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A Guide To Shetland’s Outer Islands

The Shetland Isles are a magical part of Scotland to explore. Situated 100 miles off the north-east coast of mainland Scotland, you’ll find an archipelago that boasts an incredible range of native wildlife, ancient coastline, heritage, culture and more to uncover.

Plan a trip to one of Shetland’s outer islands for a unique and unforgettable trip like no other.

Bressay and Noss

A Wildlife And Bird-Watching Trip To Bressay And Noss

A Wildlife And Bird-Watching Trip To Bressay And Noss

Only a 7 minute ferry hop across from Lerwick, these islands make the perfect choice for a day trip. Bressay sits just off the coast of Lerwick, the main town and port on Shetland, and along with neighbouring island, Noss, they are home to an incredible array of seabird colonies, untouched landscapes and wildlife.

Both islands feature many stunning walking routes to explore, with mesmerising coastal seascapes, pristine scenery and more to admire along the way. Wander around the Brough to Stobister circular on Bressay’s east side from which you can see the RSPB Noss NNR, the remote abandoned settlement of Stobister, and takes in magnificent clifftop scenery as well as wild moorland.

Delve into the history and heritage of the Shetland Isles with a morning at Bressay Heritage Centre then head to Speldiburn Café for a tasty lunch and homemade goods. Garth’s Farm is well worth a visit! This sustainable croft offers tours and itineraries where you can learn more about native and heritage breeds, as well as history and archaeology of the lands around you. For most of the year you can’t land on Noss, but taking a boat trip out around the island is a great way to see the nesting bird colonies up close, as well as your chance to see other sea life around the islands too. In the summer you can cross to Noss via a small ferry provided by the NatureScot wardens – you just have to wave across to them!

The best way to travel to Bressay and Noss is by car ferry from Lerwick that runs every hour.

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The Unst Heritage Centre, Unst

The Unst Heritage Centre, Unst

Unst is UK’s most northerly inhabited island and is varied and plentiful in what it has in store. With one of the richest Viking heritage sites in Europe and more than 60 longhouses uncovered by archaeologists, there is a fascinating and insightful history here to explore.

Explore the island’s natural beauty and native wildlife by heading to Hermaness National Nature Reserve or Keen of Hamar Nature Reserve. Both reserves boast incredible sights to see, from rare flora and fauna, protected seabird colonies, including fulmars, gulls, shags and gannets, as well as walking trails on accessible boardwalks to explore too. Nearby, you can head out on a charter boat around Muckle Flugga, just north of Unst, to see the local wildlife and try your hand at fishing.

Unst is also home to Britain’s northernmost castle, Muness Castle, a great example of a late 1500’s tower house. Elsewhere, the Unst Heritage Centre delves into the unique history of the island through displays of artefacts, exhibitions depicting geology, archaeology, crofting, and examples of spinning and fine lace knitting too.

If you’re feeling peckish, head to Victoria Vintage Tea Rooms for delicious tea, coffee and homemade cakes. Make sure you stop by the gift shop which offers a selection of unique gifts, souvenirs, crafts and homemade food gifts to take home with you. Gin lovers are not to miss a trip to Shetland Reel Distillery. Here you can embark on a guided tasting or tour to learn all about the distilling process and the inspiration behind the unique flavours in each gin.

For a slightly different experience on the island, why not try out a glass-making workshop? Glansin Glass is a new centre that sells beautiful handmade fused glass pieces, including glassware, jewellery, tableware and art, but you can also get hands-on and make your own creation in one of their exciting classes.

Coming soon…

Something you don’t see every day is SaxaVord Spaceport, a launch site and ground station at Lamba Ness. This new addition is currently in development and will see a visitor centre, heritage trail and events come autumn 2023. Keep an eye on the sky with Wild Skies Shetland. Opening in spring 2023, explore Unst’s skies through a sky trail, events, exhibitions and more.

The easiest way to get to Unst is to travel by car through the mainland, and then to hop on a ferry, scheduled daily, from Toft (Mainland) to Ulsta (Yell) and from Gutcher (Yell) to Belmont in Unst.

