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The Wild Overland Journey To Shetland


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Constanta Finn



Embarking on an overland journey is an exhilarating adventure that allows you to experience the thrill of the open road, the freedom to explore at your own pace, and a deeper connection with the landscapes and communities you encounter along the way. And when it comes to an overland adventure that promises breathtaking vistas, rich history, and a sense of enchantment, few places can rival the journey to Shetland.


Situated in the North Atlantic, Shetland is a group of islands that belong to Scotland. Renowned for its rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and abundant wildlife, Shetland offers a truly unique and immersive experience for travelers seeking an escape from the mundane. But what sets this overland journey apart is the excitement and anticipation that builds up as you venture into the unknown, leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of mainland UK.


From the moment you set foot on Shetland’s mainland, you’ll be captivated by its raw beauty and the rich history that surrounds it. Whether you choose to travel by car, motorhome, or motorcycle, this overland journey promises to be a memorable experience that will leave an indelible mark on your heart and soul.


In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of planning an overland journey to Shetland, explore the route options, share tips for navigating the challenges along the way, and highlight the must-visit destinations and unique experiences that await you on these mesmerizing islands. So buckle up, fasten your seatbelts, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime as we dive into the wild overland journey to Shetland.


Starting Point: Planning the Journey

Embarking on an overland journey to Shetland requires careful planning and consideration. Before setting off, it’s important to prepare yourself with the necessary information and resources to ensure a smooth and enjoyable adventure. Here are some key factors to consider when planning your journey to Shetland:

  • Route Selection: There are multiple routes you can take to reach Shetland, depending on your starting point on mainland UK. The most popular starting points are Aberdeen, which offers a ferry service to Lerwick, the capital of Shetland, and Scrabster, with a ferry connection to Stromness on Orkney and then onwards to Shetland. Research and choose the route that suits your preferences and travel needs.
  • Transportation: Decide on the mode of transportation that best suits your overland journey. Whether you opt for a car, motorhome, or motorcycle, ensure your chosen vehicle is in good condition, serviced, and equipped for long-distance travel. Consider any specific requirements, such as the need for extra storage, camping facilities, or bike racks.
  • Documentation: Ensure you have the necessary documentation for your journey, including a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance, and any required international travel documents. It’s essential to check the specific requirements for traveling to Shetland and any border crossings you may encounter along your chosen route.
  • Timing: Consider the best time to embark on your overland journey to Shetland. Keep in mind factors such as weather conditions, ferry schedules, and any specific events or festivals you may want to experience during your trip. Researching and planning your timing well in advance will help ensure you make the most of your adventure.
  • Accommodation: Research and book accommodations in advance, especially if you plan on camping or staying in remote areas. Shetland offers a range of options, including campsites, bed and breakfasts, and hotels. Take into account the amenities and facilities that are important to you, such as access to electricity, shower facilities, or proximity to attractions.

Planning is key to a successful overland journey to Shetland. Take the time to research and gather all the necessary information, create a detailed itinerary, and make any required reservations ahead of time. This will ensure a seamless and enjoyable adventure, allowing you to make the most of your time exploring the captivating beauty of Shetland’s islands.


The Route: From Mainland UK to Shetland

The overland route from mainland UK to Shetland offers a diverse and scenic journey that takes you through picturesque landscapes, charming towns, and historical sites. While there are multiple routes to choose from, the most popular and convenient options involve a combination of both road and sea travel. Here are the main routes to consider when planning your journey:

  • Aberdeen to Lerwick: This route is ideal for those starting their journey from the eastern side of mainland UK. Aberdeen, located in northeast Scotland, offers a ferry service operated by NorthLink Ferries that connects to Lerwick, the capital of Shetland. The ferry journey takes approximately 12-14 hours and provides a comfortable and relaxing experience with onboard amenities such as restaurants, cabins, and lounges.
  • Scrabster to Stromness to Lerwick: Alternatively, if you’re traveling from the northern or western parts of mainland UK, you can take the scenic route via Orkney. From Scrabster, near Thurso in the Highlands, you can catch a ferry to Stromness on Orkney. Once on Orkney, you’ll take another ferry from Kirkwall to Lerwick, Shetland. This route allows you to explore the stunning Orkney Islands and experience their unique culture and history before continuing your journey to Shetland.

Both routes offer breathtaking views of the North Sea, rugged coastlines, and the possibility of spotting marine wildlife during the ferry crossings. Be sure to check the ferry schedules and make reservations in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to secure your preferred departure times.


