When it comes to traveling to secluded places with a unique culture of their own, little else comes close to Shetland. Shetland, also known as the Shetland Islands, is an archipelago that lies to the northeast of mainland Scotland. The islands are a stunning combination of wilderness, history, events and culture. Previously part of Norway, the Shetland lifestyle reflects both Scandinavian and Scottish culture through its music and festivals. Here are some places you must visit during your stay.
Shetland Museum and Archives
The Shetland Museum and Archives is a must-see for those are new to the islands. The museum is located at Hay’s Dock, a restored nineteenth century dock, on the island of Lerwick. The galleries are divided into two floors. The lower gallery showcases Shetland’s history from its geological beginnings to 1800, at which point the museum leads its visitors to the Boat Hall, spanning the lower and upper halls. Once in the upper halls, visitors can learn about Shetland’s history from 1800 to present day.
The Shetland museum tells the story of the geological events that formed the archipelago, to the early human settlements that arrived to make new lives on the islands, and finally the road to modernization. The museum covers a variety of topics pertaining to Shetland, such as agriculture and farming, fishing, infrastructure, politics, culture, industry and textiles. This museum is great for families, children and adults alike – real-life representations, historical artifacts, images and texts provide a comprehensive view of life in Shetland throughout the ages.
Shetland Museum at Night
Jarlshof Prehistoric & Norse Settlement
To get a strong grasp on early human history in Shetland, you should visit the Jarlshof Prehistoric & Norse Settlement. Jarlshof is one of the most notable Scottish archaeological sites, spanning at least 4,000 years of history. Amongst the grassy land, you will find building structures ranging across different ages, from the Neolithic Period, to the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval Period and finally a seventeenth century house.
In conjunction with the maze of settlements is an interpretation centre to provide a greater understanding of ancient human settlements and lifestyles, as well as displays of tools used during the various time periods. Besides the rich ancient history provided by the settlement, Jarlshof is a great place to soak in the scenery and imagine life in a different time from our own.
Tangwick Haa Museum
The Tangwick Haa Musem lets visitors enter a seventeenth century home to learn about Northmavine and the people that lived there. The home was originally built for the Cheyne family and was considered a fine home at the time. After the last resident laird John Cheyne died, a caretaker looked after the home. It was eventually converted into a museum and opened in 1987. Visitors can walk into re-created nineteenth century rooms with interesting items of the time, including Victorian furniture, a spinning wheel and crofting tools. Along with the permanent exhibits is a changing exhibition theme that changes every year. Another interesting aspect of the museum is its local parish records. The museum’s custodians offer to help people trace their genealogy on microfilm records.
Up Helly Aa Exhibition
Up Helly Aa is an annual fire festival that takes place in Lerwick in January every year. A day-long procession takes place in which guizers in a variety of Nordic themed costumes march through the town and carry torch lights at night. The guizers throw their torches into the galley, letting the galley burn before they begin a night of partying.
The Up Helly Aa Exhibition is set up in the summer months in the Galley Shed to educate visitors on the traditions and history of the event. There are photographs and squad suits from previous years on display. Visitors can view a short film that documents the many hours that going into preparing the event, and the festival from its beginning to end. The Up Helly Aa Exhibition is only open select days of the week, so do plan accordingly.
Unst Heritage Centre
Unst Heritage Centre was built to collect prized treasures from Shetland’s heritage. These treasures include maritime antiquities, fine lace knitted items and images of Shetland’s past. An array of wooden boats painted various colors can be seen and admired close-up. The island Usnt also prides itself upon its intricate lace patterns. Some of these patterns are over 100 years old, and can be seen in the Centre. During the spring and summer, there are demonstrations from talented knitters and spinners to educate the public on this centuries-old tradition. If you are interested, you can try your hand at spinning and knitting the Shetland way by booking a course at the Unst Heritage Centre. The Unst Heritage Centre is a place to visit for avid knitters and spinners.
While you are on the island of Unst, be sure to check out the famous Unst Bus Shelter, just 3 miles south of the Heritage Centre near Baltasound. The bus shelter is complete with a sofa and television, and is redecorated periodically. Sample and enjoy ales afterward at UK’s most northerly brewery, Valhalla Brewery, which produces an array of fine ales. You can learn about the stages of the brewing process on a guided tour and relive the Nordic life with your taste buds.
Shopping for Souvenirs
A trip to Shetland isn’t complete without shopping for the islands’ finest wares. Shetland is famous for its Fair Isle jumpers and sweaters and Shetland wool. Check out Commercial Street in Lerwick to view Shetland wares. There are numerous stores selling hand knit Shetland sweaters. For the knitters and spinners, knitting and spinning tools, as well as Shetland yarn, are available. See a demonstration of how handmade jewellery is crafted and take home a piece inspired by the region’s history.
Shetland is a place of its own, ripe with traditions and history influenced by the Nords and Scots. When you visit, see the artefacts and traditionally created items. Don’t forget, though, to enjoy the scenery and understand the lifestyles of the people that live on the Shetland Islands.