Lerwick, the Shetland Islands' capital, is undeniably multifaceted. Superficially, Lerwick's architecture reflects that of its past -- deeply rooted in Dutch traditions with stone-facade buildings, known as lodberries, lining the busy port. Lerwick, like the rest of the Shetland Islands, is more than just superficial beauty though -- and just a few hours in town will uncover a rather fascinating history.
A gift to Scotland from a Danish princess in the late 1400s, the town wasn't actually founded as a port until the late 17th century. The geographic location close to Norway is reflected in all facets of Lerwick -- from many of the store's decor to the people. The locals' warm and embracing personalities are a near-perfect blend of Norwegian and Scottish. The Scottish reminders come when you're strolling through the UNESCO town and see rolling green hills behind tall castle-like administrative buildings and sheep traffic jams in the center of town.
For visitors, there's plenty to do here -- whether you're docking for just a few hours or overnight. With vibrant green-hued hills flanking the beautiful Bressay Sound, be sure to book an excursion that gets you outside to explore the wildlife (like the Shetland ponies) and the stunning scenery. If you're visiting in July, the Shetland Nature Festival brings thousands to Lerwick to celebrate the islands (which are comprised of more than 1,500 small archipelagos) diverse wildlife and outdoor activities. For those visiting on rainy days, the town has museums, restaurants, theaters and more to keep you immersed in the local culture. As a bonus, there are public buses and ferries that can cart you to neighboring islands and other landmarks, like the historical site of Jarlshof.
Since the port itself is still relatively small, most ships dock either right alongside town or just a few meters away. Regardless of your parking spot, the town is within walking distance, and a large landing stage and welcome ashore pavilion will serve as a great meeting point. The port authority can also be reached by taxi or bus if you plan an excursion away from Lerwick. If you're not able to walk, a complimentary shuttle to and from town is available.
The small port harbor provides a few warm welcomes, like traditional Shetland music upon arrival and a “Meet and Greet” service to passengers from local representatives. If you're parked too far for walking comfort, the authority offers a complimentary shuttle to and from the town center for easy exploration. The main shopping areas, restaurants, bars, pubs and attractions are all located in the main Lerwick town center.
The famed Shetlandic accent, which almost sounds like a dialect you'd hear in "Game of Thrones!"
On Foot: Nearly all of Lerwick's main attractions are within a seven-minute walk from the port. In addition, shuttles are available to and from town if you're unable to walk.
By Inter-island Flights: Operated by Direct Flight, the inter-island flight service makes it easy to hop over to Shetland's other remote islands. The airport is just six minutes from the center of town and can be reached by shuttle or taxi. Even if you're just going for a short trip to another island, the aerial views from above are truly spectacular.
By Inter-island Ferry: Shetland Islands Council operate an inter-island ferry to and from the larger islands with the Shetland mainland. The ferries operate all around the archipelago, from Lerwick up to Gutcher, Belmont down to Fair Isle. The longest ride, to and from Fair Isle, takes four hours and 31 minutes each way. The ferries run to the closer islands every one to two hours and depart Monday to Sunday. Domestic fares start at ?5.30 per adult, making this an affordable (and picturesque) way to see the other islands.
By Bus: Buses are by far one of the most dependable and affordable options to get in and out of Lerwick, with service throughout the main archipelago. Bus schedules and fare information can be found at the tourist office or right outside the bus terminal.
By Taxi: Taxis can be found throughout the city and most drivers speak English. If you want to book a private taxi tour outside of Lerwick, Allied Taxis can take groups of eight and offers a guide.
Lerwick's currency is the British pound. For up-to-date exchange rates, visit www.xe.com. Most ATMs are found in front of the banks, inside the Tesco supermarket, at the Sound Service Station and at the Toll Clock Shopping Center. Most hotels, restaurants and shops accept major credit cards, but it's safe to bring ample cash for eating and sightseeing just in case.
