Shetland Inter Island Ferry System
Shetland has a very good ferry system between its many islands. The main crossings have several ferrys a day while the less used crossing, such as to Fair Isle travel just two days a week. ALWAYS make a reservation if you are traveling by car as these are small ferries and you will have a potentially long wait if you can't get on. They pack cars/trucks/busses on these ferries with real precision - it is like a can or sardines. Most people get out of their cars and socialize or just look at the beautiful scenery. The ferry to Fair Isle, The Good Shepherd IV, takes only 12 passengers and a max of two cars that are hoisted onto the ferry. The Good Shepherd is the only ferry I have ever seen that has seat belts. Apparently the crossing can get pretty rough. You really do not need a car on Fair Isle as you can walk everywhere and hitch a ride with a local if need be.
Many of the islands have regularly SCHEDULED air transportation a couple days a week. The airports are not staffed and there is really no baggage handling. In fact on Fair Isle the volunteer fire department does a sweep of the runway prior to a landing to get all the sheep off. A few years ago there was a collision between a plane and a sheep - word spread in moments - and most of the islanders showed up to see what a sheep looked like after taking on a plane. They still affectionately refer to it as the "Kamakazi Sheep". Well here is the airstrip on Fetlar complete with airport building. Nice change from the likes of Heathrow.
It's easy to get around Shetland by public transport. The buses are timed to arrive in time for ferry connections, meaning you can get pretty much anywhere in the islands in a few hours.
The best bus service (perhaps 10 or so buses a day) is from Lerwick to Sumburgh, as this is the airport service. Other places don't enjoy quite such frequent services, with perhaps just 2 or 3 services a day. I did find the public transport relible though, so with careful planning this needn't be a problem.
You can buy a booklet with all the bus and ferry times from the Tourist Information Centre in Lerwick, it currently costs £1.20
Your main options are flying or getting a ferry.
British Airways fly regularly from several Scottish airports, with connecting flights to London Heathrow. A return flight will probably cost anything from £200 upwards.
The other, more cost effective option (and the one I opted for) is to get a ferry. North Link ferries run an overnight service from Aberdeen daily, leaving Aberdeen about 6pm and arriving in Lerwick about 7am the next morning. There are also services from Kirkwall in Orkney - check their website for full details.
Car ferries connect the main islands of Shetland. There's usually a pretty frequent service (by that I mean perhaps 1 or 2 an hour). They run all day, from about 6am to 11pm.
It's advisible to book in advance if possible, as the ferries do sometimes fill up. If you can't do this then just get there early so you're near the front of the queue.
I travelled to Shetland by ferry. I like travelling by ferries. Some times the journey can be very romantic.
The journey lasts 12 hours. The staff was nice and very helpful, meal prices in the selfservice bar were reasonable. Coffee or tee from about 1 pound and the main courses from about 5 pounds.
If you on the budget take only the sleeper seat. It's quite comfortable.There are comfortable benches where you can sleep too.
For more details visit the norhlinkferries's site.
The main Shetland airport is Sumburgh, and that is almost certainly where you will arrive.
It's less likely that you will be able to take a direct flight to Shetland, although Loganair does operate some direct routes from major Scottish cities such as Aberdeen and Edinburgh, to Orkney and to Bergen in Norway. Flying from Birmingham (UK) I had to change at Aberdeen, booking the flight through Flybe with my bags checked right through to Sumburgh. But this is not a major problem; flight times to Sumburgh are only an hour or so.
Loganair uses 36-seater planes, so you should be aware of their cabin baggage restrictions...they are smaller than many other airlines. Staff are very helpful and pleasant (both cabin crew and ground staff) and you'll get a free cup of coffee or ea on your flight.
Sumburgh is very exposed, and Shetland weather very changeable, to don't be surprised if your approach and landing are a bit bumpy. But you can be reassured that the pilots know exactly what they are doing, and do it several times a day...no need to be concerned!
Once you are out of the airport (your bags may well arrive in the terminal before you do!) you can either pick up your hire car or take the bus to Lerwick.
Sumburgh airport may be tiny but it's busy with planes and helicopters.
Make sure you have your coat with you, because you'll walk from the plane to the terminal building (possibly in a gale and driving rain, as I did!).
The terminal building is rather nice. There's a shop, cafe and a bar, a TV area (the TV showing BBC news), a children's play area (I've never seen one of those in any other airport) and plenty of seating.
Staff are pleasant, friendly and courteous and checking-in/getting through security (just as tight as anywhere else) takes hardly any time at all.
There's an on-airport car hire firm as well as a near-airport firm which will collect you and take you to your car.