Once you arrive on Shetland, you’ll have the freedom to explore the islands at your own pace. The road network on Shetland is well-maintained, allowing for easy access to various attractions and points of interest. Whether you choose to drive along the coastal roads, visit remote villages, or venture into the heart of the islands, you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas, charming communities, and a sense of awe-inspiring tranquility.


Keep in mind that the journey to Shetland is as much a part of the adventure as the destination itself. Take the time to embrace the scenic drives, stop at viewpoints, and explore the hidden gems along the way. As you traverse the distance between mainland UK and Shetland, you’ll be immersed in the natural beauty of the British Isles, creating memories that will last a lifetime.


Traveling by Land: Crossing Borders and Navigating through Scenic Landscapes

Traveling by land to Shetland offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes and captivating scenery that the journey has to offer. As you make your way towards the islands, you’ll have the chance to experience the beauty of the British countryside, cross borders, and enjoy the freedom of the open road. Here are some key points to consider when traveling by land to Shetland:

  • Border Crossings: Depending on your chosen route, you may need to cross borders during your overland journey. When traveling from mainland UK to Shetland, you’ll pass through the Scottish mainland and potentially cross into Orkney before reaching your final destination. Ensure you have the necessary documents and permits for border crossings, and familiarize yourself with any specific requirements, such as COVID-19 travel restrictions or customs regulations.
  • Scenic Drives: The journey to Shetland is an opportunity to relish in the beauty of the British landscapes. From winding coastal roads to rolling hills and picturesque villages, there are plenty of scenic routes to enjoy. Consider detours along the way to visit noteworthy attractions and viewpoints, allowing you to fully appreciate the grandeur of the natural surroundings.
  • Heritage Sites: As you travel by land, take the time to explore the historical and cultural treasures that lie along your route. From ancient castles to stone circles and archaeological sites, the British Isles are rich in history. Plan stops at significant landmarks to learn more about the heritage of the regions you pass through, enriching your journey with knowledge and local stories.
  • Coastal Adventures: The coastal scenery is a highlight of the journey to Shetland. Take advantage of the opportunities to stop at pristine beaches, dramatic cliffs, and hidden coves. Embrace the chance to breathe in the fresh sea air and witness the power and beauty of the North Atlantic Ocean. Be prepared to encounter wildlife, as seals, seabirds, and even whales may make an appearance along your coastal journey.

Throughout your overland adventure to Shetland, remember to pace yourself and take breaks as needed. Enjoy the freedom of the open road, but also take the time to soak in the scenery, try local cuisine, and interact with the communities you encounter along the way. Each mile traveled brings you closer to the enchanting beauty of Shetland, fueling your anticipation and excitement for what awaits on the islands.


Challenges on the Road: Weather, Road Conditions, and Wildlife Encounters

Embarking on an overland journey to Shetland presents its fair share of challenges and considerations that you need to be prepared for. From unpredictable weather conditions to varying road conditions and the possibility of wildlife encounters, it’s essential to anticipate and plan accordingly. Here are some challenges you may encounter on the road:

  • Weather: Shetland’s weather is known for its changeable nature, even during the summer months. Be prepared for a mix of sunshine, wind, rain, and fog, sometimes all in the same day. Pack appropriate clothing layers to adapt to different weather conditions, ensuring you have waterproof gear to stay dry during rainy spells.
  • Road Conditions: While the road network on Shetland is well-maintained, keep in mind that some areas may have narrow and winding roads. Exercise caution and adjust your driving speed accordingly, especially when traversing rural roads or hilly terrains. Be aware of potential hazards such as potholes, loose gravel, or livestock on the road.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Shetland is home to an abundance of wildlife, including seals, otters, seabirds, and various species of whales and dolphins. While these encounters can be awe-inspiring, exercise caution when spotting wildlife from the road. Pull over in a safe location and observe them from a distance, respecting their natural habitat and ensuring your own safety.
  • Ferry Reservations: It’s important to make advance reservations for the ferry crossings to Shetland, especially during the peak travel season. Availability can be limited, so plan accordingly to secure your preferred departure times and dates. Keep in mind that weather conditions can occasionally disrupt ferry schedules, so it’s advisable to check for updates before your journey.

To overcome these challenges, it’s crucial to stay informed and flexible throughout your overland journey. Stay updated on weather forecasts, road closures, and any other relevant information that may affect your travel plans. Be prepared to make adjustments to your itinerary as necessary, allowing for unplanned stops or alterations due to changing circumstances.


By embracing the challenges that come with an overland journey to Shetland, you’ll not only enhance your adventure but also gain a deeper appreciation for the rugged beauty and untamed nature of the islands. Stay vigilant, be respectful of the environment and wildlife, and approach each challenge with a positive mindset. After all, it’s the overcoming of these challenges that make the journey truly memorable and rewarding.


