Our First Impressions of Lerwick, Shetland


When I decided to make this trip up to Lerwick for Up Helly Aa I didn’t know anything at all about the Shetland Islands, except that they were way up in the North Sea and they have cute ponies.

Did I ever tell you that I grew up on horses, and that my very first pony was a little grey Shetland named Buttons? I was so happy to visit his tiny cousins back on his ancestral home.


I still have a lot to learn about the islands since we stayed close to Lerwick during our four days although we did manage a quick drive over to Scalloway the day before we left. So what did we think of the town?


It was dark when we arrived on the ferry. The winter days are short in January and the sun hadn’t even started to glow over the horizon when we arrived at our guest house at 7:30 in the morning. It was a quick drive, maybe five minutes if you know where you’re going. It took us two or three minutes longer because we didn’t. Thank you Google maps and GPS!

Oh, did I tell you guys about our brilliant stroke of luck on the ferry? My girl and I shared a bite to eat for dinner, and then decided to head to our cabin to read and sleep the journey away. We knew we would be sharing our room with two other women, but had no idea who they were. When we came in we managed to make enough noise to wake the dead (sorry!) and the one mystery roommate who was already napping in her bunk woke up and introduced herself.

And now I have a new life-long friend! (Insert stalker music here)

As we chatted we quickly realized that we were the same age, both American, both have two children, both been divorced, both married sexy Scottish men, and both lived in the UK. And she’s a blogger! (That is one little personal quirk that only a very few of my friends share with me, so I was very excited.)

Everybody meat Jean, writer of the lovely Alba Living blog.

Jean is the one on the left

We quickly hit it off, and spent the next four or five hours chatting the night away. I love it when serendipity smacks me across the head like that!

She was headed to Lerwick to research her upcoming cookbook (stay tuned, I’ll let you know when it’s published!) and was kind enough to offer us a ride to our guest house since she brought her car along on the ferry. Thank you so much, Jean!

She also spent the whole evening of Up Helly Aa with us watching both torch processions and galley burnings. Nothing bonds a new friendship like nearly freezing to death during a storm!

Norlande Guesthouse


By another stroke of luck, the guesthouse we booked was less than two blocks from the burning site, so Jean, my Girl and I were able to run inside and warm up in between processions, and again after the big galley burned before heading out to the halls where we continued to party the night away. What a life saver that was (quite literally).

SO! Back to our first impressions of Lerwick.

Our first day there my Girl and I decided to hit the streets and explore the town. It was cold and windy, but a beautiful day. We were staying only a short distance from the town center and could reach it quickly by walking over the hill towards the harbor, and through this little passage that became very familiar to us over the days. I think we walked up and down that narrow alley about fifteen times!


It was perfect and dropped us right in the middle of the town, just a block from the market square where the morning procession would march through.

Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland


The main street is lined with shops where you could find any number of hand crafted items, candies, food, wine or just about anything else you wanted. I especially liked this shop as it shares a name with Brian’s Dad.


You don’t know how close I came to buying this hand knitted sheep hat, just because it made me laugh.

We found our favorite local cafe (Osla’s) on that street, which was right next door to Da Noost, a local pub where we spent our first evening listening to a really fun Ceilidh band bring down the house.

Lerwick also has a really good museum right on the water front which has an excellent walk-through display of life on the Shetlands through the ages, and a viewing platform in the boat builders’ shop. Their cafe was quite good too.

Shetland Museum


As we walked around we found the Town Hall, where the Jarl Squad would stop in after their photo shoot on their ship.


Lerwick turned out to be a very cute, easily walkable and friendly town which has kept it’s charm while also staying modern and well maintained.


Just outside of town, but still in walkable distance if you bring your good shoes, is Clickimin Broch, a three thousand year old farmhouse turned defensive compound.


As my Girl and I explored the south end of town and around The Knab outcrop the wind was blowing right off the sea. It nearly knocked us over, and we had to fight our way towards the coastline.


But what a great experience! The waves were pounding the rocks, and the spray was flying seventy feet in the air!


As we strolled our way back, she was a wild mass of hair. I bet she won’t forget her ponytail next time.


The coast was so beautiful, we decided to visit again during our last evening there. We went for another walk on a much calmer night and caught a stunning sunset.


As we walked along the coast we saw at least five harbor seals bobbing in the water just off the rocks. They were too shy to stay close enough for photos, but still a sight to remember.

I can definitely recommend a visit to the Shetland Islands during the winter. The days are short but gorgeous, there will be very few tourists (except for Up Helly Aa week, of course) and it will be cold, but it will still be worth the trip. I would go again in a heartbeat, and hope I can bring Brian up here to see it some day soon.

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About akil3655

A Scotsman and his American photographer wife traveling the world and writing about it. Tales, reviews, photos, interviews and crazy goings on. Because you never know what's going to happen.

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