Shetland | A Foodie's Guide to the Isles, with Northlink Ferries [AD]

Considering the myriad of links between Aberdeen and Shetland, it's amazing how few Aberdonians have actually been to the Northern Isles. Those that I know of, have visited for business - mostly relating to the fishing and oil industries, naturally. However, there is so much more to Shetland and we relished in the chance to explore the setting of the ever popular BBC drama this May day weekend.

The view of Aberdeen harbour from the Northlink ferry to Shetland

Getting to Shetland with Northlink Ferries

Setting sail with Northlink Ferries on a Friday evening, we had the pleasure of meeting the captain  of M.V.Hjaltland and joining him in the bridge as we departed Aberdeen harbour. Passing Fittie and the beach we were even lucky enough to spot some dolphins! Despite the choppy seas that evening, I felt sure we were in safe hands.

Haggis bon bons on board the Northlink ferry
Dark Island steak pie with chips on the Northlink ferry

Dining in The Feast restaurant onboard on both our outward and homeward journey, we enjoyed delicious meals with a strong focus on local produce from all of Northlink's ports - Aberdeen, Orkney and Shetland. I highly recommend the Haggis bon bons with Scapa whisky sauce and the Dark Island steak pie. Gordon was a big fan of the Viking burger and macaroni with Orkney smoked cheese, and neither of us could say no to the Orkney fudge cheesecake! 

macaroni cheese at The Feast restaurant on Northlink ferry
Northlink Ferries' Orkney fudge cheesecake

We were both surprised by just how well equipped the ferries are - alongside the Feast restaurant you'll find a well stocked bar, the Magnus lounge, a small shop and even a cinema! Unfortunately we didn't manage to catch a film but we did make good use of the bar, sampling some ales from Lerwick Brewery and my favourite gin from Shetland Reel.

Lerwick brewery pint on board Northlink ferries
Fish statue on MV Hrossey

As the journey from Aberdeen to Lerwick lasts 12 hours, the ferry travels overnight. Which means you can catch the ferry after work on Friday, and be in Lerwick by 7am Saturday morning for a weekend adventure! There are various accommodation options from private cabins to bunks in sharing rooms, sleeping pods with shower access or budget friendly reclining seats. If you are on a budget I'd recommend the sleeping pods, but if you can stretch to a cabin you absolutely should!

outer twin cabin on MV Hjaltland, Northlink Ferries

We had an outer twin cabin and I've never been more grateful to have my own private bathroom than on that stormy outbound journey. The beds are surprisingly comfy and I slept like a baby on the journey home. If you are concerned about motion sickness, check the weather forecast before you go. In calm seas the movement is barely noticeable and it's a lovely, pleasant experience, but you'll need a strong stomach if there's a weather warning. 

Full Scottish breakfast onboard Northlink ferry

Breakfast is served onboard in the Feast Restaurant from 6 until 9am. We'd brought our car which has to be taken off the boat pretty much straight away, but luckily the driver can come back on board after parking up. This worked perfectly for us as I was showered and ready for breakfast by the time Gordon got back. It's a self service affair with everything you need for a good Scottish breakfast available, as well as cereal, pastries, fresh fruit, yoghurts etc. There's not much open in Lerwick before 9am anyway so it's well worth making the most of the ferry's offerings before you set off to explore!


Bains Beach in Lerwick
Shetland Ponies in Lerwick

Lerwick

As the ferry docks at Lerwick, it makes sense to explore Shetland's capital first. Our B&B had contacted us in advance so we'd arranged to check in around 9.30am which gave us a bit of time to have a drive about and get our bearings first. 

Our room at Aald Harbour B&B in Lerwick

Where to Stay in Lerwick

I booked the Aald Harbour B&B via trusty Booking.com (*Affiliate Link) and paid £85 for the night. Our host Lynette was brilliant, offering advice on things to see and do, and giving us a wee pocket map of Shetland to help us get around. She made a bloody good breakfast too!

Scottish breakfast at Aald Harbour B&B

We stayed in the St Ninain's room which had a lovely, homely feel with the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in! Our room had a private bathroom, TV, hair dryer and free wifi too. The B&B was only a two minute walk from the centre of Lerwick - handy for getting home after a trip to the pub in the evening!

Crawling through walls at Clickimin Broch

What to see and do in Lerwick

Clickimin Broch - A restored Iron Age round tower maintained by Historic Environment Scotland, and situated on the banks of Clickimin Loch, this prehistoric stone structure is free to visit. Duck under the doorways and crawl through the passageways, and wonder just how small people must of been back then! There are 120 brochs listed in Shetland so this is a good one to start with.

Shetland Museum & Archives - If you want to get to know more about Shetland and it's history, this is the place for you. Another free attraction, we found it a great way to kill an hour or two before lunch - and escape the wind! The Viking displays were especially interesting.

