Lerwick is the capital and administrative centre of Shetland and the only sizeable town. Though the islands have been inhabited for many centuries, Lerwick only dates from the 17th century, when it began to grow as a trading port for Dutch herring fishermen, thanks to its superb natural sheltered harbour, the Bressay Sound.
The town spread along the waterfront, where merchants built their lodberries, which were houses and warehouses with their own piers so that they could trade directly with visiting ships. By the late 19th century Lerwick had become the main herring port in northern Europe.
Lerwick has continued to grow and is now home to a third of Shetland's population. The discovery of oil in the North Sea in the early 1970s led to the building of the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, and the effect on Lerwick has been dramatic. It is now the main transit point to the North Sea oil rigs and there have been major extensions to the harbour area, bringing increased shipping and prosperity to the town. Phone code: +44 (0)1595
Local Sights & Activities for LerwickSightseeing
The town's heart is the attractive Commercial Street, which runs parallel to the Esplanade. At the southern end are many old houses and lodberries, and you can continue south along the cliffs to the Knab or to lovely Bain's beach. Lerwick Walks is a leaflet detailing many interesting walks in and around town.
Overlooking the north end of Commercial Street is Fort Charlotte, built in 1665 and later rebuilt in 1780 and named after Queen Charlotte, George III's consort. It has since been used as a prison and Royal Naval Reserve base and, though there's little to see in the fort, there are fine views of the harbour from the battlements. Info - Jun-Sep daily 0900-2200; Oct-May 0900-1600. Free. One of Lerwick's most impressive buildings is the Victorian town hall, on Hillhead. The stained-glass windows of the main hall depict episodes from Shetland's history. Info - Mon-Fri 1000-1200 and 1400-1530. Free.
Opposite the town hall, above the library, is the Shetland Museum, which gives a useful introduction to the islands' history. Amongst the artefacts on display is a replica of the St Ninian's Isle treasure. Info - Mon, Wed and Fri 1000-1900; Tue, Thu and Sat till 1700. Free. Tel. 695057.
Also in town is the Up Helly-Aa Exhibition, in the Galley Shed off St Sunniva Street. This gives a taste of the famous Viking fire festival held annually in Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January, when a torch-lit procession through the town by hundreds of people dressed in Viking costumes (guizers) is followed by a replica Viking longship built especially for the event. At the end of the procession the ship is set ablaze when the guizers throw their flaming torches on to it. Info - Mid-May to mid-Sep Tue 1400-1600 and 1700-1900, Fri 1700-1900, Sat 1400-1600. Adult £3.00, concession £1.50.
A mile west of town are the substantial remains of Clickimin Broch, a fortified site occupied from 700 BC to around the fifth or sixth century AD. A path leads to the site from opposite the Safeway supermarket on the A970. Info - Always open. Free.
A mile west of town are the substantial remains of Clickimin Broch, a fortified site occupied from 700BC to around 5th or 6th century AD.About a mile north of the ferry terminal is the Böd of Gremista, a restored 18th-century fishing böd (booth) which was the birthplace of Arthur Anderson (1791-1868), co-founder of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, now P&O. One of the rooms features an exhibition on Anderson's life and involvement with P&O. Info - Jun to mid-Sep Wed and Sun 1000-1300 and 1400-1700. Free.
The best place for a drink is the upstairs bar in the Lounge, on Mounthooly St near the tourist office, where local musicians usually play on Sat lunchtimes and some evenings. The town's only nightclub is Posers, at the Grand Hotel. Folk music has a strong following in Shetland and the islands play host to 2 of Scotland's top folk events. In mid-Apr the islands are alive with the sound of music as musicians from around the globe come to play at the Shetland Folk Festival. Later, in mid-Oct, is the Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival. For details of both events, contact the Folk Festival office, 5 Burns Lane, Lerwick, Tel. 694757. To find out what's going on, buy a copy of the Shetland Times on Fri, or check out their website, www.shetland-times.co.uk Also check the tourist board's Events phoneline, Tel. 694200. Sport
Clickimin Centre, Lochside, Tel. 741000. Sports and fitness centre open daily 0800-2300.
Lerwick Hotels & Accommodation
Shetland's best accommodation is outside Lerwick, whose hotels are mostly geared towards the oil industry. During the peak months of Jul and Aug and the Folk Festival in Apr, it's a good idea to book in advance.
