Family Friendly Shetland

by Steve Mathieson

If you want to give your family a holiday to remember, where you can share exhilarating outdoor experiences together in an unspoilt landscape and immerse yourselves in the culture, history, archaeology, geology and wildlife of a part of the British Isles that is uniquely different, Shetland is the destination you are looking for! 

Photo: Steve Birrell. Zoom Photo: Steve Birrell. With over a hundred islands (15 inhabited) and nearly 1,700 miles of coastline, Shetland has an incredible variety of beaches with golden sand, rock pools and pristine water that children will love. St Ninian’s beach in the south of Shetland is Britain’s biggest active sand tombolo, where a hoard of Pictish silver was discovered in a ruined chapel. 

During the summer Shetland’s coastline comes alive with thousands of seabirds, the two most accessible colonies being at Sumburgh Head in the south and Hermaness on Unst, where you will see kittiwakes, guillemots and gannets and have close encounters with lovable puffins. The high cliffs of the island of Noss are also home to a spectacular seabird colony, with a great way to experience it being on an exciting boat trip from Lerwick. Other wildlife to be found around the coast includes otters, porpoises and seals, while orcas and minke whales are regular visitors and can often be seen from the shore. Photo: Kim Rendall. Zoom Photo: Kim Rendall.

An animal that all children love is the Shetland pony, which can be seen roaming the islands, especially in Unst, Tingwall, and the west and south Mainland. A great day out is a trip to Burra where one establishment offers Shetland pony riding and another Icelandic horse trekking. On the nearby island of Trondra is the wonderful Burland Croft Trail, a traditional croft where children can pet and feed the friendly sheep, cows, pigs, ducks and hens. The Shetland agricultural shows take place across the islands in August and September and are great places to see farm animals at close quarters. 

If you are intending to arrive early in the year then all the family can enjoy the spectacle of one of the Viking fire festivals. The main Up-Helly-A’ in Lerwick is at the end of January, but there are another nine dotted around the islands from January through to March. The big archaeological sites are great to visit, with Viking and Iron Age villages to explore at Jarlshof and Old Scatness, a full-sized replica longship and reconstructed longhouse at Viking Unst and the best preserved iron-age broch in the world on Mousa, where you can use 2,000-year-old steps to climb to the very top.

Shetland has 74 play parks around the islands, plus lots of gardens and lovely wooded areas such as Kergord, Michaelswood and Sand Gairdins, but if the weather turns inclement then there are a wealth of museums and heritage centres to keep you all entertained, many with interactive elements designed for children. These are found throughout the islands, as well as eight modern leisure centres all with swimming pools. In Lerwick you will also find Mareel, which always has a busy programme of entertainment going on plus all the latest cinema releases on its two screens.