Shetland puffin mural, Lerwick
The Lodberries AKA DI Jimmy Perez' House

The Lodberries & Bain's Beach - Now known by fans worldwide as the home of DI Jimmy Perez in BBC's Shetland, the Lodberries were originally waterfront homes of 18th century merchants. Boats were docked at the building's private pier, meaning goods could be unloaded straight into the warehouse. People still live in the buildings today, so be respectful when snapping those photos!

The String in Lerwick
Hummus bowl at the Dowry, Lerwick

Where to eat in Lerwick

When you think of somewhere as remote as Shetland, you don't expect to find much in the way of café culture or hipster hangouts. You're proved wrong in Lerwick!

halloumi fries at the Dowry
Matcha and iced coffee at the Dowry, Lerwick

The Dowry - We enjoyed an eclectic Saturday brunch of smoked salmon on sourdough, hummus with flatbread and halloumi fries at the Dowry. Not to mention iced coffees and an apple matcha latte. In the evening this stylish café turns into a bar, serving a fantastic mix of craft beers and spirits, as well as tasty bar snacks.

Shetland reel G&T at the String
Syrian leaf wrap dish at the String

The String - A couple of doors up from the Dowry, you'll find the String - a restaurant come events venue serving local fare downstairs, with live music often in the upstairs bar. They even host occasional yoga classes! I tucked into an unusual Syrian influenced starter, followed by an impressive fish pie packed with local seafood, while Gordon enjoyed the biggest monk fish scampi I've ever seen! I'd recommend booking, especially for a Saturday evening.

Monkfish scampi with chips and mushy peas at the String
Gordon - dinner at the String, Lerwick
The String's Fish pie

As we only had a couple of days in Shetland, we didn't manage to visit everywhere on our list for Lerwick but I've heard great things about Fjarå and The Peerie Shop Café, and the locals tell me you'll find the best fish and chips at The Fort. It's worth noting that Lerwick Brewery offer daily tours for £15, and I recommend popping into the Shetland Fudge Company or Mirrie Dancers chocolatiers if you want to take home some foodie gifts.

chickens in Burra
shell house on Burra

Burra Islands

Shetland is made up of over 100 islands, with only 16 of them inhabited. Joined by bridge to the west coast of the mainland are the Burra isles, just a short drive from Lerwick and even closer to Scalloway. We found some beautiful scenic spots and quirky attractions here.

Ginger striped cat at the Outpost, Shetland
Wallabies at the Outpost, Burra

The Outpost - What do you get when you put an Aussie in Shetland? The Outpost! Tasmanian Dave has set up a brilliant little home from home near the Red Houss on East Burra where you'll meet his pet wallabies Ned and Kelly, some Kenekune pigs, friendly goats and a couple of emu chicks for good measure. You can park up and say hello - help yourself to some feed from the wooden boxes. Don't forget to leave a wee donation too!

The Outpost's goat
Emu chicks at the Outpost, Shetland
Meal beach, Burra
Walking on Meal Beach, Burra

Meal Beach - Shetland's beaches are pretty spectacular, with soft white sand and turquoise waters. Meal beach is signposted, with a car park, public toilets and boardwalk leading towards the sands. We enjoyed walking the length of it and paddling in the sea - with wellies on! Further South, Minn beach with it's tombolo to Kettla Ness peninsula, is also a Burra highlight.

Meal beach white sands
Waves crashing on Meal Beach
Shetland sheep with lambs on Burra

Marina's Kitchen Cabinet - Follow signs for Papil and the Shetland Pony Riding School, turn right down that road and look for the fridge in the garden at the first house on your left. That's Marina's Kitchen Cabinet! Regularly stocked with freshly baked goods, this is one foodie stop you do not want to miss. Just take what you want, and leave your money in the honesty box. I highly recommend the tiffin and Millionaire's shortbread! 

Marina's Kitchen Cabinet on Burra
waterfront in Scalloway
Row of colourful houses in front of Scalloway castle

Scalloway

Back on the mainland, Scalloway was originally Shetland's capital until 1708 when Lerwick took the title. Driving past a rainbow of Nordic looking houses, you're greeted by the imposing sight of Scalloway Castle...

Couple in front of Scalloway castle
Inside Scalloway castle's main hall or kitchen
wandering corridors inside Scalloway castle

Scalloway Castle - Next to the Scalloway museum, this 17th century castle is worth stopping by. When the museum is closed you can actually get the key from nearby Scalloway Hotel and let yourself in to explore. Story boards give you an insight into the history of the castle and it's notorious owner Earl Patrick Stewart.

At the front door of Scalloway castle
Shetland bus memorial with poppies

The Shetland Bus - Down by the shore we came across this memorial to the Shetland Bus. I'd never heard of it but here we found the story of the special ops group that created a life saving link between Shetland and Nazi occupied Norway during the Second World War. It's actually very interesting! After our stormy sailing experience, I can't imagine travelling all the way from Norway as a refugee in a tiny fishing boat!

