most famous of these is Jarlshof, a settlement dating back to the late Bronze Age, and the awe inspiring Mousa Broch, the best-preserved prehistoric round tower in Scotland. Other archaeological highlights include the smaller but still impressive Clickimin Broch and the Bressay Stone, an elaborately carved Pictish slab.

A visit to the Shetland Museums and Archives is essential for those with even a passing interest in Shetland’s history. Learn about the geological processes that contributed to Shetland’s unique landscape, see replicas of the St Ninian’s Isle Treasure, and visit the three-storey boat hall to see beautiful vessels constructed by locals using the techniques inherited from their Viking ancestors.

The Scalloway Museum and the Unst Heritage Centre are some Shetland’s other notable museums that offer fascinating insights into the islands’ past. Learn about the incredible story of the ‘Shetland Bus’, a secret wartime resistance operation conducted between Shetland and Nazi-occupied Norway, and see a fascinating collection of artefacts that brilliantly illustrate how profoundly life on Shetland has changed through the centuries.

Step inside a traditional Shetland dwelling at the Shetland Crofthouse Museum in Dunrossness and learn what life was like for an 18th century soldier at Fort Charlotte which was built on the orders of George III.

Explore the atmospheric ruins of Scalloway Castle and Muness Castle, the northernmost castle in the British Isles, and experience warm Shetland hospitality and comfortable accommodation in beautifully restored properties such as Belmont House and Busta House.

From the Viking invasions of 800 AD to the arrival of the oil industry in the latter half of the 20th century, Shetland’s history has been a truly remarkable one and there is an incredible array of attractions scattered across the islands where visitors can discover more.  

  • Up Helly Aa procession, Mainland
    Up Helly Aa procession, Mainland
  • The Hams of Roe, Muckle Roe
    The Hams of Roe, Muckle Roe
  • Mousa Broch, Mousa
    Mousa Broch, Mousa
  • Bod of Gremista living room
    Bod of Gremista living room
  • Hoswick Visitor Centre, Mainland
    Hoswick Visitor Centre, Mainland
A torch-lit procession through the streets of Lerwick.

Norse

The Viking invasion marked a turning point in the history of Shetland and Nordic culture can still be seen and heard today.

An early Christian brooch, part of the St. Ninian's Isle treasures, on display in Shetland Museum, Shetand

Timeline

Take a look at Shetland timeline and learn about Shetland's history with fascinating facts.

Broch of Clickimin

Archaeology

With more than 6,000 archaeological sites, Shetland's fascinating history can be seen everywhere across its islands.

Shetland Crofthouse Museum

History itinerary

If you're looking to spend a couple of days getting a better picture of the history of Shetland, why not follow this itinerary around some of the fascinating museums and historic sites?

An early Christian brooch, part of the St. Ninian's Isle treasures, on display in Shetland Museum, Shetand

Historic attractions

Visit historical attractions in Shetland. From Iron Age brochs and Viking boats to a variety to fascinating museums and castles, step back in time and discover the region’s fascinating history.