Exploring Shetland: Highlights and Must-Visit Destinations

Once you’ve made the journey to Shetland, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a mesmerizing archipelago filled with breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and unique cultural experiences. There are countless attractions and destinations to explore on these captivating islands. Here are some of the must-visit highlights:

  • Lerwick: As the capital of Shetland, Lerwick is a vibrant town that offers a blend of traditional charm and modern amenities. Explore the narrow streets lined with colorful buildings, visit the Shetland Museum and Archives to delve into the island’s history, and indulge in the local cuisine at the town’s restaurants and cafes.
  • Sumburgh Head: Located at the southern tip of Shetland’s mainland, Sumburgh Head is a stunning headland known for its dramatic cliffs and historic lighthouse. Take a walk along the rugged coastline, witness seabird colonies, and learn about the area’s rich maritime heritage at the visitor center.
  • St. Ninian’s Isle: Connected to the mainland by a stunning sand tombolo, St. Ninian’s Isle offers a peaceful retreat and a picturesque setting. Take a stroll along the sandy beach, marvel at the clear turquoise waters, and visit the ancient St. Ninian’s Chapel to uncover its fascinating history.
  • Eshaness: Located on the west coast of mainland Shetland, Eshaness is a geological marvel characterized by dramatic cliffs, sea stacks, and striking rock formations. Explore the rugged coastline, witness the power of the crashing waves, and admire the stunning vistas that unfold before you.
  • Unst: As the northernmost inhabited island of the UK, Unst offers a remote and untouched wilderness to explore. Visit the Hermaness National Nature Reserve to spot nesting seabirds, explore the Viking longhouse at the Unst Heritage Centre, and marvel at the breathtaking beauty of the Keen of Hamar nature reserve.

These are just a few highlights of the many incredible destinations that Shetland has to offer. Each island and mainland area has its own unique charm and attractions, waiting to be discovered and experienced. Take the time to immerse yourself in the local culture, interact with the friendly Shetland residents, and participate in the various events and festivals that take place throughout the year.


Exploring Shetland is like stepping into a world of enchantment, where every corner holds hidden gems and unforgettable experiences. Prepare to be captivated by the natural wonders, engrossed in the rich history, and embraced by the warm hospitality of the Shetland Isles. So grab your map, lace up your hiking boots, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure through these awe-inspiring landscapes.


Cultural Immersion: Traditions, Cuisine, and Local Experiences

Immersing yourself in the culture of Shetland is an essential part of any visit to these captivating islands. Shetland boasts a rich and distinct cultural heritage, characterized by its Norse roots, traditional crafts, and vibrant community spirit. Here are some key aspects of cultural immersion in Shetland:

  • Traditional Crafts: Shetland is renowned for its traditional crafts, such as knitting and weaving. The island is famous for its fine wool, and you can find local artisans creating exquisite knitwear, including the famous Fair Isle patterns. Visit local shops, museums, and craft workshops to learn about the techniques and history behind these traditional crafts.
  • Festivals and Events: Shetland is home to a vibrant calendar of festivals and events that celebrate its culture, history, and natural surroundings. The most famous of these is the Up Helly Aa festival held in Lerwick, where participants don Viking attire and carry torches in a procession before setting a Viking longship ablaze. Attending these festivals offers a unique insight into the island’s traditions and community spirit.
  • Local Cuisine: Shetland’s cuisine is influenced by its coastal location and abundant natural resources. Sample the local delicacies, including fresh seafood such as Shetland mussels, scallops, and salmon. Don’t miss the opportunity to try the traditional dish of Shetland lamb, known for its tender and flavorful meat.
  • Music and Dance: Shetland has a strong music and dance tradition, with the fiddle being a prominent instrument. Attend a local music event or ceilidh to experience the lively tunes and energetic dances that are an integral part of Shetland’s cultural fabric.
  • Community Engagement: Shetland’s tight-knit community welcomes visitors with open arms. Engage with the locals, participate in community events, and learn about their way of life. Whether it’s joining a local sports tournament, volunteering for a conservation project, or simply chatting with residents at a pub, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the warmth and hospitality of the Shetland people.

Cultural immersion in Shetland goes beyond simply observing traditions and cuisine. It’s about actively participating in local experiences, embracing the sense of community, and appreciating the island’s unique way of life. Through these interactions, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the cultural heritage that shapes Shetland and forge connections that will leave a lasting impact on your journey.


So, take the time to engage with the locals, participate in cultural activities, and savor the flavors of Shetland’s cuisine. Delve into the traditions and crafts that have been passed down through generations, and let the vibrant spirit of the islands leave an indelible mark on your cultural journey through Shetland.


