History itinerary for Shetland

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

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  • Bod of Gremista living room
    Bod of Gremista living room
  • Jarlshof
    Jarlshof
  • Quendale Mill
    Quendale Mill
  • Shetland Crofthouse Museum, Mainland
    Shetland Crofthouse Museum, Mainland
  • Shetland Museum and Archives, Lerwick
    Shetland Museum and Archives, Lerwick

Discover the fascinating history of Shetland's ancient people at the extraordinary Old Scatness Broch and Iron Age Village. Situated on the South Mainland, Old Scatness is an archaeological site dating back over 5,000 years. During the summer months Old Scatness Visitor Centre is open and you can take a guided tour and see the Living History craftspeople at work. Experience what life was like in the replica Iron Age and Pictish buildings, sit by the fire, play Kubb or perhaps try your hand at the days' activities. The shop sells gifts inspired by some of the finds from the site, and many local craftspeople supply exclusive merchandise.

Situated just next door is the Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement, one of the most important and inspirational archaeological sites in Shetland. This extraordinary site has a complex of ancient settlements which cover more than 4,000 years of human history, including late Neolithic houses, a Bronze Age village, an Iron Age broch and wheelhouses, a Norse longhouse, a medieval farmstead and a 16th century laird’s house. Spend time in the fascinating interpretation centre which houses a hands-on display of local materials traditionally used on site including wool, stone, slate and bone. Visitors can also learn all about prehistoric life and the history of the site.

From there take the scenic drive on the A970 to the village of Hillwell, where you will find the Quendale Mill. Refurbished to match the exacting standards set by the original craftsmen, the mill is a wonderful example of Shetland’s industrial heritage. Visitors to the mill are can take a tour and enjoy exhibits of life in the mill and displays of photos, artefacts and memorabilia from the history of Shetland.

Continue back on the A970 and take the short drive to the picturesque coastal village of Boddam, where you can pay a visit to the Shetland Crofthouse Museum. A perfectly restored example of a 19th century Shetland croft house, the museum effectively recreates the accommodation that would have been typically used by an extended family unit of grandparents, parents and children. Designed to withstand Shetland’s harsh weather conditions, the living quarters, byre and barn would have been accessible all under one roof. Smell the peat fire burning in what was called the ‘but end’ – the kitchen and living area – and see the handmade box bed and bunks the ‘ben end’ or bedroom. There is also a lovely garden outside with a path which leads to a restored watermill.

Begin your second day with a visit to Lerwick, the capital and main port of the Shetland Islands. Here you will find Fort Charlotte, a pentagonal artillery fort and garrison which was originally built to defend the Sound of Bressay during the Anglo-Dutch wars. The fort managed to successfully fend off a Dutch fleet in 1667 but was eventually burnt to the ground in 1673. The structure that exists today was built in 1781. Today it is the base of Shetland’s Territorial Army. Enjoy fantastic view of Lerwick Harbour and Bressay Sound from the battlements and see impressive replicas of the 18th century canons pointed out to sea.

From there take a short walk through the centre of Lerwick to the Shetland Museum and Archives on Gutters Gaet. Set on the waterfront within a restored 19th century dock in Lerwick, this fascinating museum tells the story of Shetland’s heritage and culture. The museum charts the development of the archipelago from its earliest geological origins to the present day. Its galleries contain everything from delicate Shetland lace to Pictish art and even the first telephone introduced in the islands in 1883. Visit the renovated Boat Shed to watch vessels being constructed by hand using techniques handed down through generations, and admire completed examples suspended from the ceiling in the three-storey Boat Hall. Finish your visit with a relaxing lunch in the museum restaurant, overlooking the Lerwick waterfront.

Continue on a short walk to the north end of Lerwick harbour and you will come across the Bod of Gremista, home to the Shetland Textile Working Museum and birthplace of Arthur Anderson, the founder of P&O Cruises. Specialising in the beautiful textiles that have become the synonymous with Shetland, the museum has a range of interactive displays and activities to teach the culture and heritage of Shetland textiles. Two rooms have been restored to how they looked 200 years ago, in the time of Anderson’s childhood. They also contain displays explaining the history of the whitefish industry at that time, when the bod was a fishing station house and warehouse.