The most luxurious hotel in town is the B Kveldsro House Hotel, Greenfield Pl, Tel. 692195, Kveldsro House Hotel Pronounced 'kel-ro', it overlooks the harbour and has an upmarket (and expensive) restaurant as well as cheaper bar food. Directly opposite the ferry terminal is the modern B Shetland Hotel, Tel. 695515; and 10 mins from the centre is the B Lerwick Hotel, 15 South Rd, Tel. 692166, which has a reputation for fine cuisine. In the centre is the Grand Hotel, Commercial St, Tel. 692826, which features Shetland's only nightclub; and by the harbour is the rather faded B-C Queen's Hotel, Commercial St, Tel. 692826.
There are several pleasant guest houses and B&Bs, including Fort Charlotte Guest House, 1 Charlotte St, Tel. 695956; The Old Manse, 9 Commercial St, Tel. 696301; Alder Lodge Guest House, 6 Clairmont Pl, Tel. 695705, Carradel Guest House, 36 King Harald St, Tel. 692251; and next door, Solheim Guest House, Tel. 695275. Lerwick's clean, well-run SYHA hostel is at Islesburgh House, King Harald St, Tel. 692114, open Apr-Sep. There's camping at Clickimin Caravan & Camp Site, Tel. 741000, near Clickimin Leisure Centre and loch on the western edge of town.
The best place to eat in Lerwick is Monty's Bistro & Deli, 5 Mounthooly St, Tel. 696655. It offers good modern Scottish cooking in a cosy, informal setting. Lunch cheap; dinner mid-range. Closed Sun. The next best choice is dinner or bar lunch at the Kveldsro Hotel and Lerwick Hotel (see above). Best place for a curry is the moderately-priced Raba Indian Restaurant, 26 Commercial Rd, Tel. 695585. Osla's Café, Tel. 696005, on Mounthooly St, is a cosy café serving a wide range of coffees, pancakes and other snacks and boasting the islands' only beer garden. Open Mon-Sat till at least 1900, Sun 1200-1600.
Despite a ready supply of fresh local produce, Shetland is a gastronomic desert
Travel Directions to Lerwick
Ferries from Aberdeen arrive at the main Holmsgarth terminal, which is about a mile north of the old harbour. There's a regular bus service between Lerwick and Sumburgh airport (50 mins) run by John Leask & Son, Tel. 693162. Taxis (around £25) and car hire are also available. All island bus services start and end at the Viking bus station, which is on Commercial Road, a short distance north of the town centre. The town is small and everything is within easy walking distance.
The main Tourist Information Centre is at Market Cross, on Commercial St, Tel. 693434, Shetland Tourism As well as booking accommodation, they are an excellent source of information, books, maps and leaflets, and will change foreign currency. Open May-Sep Mon-Fri 0800-1800, Sat 0800-1600, Sun 1000-1300; Oct-Apr Mon-Fri 0900-1700.
There are regular daily buses (Nos 3 and 4) to and from Sumburgh airport which connect with flights. These buses also stop at several main sights, including Jarlshof, Sandwick (for Mousa Broch) and St Ninian's Isle. Bus No 2 runs to Scalloway (Mon-Sat). There are also buses (daily except Sun) to Walls, Sandness, Aith, Skeld, North Roe, Hillswick, Vidlin, Toft and Mossbank. Buses depart from the Viking bus station. Full details are given in the Shetland Transport Timetable.
Bolts Car Hire, Toll Clock Shopping Centre, 26 North Rd, Tel. 693636. John Leask & Son, Esplanade, Tel. 693162. Star Rent-a-Car, 22 Commercial Rd, Tel. 692075. Both also have offices at Sumburgh Airport. Cycle hire Grantfield Garage, North Rd, Tel. 692709, Mon-Sat 0800-1300 and 1400-1700. There are several taxi companies in Lerwick: 6050 Cabs, Tel. 696050; Sheilds Taxis, Tel. 695276; Abbys Taxis, Tel. 696666.
Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale and Royal are on Commercial St. Lloyds TSB is on the Esplanade.
Post office Commercial St (open Mon-Fri 0900-1700, Sat 0900-1200), also in Toll Clock Shopping Centre, 26 North Rd.
Embassies and consulates
Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands and Sweden at Hay & Company, 66 Commercial Rd, Tel. 692533; Finland, France, Germany and Norway at Shearer Shipping Services, Garthspool, Tel. 692556.
Lerwick Laundry, 36 Market St, Tel. 693043, closed Sun. Service washes only. Medical facilities Gilbert Bain Hospital, Scalloway Rd, Tel. 743000. Opposite is the Lerwick Health Centre, Tel.693201.
John Leask & Son, Esplanade, Tel. 693162.