Plenty of car parking...and it's free!
To see Shetland properly you really do need a car. The bus services is limited both in services and in operating times, and although walking and cycling are wonderful ways to explore, mainland Shetland is a big place.
Driving in Shetland is easy and very enjoyable. One goes back to an earlier time, when roads are mostly empty and stress is minimal.
There are no traffic lights (except a few pedestrian crossings in Lerwick) and only a couple of roundabouts (also in Lerwick). Road surfaces are exceptionally good, even on the smallest roads.
The main A970 will get you swiftly from the airport to Lerwick in around 30 minutes: its a fast, clear road where you can easily average 50mph. There are plenty of places to stop on the way, with parking laybys provided at particularly scenic spots.
Many of the island roads are single-track (room for one vehicle only) but all have ample passing places, where the road widens. It seemed to me that these were usually about 100 yards or so apart and, as one can usually see far ahead on the road, there is no problem when one does meet another car. It is usual to raise a hand to thank the driver who stops for you, or to acknowledge that driver's thanks if you have stopped.
Even if you have not driven on the left before, Shetland should pose no problems: it really does have excellent and largely empty roads. Local drivers do drive fast (they know the roads) but that need not concern you: just allow them to pass you when they know it is safe to do so.
You should be much more concerned about sheep on the roads (apart from on the main roads). Sheep are not very sensible and will not automatically move just because you are driving towards them. So slow down, stop if necessary, give them a gentle beep of the horn if they do not realise you are there and then allow them time to sort themselves out.
When you are driving around make sure you have your camera with you. Throughout my stay I found myself continually stopping to photograph yet another superb view! :-)
There are two car hire firms which operate from Sumburgh airport (and elsewhere on Shetland):
Petrol stations are not widespread, so make sure you always have plenty in the tank. Petrol prices in Shetland have always been the highest in the UK and it is no different now, so expect to pay around 10p more per litre than you would elsewhere.
To get to foula you either go by 7 seater light aircraft or by the Foula ferry.
The flight is highly recommended but much more expensive(approx £40 return). flight time is approx 15 min. You fly from Tingwall Airport (a tiny airport) on the mainland of Shetland .The dirt runway on Foula was built by the islanders themselves and they are very proud of this.
Bolt's Car Hire is a cheap but quality car rental business. I was supplied with a Vauxhall Corsa for 2 days and it was an excellently kept car. They will pick you up from the airport and drivce you out to your car. You can either drop the car off at their headquarters again and they'll drive you back in to the airport or you can just leave it in the airport car park.
I would recommend this business to anyone wanting to hire a car in Shetland
The Ferry is the cheapest way to get to shetland. it travelles from aberdeen and it is an overnight journey (around 14 hours) it is nice to take the boat as you get to see many of the islands on your way to the harbour, and a unique view of the main town (Lerwick). It is also a good idea not to book a cabin but a seat. and sleep on the floor if you are skint. unsually there are spare berths, so you can upgrade should you need more comfort. Hope this helps you get here :o)
Buses do exist on Shetland but if you're limited for time you'll really going to need to hire a car. We paid about £30/day. Of course you could bring your own, but are then limited to ferries only. You really have to weigh up costs and think about how much time you're going to spend on the main land. You can cycle however it is constantly windy and quite hilly so it's not really a favourable option. Driving is easy as there's little traffic on the road and speed limits are sensible. There are some great walks however you're going to need to get to and from these places.
Ferry is of course cheaper, however if you don't live in Scotland then you have to get there first. There are scheduled flights now from Stansted to Sumburgh which makes things easier. We got connecting flights which didn't work out cheap but this is a special place and we didn't mind paying a bit extra.
One word of warning: if you get even slightly seasick think carefully about using the ferries between Orkney/Shetland and Aberdeen. The North Sea is very choppy. My mate was bad for 5 hours. I didn't feel brilliant myself but could eat/drink ok. You can go on the rear deck outside (where smoking is permitted) to get fresh air. Sometimes they close the other outside decks due to weather conditions.
Of course taking the plane is much quicker (45 mins from Shetland to Aberdeen).
Shetland is wonderful and although a car does give you more freedom to move about, these two sites will help you with buses and ferries. Walking is also great there
I know you can get a multi ticket for the ferries.
I have put my Shetland tips on my Scotland page for the moment but if I can help do let me know.
Greenfield Place, Lerwick, ZE1 OAQ, gb
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Couples
Sumburgh Head, Sumburgh, United Kingdom
Good for: Solo
24 Commercial St, Lerwick, ZE1 0AB, United Kingdom
Good for: Families