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The Sands of Breckon, Isle of Yell

The Sands of Breckon, Isle of Yell

The second largest of the Shetland Isles, Yell is known for its huge array of coastal scenery, pretty beaches, wild landscapes, quaint settlements, birds, seals and wildflowers, as well as ancient history to delve into along the way too.

History and heritage buffs will love the Old Haa Museum. This free-to-enter attraction hosts an impressive collection of historic objects and displays, alongside a programme of contemporary arts and crafts exhibitions. There is also a garden and tearoom onsite to explore too. Make a stop at the northernmost art gallery in Britain, The Shetland Gallery, where you can enjoy exhibits showcasing the best of Shetland’s contemporary art and high-end craft. The artists and displays are constantly changing but you can guarantee high quality art each time.

Get outdoors and you’ll be met with mesmerising landscapes and friendly wildlife you can’t see elsewhere. Take a hike along one of Yell’s exhilarating walking routes to really soak in this ancient archipelago, and why not stop off at one of the many beaches on the island too? Tresta Beach and the Sands of Breckon are just a couple of the white sandy shores you can explore, build a sandcastle on, or enjoy a picnic whilst admiring the views.

The best way to travel to Yell is by the daily ferries which run from Toft in the north Mainland to Ulsta in Yell.

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Small Boat Harbour, Symbister, On Island Of Whalsay

Small Boat Harbour, Symbister, On Island Of Whalsay

Just a 30 minute ferry ride from the east coast of mainland Shetland, Whalsay is home to an incredible fishing history and heritage. Symbister is the island’s main port and town, often full of fishing boats, but the island also boasts archaeological sites, museums, mansions, native wildlife, stunning scenery and more to explore.

Head along to the Whalsay Heritage Centre where you can browse the permanent exhibitions, as well as seasonal displays, and community events to get involved in that are exciting and educational. Did you know that for hundreds of years German merchants sailed to Whalsay and brought with them seeds, cloth, iron tools, salt, spirits, and luxury goods? You can learn all about these voyages at the museum in the Symbister Pier House.

From Symbister, if you head north you’ll find Whalsay Golf Club, Britain’s most northerly golf course with breathtaking views of the Out Skerries to the north east of Whalsay. If you’re looking to step into the island’s ancient history, north east of Isbister you’ll find fascinating archaeology of Whalsay’s past, including at least 4,000 years of habitation. Look out for the ruins of former settlements, including nationally significant sites such as the Neolithic houses of Yoxie and the Beenie Hoose.

The best way to travel to Whalsay is by car ferry from Laxo, 20 miles north of Lerwick. Accommodation is limited on Whalsay, but you can enjoy a stay at the Auld Manse, a cosy B&B and café on the island.

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The Fetlar Interpretive Centre

The Fetlar Interpretive Centre

Fetlar is the smallest of Shetland’s three north islands and is known as the ‘garden of Shetland’, due to its fruitful and abundant green landscapes. Once you make your way to the island, stop by the Fetlar Interpretive Centre. This community museum provides a range of maps and brochures which are perfect for walkers or anyone wanting to explore the area, as well as a variety of routes that can be recommended for interest such as geology, archaeology, and botany. You can also find up-to-date sightings of local birdlife, and various displays on island history, including the award-winning section on Sir William Watson Cheyne and his contribution to antiseptic surgery.

Wildlife enthusiasts will love the RSPB Mires of Funzie Reserve. Not only is it a haven for flora and fauna with a variety of birds making their home here, but it’s a glorious place to explore and a great location to see otters. Another way to get out and experience the island’s nature and wildlife up close is by exploring the many walking routes and trails. Start your hike from Tresta beach along the headland of Lambhoga near Houbie for wonderful views of the islands as well as your chance to spot nesting seabirds on the cliffs.

If you’re looking a souvenir to take home, stop by Lisa’s Leatherworks where you can see items being made using traditional tools and techniques, as well as handmade leather goods on sale too.

You can travel to Fetlar by car ferries which run between Yell, Unst and Hamars Ness in Fetlar.

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That was just a taste of what the mesmerising Shetland Isles have on offer. If that’s not enough, you can also explore other islands including Out Skerries, Foula and Fair Isle, all of which have their own unique personalities to uncover.


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