With its unique culture, stunning seascapes and abundant wildlife, Shetland is an entrancing blend of Scotland and Norway.
Shetland's scenery is surprisingly varied for such a small area and is often truly spectacular. The islands offer everything from rocky crags and heather hills to fertile farmland, from sand dunes and pebble beaches to stupendous cliffs. The network of well-maintained roads makes most of Shetland's scenery easily accessible to the visitor but it's well worth exploring off the main routes. For the motorist and cyclist, the side roads are a special delight in spring and early summer when the verges are festooned with wild flowers. The islands of Shetland are also worth exploring and there are regular ferries to islands such as Bressay, Whalsay, Yell and Unst.
The quality of light in these parts is remarkable and adds a particular quality to the landscape. The sunsets are spectacular, the Northern Lights can be astounding and the Simmer Dim's worth seeing too in summer when it never really gets dark.
Nowhere in Shetland is further than three miles from the coast and life is dominated by the sea. Travellers have been coming to these lands since Neolithic times and the evidence is everywhere to be seen. The impressive Mousa Broch is over 2,000 years old and there are even earlier settlements.
The influence of the Vikings is, of course, everywhere. The ancient Viking parliament, the Althing, once met near Scalloway and even today, Norse Udal law still plays a role in Shetland life. The Norse influence is also noticeable in the Shetland dialect and on place names and on the last Tuesday of January, Vikings roam the streets of Lerwick at the annual fire festival, Up Helly Aa. This is the world's biggest fire festival and involves a torchlight procession dragging a Viking longship through the streets before setting it alight in spectacular fashion and retiring to the local halls for a night of revelry.
These dramatic celebrations are a sight to behold but they pale in comparison to the islands' breathtaking natural wonders. Shetland is home to well over a million birds, including over 600,000 fulmars and over 200,000 puffins. The incredible resident population, coupled with some unusual migrants, makes the islands a popular place to visit for birdwatchers. In fact, Shetland is a haven for all kinds of wildlife, as seen in its three National Nature Reserves, four RSPB reserves and 78 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Shetland is a great place for an active family holiday and is easily accessible by ferry from Aberdeen or by flying from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness or Kirkwall (Orkney). There's something for everyone - from mountain biking to trout fishing, scuba diving to round-the-clock golf. With 19 hours of midsummer daylight, Shetland can keep you active all day long.