Fish and chips at the Scalloway Hotel
Sunday roast chicken at Scalloway Hotel

Scalloway Hotel - The highlight of Scalloway for me was our Sunday lunch in the hotel's two AA Rosette winning restaurant! An absolute must visit for any foodie worth their salt in Shetland. Gordon devoured the battered fish and chips, while I went for the classic roast chicken. An incredibly generous portion of chicken arrived, with perfectly crisp roast potatoes, root veg, a mountain of greens topped with asparagus and an enormous Yorkshire pudding resembling Groot! I would have loved to try dessert but no way could I squeeze it in!

Shetland lambs
The Laird's house at Jarlshof

Southern Mainland of Shetland

Heading south from Scalloway, take a pitstop at MacKenzie's farm shop and café, and admire Shetland's wide open, undulating landscapes as you travel between these Mainland gems. You'll even get to drive across the actual runway of Sumburgh airport! There are only two places in Europe you can do this - here, and Gibraltar.

Viking longhouse remains at Jarlshof
The Laird's house at Jarlshof

Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement - Driving over the runway, you're rewarded with spectacular views of the nearby beach and clear, blue sea as you reach Jarlshof. Another Historic Environment Scotland location, this site marks over 4000 years of human settlement. Remnants of Shetland's history have been discovered in this same spot, from the Bronze Age, to Viking lounghouses and a 16th century Laird's house. We paid £6 each to enter the visitors centre and explore.

Beach view from Jarlshof
Looking over the Bronze and Iron age remains at Jarlshof
The road to Sumburgh Head Lighthouse

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse - At the very southern tip of the Mainland, sits Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, also home to a visitors centre and RSPB nature reserve. We had hoped to spot some puffins (or Tammie Norries as the locals call them!) on the cliffs but no such luck. Apparently they fly elsewhere when it's particularly windy. We did however enjoy the walk from the car park, and managed to spot loads of guillemots. Dolphins and killer whales can often be sighted off the coast here too.

Birds at Sumburgh nature reserve
Sumburgh head lighthouse
Looking back on the sand tombolo from St Ninian's Isle

St Ninian's Isle - One of the best known beaches on Shetland, the sand tombolo to St Ninian's Isle makes for some incredible pictures! Wrapping up on a sunny but blustery afternoon, we walked the length of the beach, turquoise waters lapping at each side. If you have the time, it's worth exploring the isle itself. You can visit the remains of the chapel where Pictish "treasure" was discovered by a local schoolboy in 1958.

Gordon at St Ninian's Isle
On St Ninian's Isle, Shetland
St Ninian's Isle tombolo

If you're planning a trip to Shetland I'd recommend staying for two nights. We only had one, so chose to spend our time exploring Lerwick, Scalloway, Burra and the Southern Mainland. An extra night would give you time to head North too, where I'd recommend visiting Frankie's fish and chips at Brae and the dramatic Eshaness cliffs, before catching the ferries to Yell and Unst. On Unst - the most northerly inhabited British isle - you can visit the Shetland Reel distillery or take a tour at Valhalla Brewery for just £6.50, which includes a bottle of beer to take away!

on a bench overlooking St Ninian's Isle

Top local foods to try in Shetland:

Bannocks - A sort of scone/bread roll, I recommend sampling some from Waas bakery or Marina's kitchen cabinet!
Reestit mutton soup - Lamb in general is popular in Shetland, but this particular dish is a classic. Traditionally preserved in salt, the mutton creates a hearty, warming soup that pairs well with those bannocks!
Seafood - With the fishing industry such a vital part of Shetland's economy, it's little wander that you'll find such an abundance of seafood on the menus of most eateries! Locally farmed salmon, mussels and scallops are worth looking out for.

Dinner at the String, Lerwick

When to visit Shetland?

If you're wondering when is best to visit Shetland, it's worth checking the dates of their many events. When we visited in May, the Folk Festival was in full swing and created such a buzz! The gigs sold out before we could get tickets, but we did manage to catch some live music for free at the Lounge in Lerwick. Up Helly Aa is the best known festival, with the torch lit procession of Vikings taking place each January, but if you're a foodie like me you'll be happy to know that the Taste of Shetland festival is an annual event too!

So when are you going?

*We received a complimentary journey to and from Shetland with Northlink Ferries. All opinions in this article are my own and 100% honest as always.

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2 comments:

  1. What a lovely post! The beaches and food look amazing. I've never been that far north in the UK but I would love to visit the Shetland Isles. I also love Shetland Reel gin, so definitely another reason to visit ;)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! It's well worth visiting, and I'm pretty sure every bar we went to stocked Shetland Reel ;)

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