Shetland is the most northerly group of islands in Scotland and is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited. Far out from the British mainland, the unique culture that encapsulates these isles is evident from the minute you step onto your ferry or off the plane. It can seem to be a cold and harsh place in the depths of winter, however, nothing in this world will warm you up like the welcome you can expect to experience far up at 60 degrees North.

Visiting Shetland in winter for Up Helly Aa has been on our bucketlist for as long as we can remember, having seen the spectacle splashed across social media, all flaming torches, viking warriors, and a party that lasts forever. At the beginning of 2024, we were so grateful to finally manage the 14-hour trip north to this magical land to make it happen and it turned into an adventure we would never forget.

Being at 60 degrees latitude and essentially in line with Greenland with the next stop on the west being North America, you can imagine the weather in this part of the world can get pretty wild. 

If you are planning to visit Shetland in winter, we are sharing what we have learned on our trip to make your experience as smooth as possible. Before you visit Shetland, we highly recommend checking out our friend Shetland with Laurie. Laurie is local to Shetland and has so much valuable information to share.

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Visiting Shetland in Winter

  • How Can You Get to Shetland? 
  • Which Wind & Weather app is the best to use?
  • Up Helly Aa fire festival – What is it?
  • Where is Open in the Middle of Winter?
  • Exploring Shetland in Winter
  • Tips for Staying Safe and Warm in Winter in Shetland
  • How to Prepare for your Trip to Shetland

Where to Stay in Shetland

There is a range of accommodations available in Shetland, many of them being in Lerwick and Scalloway.

When we visited Shetland in winter we started our trip off staying at the Scalloway Caravan Park, a great central base to stay at if you are coming to Shetland in your caravan or motorhome. There are brilliant facilities and friendly staff here to welcome you on arrival. 

We were unlucky enough to get caught in some storms during our time in Shetland, which resulted in our ferry being cancelled and us needing to separate from our motorhome Ellie to get back to the mainland for our next trip. We spent a couple of nights at Ingrid’s Self catering in Scalloway which was an absolute dream on a stormy day. From the living room and kitchen there are gorgeous views out to sea and the cosy fireplace and big TV screen make for a very relaxing night in.

There are many other great deals on accommodation in Shetland which you can check out here.

How Can You Get to Shetland?

When it comes to travelling to Shetland, you have two options: the ferry or the plane. 

Northlink Ferries

Northlink Ferries are the ferry company that travel between the mainland from Aberdeen and Scrabster out to Shetland and Orkney, the northern isles. From Aberdeen the ferry takes takes 14 hours if it goes via Orkney and 12 hours if travels direct to Shetland.

In the winter, the Shetland Isles can experience storms and adverse weather conditions resulting in cancelations or amended travel times. It is worth keeping this in mind. Due to the rough seas that are often experienced at this time of year, we would recommend taking travel sickness medication and if you can get a cabin with a bed to try and sleep through the rough seas.


The only airline that flies to Shetland is Loganair and it flies from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. 

What is the Weather in Shetland like in Winter?

Shetland is the windiest place we have ever been. During our visit, it consistently reached wind speeds of over 60mph and even ventured up to hurricane force winds above 80mph. If you are driving a high sided vehicle you will want to keep sheltered and take care whilst driving as parts of the roads can be quite gusty and blow you across the road. 

In order to plan your journey around the island, we recommend looking at the XC website as this is the most accurate weather source for Shetland. This allows you to predict when the lower patches of wind and rain are due in order for you to plan your activities around the islands. 

The Up Helly Aa Fire Festival

Up Helly Aa is a unique festival that takes place annually in Shetland. Dating back to the 1880s, this Norse-inspired event celebrates Shetland’s rich Viking heritage. In the main town of Lerwick, the Up Helly Aa event is a 24hr long celebration where this seemingly quiet little town comes to life as thousands of peopel descend on its cobbled streets. 

