I know what it's like when planning for a holiday – so many questions and no one place where you can find the much sought after answers. I spend a lot of time answering questions online, whether on Instagram or my Patreon page. A lot of the time, it's the same questions that come up time and time again.
I've done several podcasts on my Patreon page that cover many of the frequently asked questions in depth (you can see the topics covered here). The following are some of the general 'top tips' I would give anyone planning to visit Shetland.
1. Book in advance
It's important to remember that islands like Shetland are limited in capacity. The number of visitors who can arrive is preordained by how many people can either board an aeroplane or hop on the overnight ferry. And while this is great for visitors who do make it here – there aren't thousands of other people jostling for space at the beauty spots – it does mean that a little prior planning is required to ensure that you can get here in the first place!
If you're unsure whether to take the boat or fly, you may find the following blog helpful:
Top tip – if you're flying, it's worth doing additional research about the best city to fly from. For example, it may be cheaper to fly to Glasgow and then to Shetland, but if the flights don't connect with an onward flight to Shetland, you may have to spend the night in a hotel airport. It may be the case that a flight to Aberdeen will connect easier with the boat or onward plane. These are just examples, but it is worth pricing up every available option and considering whether you will need an overnight stay.
Disruptions – The weather often delays both the boat and plane. This can mean that they arrive at their destination later than anticipated. Cancellations can't be avoided, but allowing a few extra hours on either side of your connections ensures that short delays won't make your onward itinerary chaotic.
You also need to make sure that you book your accommodation well in advance as these too book up quickly! I'm already thinking about my 2023 stays now.
2. Don't speak about "The Shetlands"
We ask you politely not to say that you visit "The Shetlands". Yup, Shetlanders hate being referred to as "The Shetlands". When you're visiting, you're coming to "Shetland". That's it – never "The Shetlands".
Also, avoid saying you are 'on Shetland' or 'on Unst'. Shetlanders can't abide it (even if it is grammatically correct). When visiting Shetland and any of its islands, you are 'in Shetland' or 'in Unst', never 'on'.
3. Pack for every eventuality
There's a saying here, and throughout Scotland, that we get four seasons in one day – and it's true, the weather here is changeable at best and highly unpredictable at worst.
Most people visiting will have questions about what they need to pack and prepare for their trip. You should prepare for every weather-related eventuality (even in summer) and add the following to your packing list:
It's worth bearing in mind that the temperature range in Shetland is only about 10 degrees celsius, and summer wardrobes are very closely modelled on winter wardrobes! And before anyone asks, yes, I have worn thermals in July.
Top tip – Don't bother taking an umbrella. Wind usually accompanies rain, and even in the summer months, there's usually a gentle breeze. The average wind speed is a force four (13-18 mph), and if we compare this to the fact that most outdoor umbrellas cannot withstand the pressure from a 20 mph wind, it's little wonder that you never see an islander with an umbrella.
4. Eat like a local
Locals don't eat out every night, and neither should you. Visit the local shops, fishmongers and butcher shops and sample some local produce. Buy a cookbook from the local bookshop and try a local recipe. Look out for small community-produced cookbooks in rural shops – these are usually produced to raise money for charity and contain wonderful recipes! Taste of Shetland has many locally-inspired recipes and a comprehensive list of local producers – some of which you can visit – on their website.
For some Shetland food inspiration, check out the following post:
5. Take an inter-island ferry
Shetland Islands Council operates nine inter-island ferries that travel between some of Shetland's inhabited islands. Sixteen of Shetland's hundred or so islands are inhabited, and each one has something to see and do. The ferries – subsidised by the council – are cheap, easy to book and give you a real sense of 'exploring'. Each island has its own distinct feel, and it's worth exploring one or more of them while you're here. Booking the inter-island ferries is not essential but is recommended during peak season. You can book ferries and check the timetables here.
If you have a hankering to take a ferry, you might enjoy the following blogs:
6. Think carefully about when you want to visit and why
Why are you visiting Shetland? If it's to see the seabirds and enjoy the midsummer sun, you'll want to come around June. If you're going to experience the biting chill wind and dramatic sky and seascapes, you might want to consider a trip in winter. Perhaps the Up Helly Aa festival is on your bucket list? In that case, you need to come at the end of January. Or do you have a fetish for fibre? In that case, you'll want to attend Shetland Wool Week.
I'd say that you should think carefully about why you're visiting. It's all good and well me telling you what my favourite month is (June), but we may have very different priorities.
If you're still wondering what month suits you, you might find inspiration here:
7. Do your research, and don't rush your stay
This one goes for every holiday – do your research and don't rush your stay. Many people ask me if they should visit Shetland for a day while they're in Scotland, and I'd say no. This is extremely costly, and you only scratch the surface. The idea of 'island hopping' has gathered momentum in recent years, driven by social media. Ticking an island from the list does not give you an experience – and when you are paying so much to come, make sure you make the most of it and at least stay for a few days!
Similarly, you'll want to do your research to ensure that you get the most out of your time here. I've written several itineraries on my Patreon site and wrote a chapter for Lonely Planet about Shetland.
You can buy the Scotland Experience Guidebook here.
You can sign up for my Patreon page below.
Until next time,
Hello from Laurie
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I hope that you find what you're looking for - whether you're planning that perfect holiday or maybe you're from Shetland and looking for some 'home' inspiration. Hopefully, there is something here for everyone.