Getting to Shetland

Orkney and Shetland
For many people, Shetland is just a bleak remote place in the far North.  

There is a lot of confusion about where it is, not helped by the media habit of leaving it off UK maps.  Even amongst those who can confidently point to it on a map without getting it mixed up with Orkney or the Faroe Islands there is real bewilderment about how to go about getting there.

Let's start with where Shetland is.  The Shetland Islands are the northern-most group of islands in the British Isles - the main town is Lerwick.  South of the Shetland mainland is Fair Isle - still one of the Shetland Islands, and further south of that are the Orkney Islands (biggest town, Kirkwall).  And South again you get to the Scottish mainland,

So how might you reach this isolated little group of islands?  There are two options for crossing the water, by plane or by boat.

Loganair Saab 340 arriving at Sumburgh

The flying option relies on Loganair - which labels itself as Scotland's Airline.  The planes are painted in Flybe colours, and although tickets are generally sold by Flybe, you can via the miracle of code-sharing also book tickets through British Airways.  This makes it possible to fly from pretty much any airport in the UK, changing onto a Flybe / Loganair plane at Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen.  The final flight into Sumburgh, the main Shetland airport, will be on a twin-propellor Saab 340, and it you're lucky you'll get a great view of Fair Isle as you start the approach into Sumburgh. There are a couple of other airfields on mainland Shetland.  There is a full-sized airstrip at Scatsta which takes some of the oil industry charter flights, and a little airstrip at Tingwall which is used for the inter-island flights on even smaller planes that the Loganair Saabs.

Northlink Hamnavoe arriving into Stromness, Orkney
If you don't fancy flying, or you want to bring your own transport, there is currently only one ferry route you can take.  Northlink Ferries run a service from Aberdeen up to Lerwick every night of the week, with a stop-off in Kirkwall every other night.  The direct crossing takes about 12 hours, and if there is a stop in Kirkwall it adds a couple of extra hours to the journey time.  The two boats that operate the service are the Hjaltland and the Hrossey, each carrying up to 140 cars and 600 passengers.

And, if you don't want a 12 or 14 hour crossing, you can reduce the sailing time a little bit, by crossing first to Orkney before picking up the Northlink boat just outside Kirkwall.  There are two options for getting to Orkney with a car - from Scrabster to Stromness (operated by Northlink Ferries, using the Hamnavoe) or from Gills Bay in to St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay (operated by Pentland Ferries).  The sailing time from Orkney to Shetland is about 7 hours.

What if you want to come from, or from the Shetland perspective go to, somewhere other than mainland Scotland?  In the summer there are occasional Flybe flights from Sumburgh to Bergen in Norway, but other than that you are out of luck.  In recent years there have been direct flights to both London and to the Faroe Islands, operated by Atlantic Airways (the Faroe national airline) but these aren't running at the moment. 

Norrona passing Sumburgh Head
Similarly, there used to be regular ferry services to the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Denmark, but these stopped a few years ago. These were sufficiently important to Shetland that the Council helped buy, and still part owns, the boat that was used on these services. It is slightly frustrating that the Norrona still occasionally passes close enough to Shetland to be seen from the lighthouse at Sumburgh Head.

Now that you know where Shetland is, and how to get here - the Visit Shetland website has lots of suggestions about what you might do once you get here.


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