Beginning in the morning at the unveiling of the Guizer Jarl’s (the leader) uniform and galley ship, an entire procession of other Guizers (up to 1000 of them) parade along the street in Lerwick to music and the cheers of the crowds. Photo opportunities with the people and the boat then happen before the groups break up to perform shows all across the town until darkness descends upon Lerwick and the real party begins. 

After dark, there are two torchlit processions; one junior procession with a smaller galley happens first and is then followed by the main procession with the larger galley. The surrounding area where the procession takes place is plunged into darkness as thousands of torches ignite throughout the streets, casting an eery orange glow onto the clouds above. The streets then come to life with the sound of music and singing as thousands of Guizers march through Lerwick, surrounded by crowds of locals and tourists alike, all in awe at the noise, magnitude, and heat of the torchlit procession. 

The outdoor part of the evening then comes to an end as the Guizers all enter the central park in Lerwick, surrounding the galley in a spiralling dance before tossing their torches onto the boat to ignite it in a ball of flames. The rush of fire and smoke is a breathtaking sight in the park as thousands of spectators cheer the end of another year of the Up Helly Aa. 

The end for most of the tourists that is.. 


For the locals, however, the night has only just begun as hundreds of party goers flock to the local after parties that are dotted throughout the town. We were luck enough to get tickets thanks to our friend Laurie, and it is safe to say that what we experienced will stick with us forever. 

From 9pm until 8am the following morning, the thousands of Guizers that paraded along the street (most of which seemed to be dressed in very questionable fancy dress..) spend their night going from hall to hall and putting on shows for the locals. Each of the groups of Guizers has there own unique performance that is tied in to their fancy dress and it is the most random and bizarre spectacle that we have ever watched. 

The shows contained everything from dancing chickens to karaoke sumo wrestlers, from skits about local events to worldwide meme sensations. Of course, in between each of these shows there was plenty of time for traditional ceilidh dancing and a lot of drinking. All in all, it was one of the best nights out we have had. 

If you do decide to visit Shetland during Up Helly Aa, you will be visiting between January and March as there are a range of different locations through these months. The main event is in Lerwick one, which takes place on the last Tuesday in January and this is the most popular with the tourists due to its size and number of torch bearers. 

Where is Open in Shetland in Winter?

Due to its northerly location and distance from the mainland, the winter in Shetland is definitely its quietest time for tourism and therefore also for hospitality. Outside of the town of Lerwick, even in the height of summer, cafes, restaurants, and bars are few and far between, and the ones that do exist tend to shut through winter. 

During January, especially over the days that Up Helly Aa is scheduled for, there will be an increase in the number of places open and serving tourists. This is due to the massive influx of tourism that the islands experience during this period. 

It is worth noting, however, that the day AFTER Up Helly Aa is seen as a local holiday and therefore most places will also be shut. The main supermarkets in Lerwick will still be open for essentials and there will be a couple of cafes opening their doors to welcome visitors, but the town itself feels eerily quiet after the festivities of the day before. 

Exploring Shetland in Winter

Exploring Shetland in Winter offers an array of attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy. Aside from experiencing the excitement of Up Helly Aa, there are many other captivating attractions to explore in the area.

The winter landscapes and natural wonders of Shetland are sure to leave you in awe, with stunning views of rugged coastlines, majestic cliffs, and beautiful beaches. Immerse yourself in the local culture by delving into the arts and crafts scene, where you can discover unique creations and traditional techniques.

As you venture out, it’s essential to stay safe and warm during your visit. Remember to dress in layers, wear appropriate footwear, and be cautious when exploring outdoor sites.

Other attractions and activities in the area

Jarlshof: Explore the archaeological site with impressive remains spanning over 4,000 years of Shetland’s history. This will have limited opening hours and tickets must be bought in advance to ensure availability so be sure to check it before you leave.

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse: Enjoy breathtaking views and spot unique birdlife from this iconic lighthouse on the southern tip of Mainland.

Shetland Museum and Archives: Learn about the islands’ heritage through interactive exhibits and fascinating artifacts.