English is the language -- spoken with a local, Shetlandic twang. In addition to Shetlandic, Gaelic -- the Celtic language of Scotland -- is also spoken among some residents.
Thanks to the islands' far north latitude, as close to the North Pole as Greenland and Alaska, the archipelago of Shetland, and Lerwick especially, may not seem like a diner's paradise. However, that assertion couldn't be more wrong, with some of the freshest seafood, outstanding lamb, lush produce and fabulous bakeries. With a bounty of options, here's our pick for the perfect lunch in town -- order a plate of blueshell mussels to start, then a roast native lamb served with Shetland black tatties or roasted salmon and then finish with the cheese plate. Since the dairy is all made on the island, the selection of both cow and sheep's cheeses are out of this world.
More than just great food, Lerwick and the surrounding Shetland towns are also known for their beer, with two craft brewers (one in town and one in Unst) and a craft spirit distiller that has won the admiration of gin lovers around the world. In addition to gin, the distillery will also start producing Scotland's most northerly whiskey.
Here are some local and tourist favorites that provide the perfect bite and accompanying ambiance.
Captain Flints: One of the most popular pubs and bars, Captain Flints sits right above Ellesemere Store in the center of town. Like the rest of Lerwick, the decor is very natural, with dark wooden linings and flags. Featuring live bands on weekends, the pub's largest crowds come Friday and Saturday nights. For lunchtime visitors, the stunning views of the Small Boat Harbor and neighboring island of Bressay make for an inviting atmosphere. For a cocktail, don't miss the gin and tonic made with locally distilled gin and seaweed. (Market Street; +44 1595-692-249; open 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.)
Fjara Cafe Bar: Situated on the rocky shores of Lerwick, you can't beat the breathtaking vistas that can be seen through Fjara Cafe Bar's floor-to-ceiling windows. This cafe serves a little bit of everything, from freshly baked pastries and coffee at breakfast to small lunch plates with seafood and beer to larger beef dishes and specialty cocktails for dinner. Opt for the fresh salmon bagel and a cup of soup, which is changed daily based on the catch. Even if you don't have a sweet tooth, don't leave without trying the sticky toffee pudding -- it's a life changer. (Sea Road; +44-159-569-7388; open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. with lunch starting from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Hay's Dock Cafe Restaurant: Not only is the food a fan favorite for visitors and locals alike, the location can't be beat. Hay's Dock Cafe Restaurant is perfectly located right inside the famed Shetland Museum & Archives, offering you direct access to the history of the island. The cafe is known for their creamy chowder (loaded with fresh catch and smoked potatoes and leeks), so get that to start. For an entree, the smoked haddock and leek risotto is an elegant mix of gourmet techniques and rustic fare, especially when paired with a classic Lerwick Brewery IPA. (Hays Dock; +44-159-574-1569; open 12 to 3 p.m.)
Gurkha Kitchen: If you're thinking the only kind of fare you'll find in Lerwick comes battered with chips, you're wrong. Home to some of the best Nepalese cuisine this side of, well, Nepal -- Gurkha Kitchen is a perfectly surprising lunchtime option. Not only is the food some of the best on this list, it's also some of the cheapest -- making it a great option for budget-conscious visitors. Order the naan, which is made fresh in-house, paired with the spicy and succulent Nepalese special chicken or Himalayan spiced lamb. The restaurant is small, but boasts authentic decor -- like Gurkha statues and posters (highly prized soldiers named for their bravery in the British army). (33 North Road; +44-159-569-0400; open 12 to 2 p.m. for lunch)
Cozy wool cardigans, fair isle sweaters and sheepskin rugs are found aplenty all throughout the many boutiques and gift shops of Lerwick. Thanks to the local farming community, the wool here is top-notch and is represented in the clothing, knitwear, accessories and even the rugs. If you're not sure what to get, a wool scarf or hat in traditional Scottish tartan is always a good bet for gifts.