Wildlife and Nature: Observing Shetland’s Unique Flora and Fauna

Shetland is a paradise for nature enthusiasts, with its pristine landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and abundant wildlife. From rugged cliffs and breathtaking coastlines to heathland and moorland, the islands offer a wide range of habitats that support a remarkable array of flora and fauna. Here are some of the highlights when it comes to observing Shetland’s unique wildlife and nature:

  • Seabird Colonies: Shetland is home to some of the largest and most accessible seabird colonies in the UK. Visit locations such as Hermaness on Unst or Noss National Nature Reserve to witness thousands of breeding seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, razorbills, and fulmars. Experience the cacophony of bird calls, the sight of birds effortlessly soaring overhead, and the unforgettable spectacle of cliff-side nesting.
  • Marine Life: The waters surrounding Shetland are teeming with marine life. Take a boat trip to spot seals basking on remote shores or swimming in the waves. Keep your eyes peeled for porpoises, dolphins, and even the majestic killer whales that frequent the waters around the islands. If you’re lucky, you may also catch sight of minke whales, humpbacks, and pilot whales during their migratory journeys.
  • Flora Diversity: Shetland’s diverse landscapes are home to a rich variety of plant life. Explore heathland areas like the Eshaness peninsula to see an array of flowering plants and the vibrant purple hues of heather in bloom. Witness the unique phenomenon of Shetland’s miniature forests known as “gairy” or “scroo,” where windswept trees take on twisted and stunted forms due to the harsh coastal conditions.
  • Countryside Wanderings: Shetland’s countryside invites exploration on foot. Lace up your walking boots and embark on trails that showcase the island’s natural beauty. Hike along dramatic cliffs, stroll through wildflower meadows, or meander through peatlands, all while enjoying the serenity and solitude that can be found in Shetland’s unspoiled landscapes.

When observing wildlife and exploring the natural wonders of Shetland, it’s important to do so responsibly. Respect the habitats of the creatures you encounter, maintaining a safe distance to avoid disturbance. Follow any guidelines or restrictions in place to protect sensitive wildlife areas and adhere to the principles of Leave No Trace to preserve the pristine nature of the islands.


Through observing Shetland’s unique flora and fauna, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the delicate balance of ecosystems and the beauty that can be found in its untamed wilderness. From the awe-inspiring sight of seabird colonies to the gentle presence of marine mammals, and the vibrant colors of Shetland’s plant life, the opportunities to connect with nature are endless.


So, whether you’re exploring the shores, wandering through heather-covered hills, or watching birds soar through the sky, let the natural wonders of Shetland captivate your senses and leave you with a lasting impression of the remarkable wildlife and nature that these islands have to offer.


Camping and Accommodation Options: Finding Shelter along the Way

Embarking on an overland journey to Shetland provides the opportunity to experience the great outdoors and immerse yourself in the rugged beauty of the islands. Whether you prefer the freedom of camping or the comforts of traditional accommodations, Shetland offers a range of options to suit different preferences and budgets. Here are some camping and accommodation options to consider when finding shelter along the way:

  • Campsites: Shetland features campsites in various locations, allowing you to pitch a tent and connect with nature. These campsites often provide essential facilities like toilets, showers, and electric points. Some campsites may even offer additional amenities such as laundry facilities or on-site cafes, providing a convenient and comfortable camping experience.
  • Caravan and Motorhome Parks: If you’re traveling in a caravan or motorhome, Shetland has designated parks that cater specifically to these types of accommodations. These parks often provide essential facilities such as electrical hook-ups, water connections, waste disposal points, and shower facilities.
  • Bed and Breakfasts: If you prefer a more traditional and cozy accommodation, Shetland has a range of charming bed and breakfast establishments. Staying in a bed and breakfast allows you to enjoy the warmth and hospitality of the local hosts while experiencing the comforts of a home-like setting. Many bed and breakfasts offer delicious homemade breakfasts made with locally sourced ingredients.
  • Hotels and Guesthouses: Shetland also has hotels and guesthouses for those seeking a higher level of comfort and convenience. These accommodations provide a range of amenities such as ensuite bathrooms, on-site restaurants, and communal areas to relax and unwind after a long day of exploring.
  • Self-Catering Cottages: For those who prefer the flexibility of self-catering accommodations, Shetland offers a variety of cottages available for rent. These cottages provide fully equipped kitchens, allowing you to prepare meals at your own pace while enjoying the privacy and comfort of a home away from home.

