Shetland – beauty at the edge of the world
Pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, heather-clad moorlands and fascinating rock formations – the Shetland isles are unlike anywhere else in the world.
Some 600 miles north of London and 400 miles south of the Arctic Circle – on the same latitude as St Petersburg, Russia and Anchorage, Alaska, – Shetland is made up of more than 100 islands of which just 15 are inhabited.
From Iron Age brochs, Pictish wheelhouses and Viking artefacts to the spectacular Up Helly Aa Festival and distinct culinary delights Shetland is renowned for its exciting events, welcoming atmosphere, abundance of wildlife, spectacular scenery and quality of produce.
Full story and great images in Scotland Correspondent magazine
The wild and windswept island chain where the sun barely sets in summer, the craggy coastal cliffs are crammed with breeding birds, the seas are full of seals and minke whales, and the landscape is almost completely devoid of trees, is a must-see destination for nature lovers.
It’s estimated that more than a million seabirds, accounting for over 70 different species, live on the island with another 430 migratory species visiting each year.
However, despite being one of the safest places in the world with an exceptionally low crime rate it is murder and mayhem which brings many visitors. Fans of the internationally successful television detective series Shetland, based on the best-selling books by Ann Cleeves, have been flocking to the islands.
The show, which stars Douglas Henshall as the Lerwick-based detective Jimmy Perez, has been credited with attracting tourists from as far a field as Australia, Scandinavia and the USA.
Almost 5million people in the UK watch the show with an even larger audience in other countries. It’s been calculated that almost a third of people who visit Shetland were prompted to do so after seeming the islands on television. But there is much more to Shetland than being the location for fictional murder mysteries.
“Shetland, a UNESCO Global Geopark, has something for everyone – it boasts breathtaking scenery, unparalleled opportunities to see amazing wildlife and birds, a stunning coastline, delicious local food and drink, unique culture and heritage and an incredible historical and archaeological story to tell. It is somewhere you can enjoy both a relaxing break and an activity-fuelled trip,” said Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland Chief Executive.
Indeed, there is so much to experience that the UK’s northernmost point has earned its place as one of the top must-see destinations for international travellers in Europe this year.
Travel authority Lonely Planet identified Shetland as number six on its list of the top 10 ‘Best in Europe’ destinations for 2019 – the only UK destination to be included.
The islands’ “awesome coastal trails, wicked wildlife watching and fabled fish and chip shops” are singled out for praise and it the guide says visitors can “spot otters and orcas from craggy headlands, then ease into the evening at one of Lerwick’s local pubs.”
Best in Europe 2019 is a highly-anticipated annual collection which has been compiled by Lonely Planet’s travel experts, who for over 45 years, have trodden every cobbled street and admired every view on the continent, searching for those great new experiences for visitors.
“Shetland has long been known as a welcoming destination for travellers,” said Steven Coutts, Leader of Shetland Islands Council .
“Those of us who live here know how fantastic the islands are, with stunning scenery and incredible wildlife on our doorstep. We’re an outward looking community and there’s a growing number of local businesses and organisations showcasing the best of our islands to visitors.
“We’ve a vibrant economy, tremendous natural resources and a beautiful environment, all of which makes Shetland an excellent place to live, work, study and visit.”
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In addition to the wildlife and history Shetland is the best place in Britain where visitors have a chance to see the spectacular Northern Lights or aurora borealis.
It is also an increasingly popular destination for cruise ships. More than 100 are due to drop anchor in Lerwick harbour this year, bringing around 90,000 extra tourists to the islands which have a total of size of around 910 square miles and a population of 23,000 people – that’s about 40 square miles for every permanent resident.
“Shetland offers a unique opportunity to experience dramatic wide-open spaces, outstanding wildlife and moments of calm and quietness mixed with a vibrant cultural and social scene unlike anywhere else in Scotland. We may be a small island group, but we’ve got plenty of room for visitors,” said Lauren Doughton, Project Manager for Promote Shetland.