Regardless of the accommodation option you choose, it’s advisable to book in advance, especially during the peak travel season. Some remote campsites or unique accommodations may have limited availability. Planning ahead ensures that you secure your preferred choice and allows for a stress-free journey.


When camping or staying in outdoor accommodations, always remember to respect the environment and follow any guidelines or regulations in place. Leave your campsite as you found it, dispose of waste properly, and be mindful of noise levels to minimize your impact on the natural surroundings.


Whether you choose to camp under the stars, cozy up in a bed and breakfast, or indulge in the comforts of a hotel, finding shelter along the way ensures that you have a restful and rejuvenating experience during your overland journey to Shetland.


Travel Tips: Advice for a Successful Overland Journey to Shetland

An overland journey to Shetland offers a thrilling adventure that requires some careful planning and preparation. To help ensure a successful and enjoyable trip, here are some valuable travel tips to keep in mind:

  • Plan Ahead: Research and plan your itinerary, including routes, accommodations, and attractions, well in advance. This will help you make the most of your time on the islands and ensure you don’t miss any must-see destinations.
  • Check Ferry Schedules and Make Reservations: Shetland is accessible by ferry, so be sure to check the schedules and make reservations for your desired dates and times. This is especially important during peak travel seasons, as availability may be limited.
  • Be Prepared for Changeable Weather: Shetland’s weather can be unpredictable, so pack layers and waterproof clothing to adapt to changing conditions. Don’t forget a sturdy pair of walking shoes or boots for exploring the rugged landscapes.
  • Respect Nature and Wildlife: Shetland is home to diverse wildlife and stunning natural landscapes. Adhere to local guidelines to minimize your impact on the environment and observe wildlife from a safe distance to avoid disturbance.
  • Sample Local Cuisine: Shetland has a unique food culture influenced by its coastal location. Try local delicacies, such as fresh seafood and Shetland lamb, and visit traditional pubs or restaurants to experience the flavors of the islands.
  • Engage with the Locals: Take the time to interact with the friendly locals, who are known for their hospitality. Learn about the island’s culture, traditions, and history through conversations and local insights. They can provide valuable recommendations and enhance your overall experience.
  • Be Flexible and Embrace Serendipitous Adventures: Leave room in your itinerary for spontaneous detours or unexpected discoveries. Some of the most memorable experiences can arise from unexpected encounters or unplanned stops along the way.
  • Stay Connected and Stay Safe: Ensure you have proper communication and navigation tools, such as a mobile phone with a reliable signal and GPS. Familiarize yourself with emergency contact numbers and carry a well-equipped first aid kit.
  • Follow Road Etiquette: Observe local traffic rules and courtesy on the roads. Drive responsibly, be mindful of other drivers, and give way to pedestrians and wildlife when necessary. Take extra caution on narrow roads or in adverse weather conditions.
  • Capture Memories: Bring a camera or smartphone to capture the stunning landscapes, unique wildlife encounters, and beautiful moments during your journey. These memories will not only serve as keepsakes but also allow you to share your experiences with others.

By keeping these travel tips in mind, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on a successful overland journey to Shetland. Embrace the adventure, immerse yourself in the island’s culture and natural beauty, and create memories that will last a lifetime.



The overland journey to Shetland is an adventure like no other, offering a captivating blend of stunning landscapes, unique wildlife, rich history, and warm hospitality. From the moment you set foot on the islands, you’ll be entranced by their untamed beauty and the allure of exploring their hidden gems. Whether you choose to camp under the stars, stay in a cozy bed and breakfast, or indulge in the comforts of a hotel, Shetland offers a range of accommodation options to suit every traveler’s preference.


As you traverse the winding roads, cross borders, and immerse yourself in the culture, traditions, and flavors of Shetland, you’ll create memories that will last a lifetime. From observing seabird colonies and marine life to wandering through heathland and tracing the footsteps of ancient Vikings, the island’s diverse offerings will leave you in awe of its natural wonders and fascinating heritage.


But beyond the captivating scenery and unique experiences, the overland journey to Shetland is about the thrill of the open road, the freedom to explore at your own pace, and the deep connection you will forge with the landscapes and communities along the way. It’s about embracing challenges and serendipitous moments, immersing yourself in the culture and hospitality of the Shetland people, and savoring the journey as much as the destination.


So, pack your bags, plan your route, and embark on an overland adventure to Shetland. Whether you choose to travel by car, motorhome, or motorcycle, this journey will awaken your senses, ignite your spirit of adventure, and leave you with memories that will be etched in your heart forever. Get ready to explore the wild beauty of Shetland, where dramatic cliffs meet pristine beaches, majestic wildlife roams free, and a world waiting to be discovered is just over the horizon.