Scalloway Castle: Discover the history of Shetland’s former capital as you explore the ruins of this 17th-century castle.

St. Ninian’s Isle: Cross the stunning tombolo to reach the ancient chapel and marvel at the surrounding sandy beaches.

Mousa Broch: Visit this well-preserved Iron Age tower, an impressive testament to Shetland’s ancient past.

Sumburgh Beach: Enjoy a peaceful stroll along the sandy shores and witness the dramatic beauty of the rugged coastline.

Eshaness Cliffs: Witness the dramatic power of nature as these towering cliffs are battered by the wild North Atlantic waves.

Muckle Roe: Explore this picturesque island with its rugged hills, hidden caves, and breathtaking coastal scenery.

Loch of Clickimin: Take a peaceful walk around this beautiful loch, a perfect spot for birdwatching.

Sands of Breckon: Experience the serenity of this secluded beach, where you can unwind amidst tranquil surroundings.

Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary: Get up close to seals, otters, and various seabird species at this important wildlife rescue centre.

Tips for Staying Safe and Warm in Winter in Shetland

  • Layer clothing to stay warm in fluctuating weather conditions.
  • Wear waterproof and windproof outer layers to protect against the elements.
  • Use proper footwear with good grip for walking on slippery surfaces.
  • Plan outdoor activities during daylight hours when visibility is better.
  • Be cautious when near cliffs or exposed coastal areas, as strong winds can be hazardous.
  • Check weather forecasts regularly and adjust plans accordingly.
  • Carry a map and compass on hikes for navigation in case of poor visibility.
  • Stay hydrated and bring snacks, as outdoor activities can be energy-consuming.
  • Inform someone of your plans before venturing out, especially if going off the beaten path.
  • Prepare for shorter daylight hours and bring a headlamp or flashlight for evening activities.
  • Remember to always prioritize your safety and consult local resources and authorities for specific guidance during your visit.

Before You Leave for Shetland

Before you set off on your way to Shetland, there are a number of things you will need to get organised to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. These include what to pack, where to stay and what is the best insurance for your trip to Scotland. All of this is discussed in detail below.

How to Get to Shetland

When traveling to Shetland in winter, you are most likely to arrive either by ferry or by plane. The ferry station, located in Lerwick, is the main entry point for visitors arriving by sea. The Sumburgh Airport serves flights from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Glasgow and is located at the southern tip of Mainland Shetland.

If you are looking to explore the sights and attractions of the islands, it is recommended that you rent a car or take a bus from the main terminal to your destination.

Due to the unpredictable weather conditions during winter, it’s essential to plan your journey in advance and check for any possible disruptions. It’s also a good idea to pack warm and waterproof clothing, as well as sturdy shoes for hiking or walking on slippery surfaces. Be sure to make any necessary reservations for accommodations, transportation, and activities in advance of your trip to guarantee availability and avoid disappointment. 

Where to Stay in Shetland



What to Pack for Your Trip to Shetland

When it comes to packing for a trip to Scotland there is one item of clothing that you are going to need all year round: a waterproof. It rains in Scotland on average 250 days a year, meaning that during your trip to the Shetland, you can expect rain at some point. Due to this, the number one item on your packing list is a good waterproof jacket.

Second to that, another item to not leave home without is a good pair of warm and, if possible, waterproof boots. A lot of the best sights on Skye require a bit of walking to reach them and the conditions underfoot can become very muddy. You do not want to ruin a good pair of white trainers so pack some sturdy boots.

You will definitely need a hat and gloves during the winter months as the wind chill can be bitter.

For our full list of items that we pack no matter where we go in the world, check out our full packing guides over here.

Given the beautiful sights and scenery that you are no doubt going to see around the Shetland, we highly recommend packing a good camera for your trip. If you want to read more about the cameras we use and why we love them, check out the link below.

You can read what else we keep in our camera bag over here.

What is the Best Travel Insurance for Shetland

I know travel insurance is the least enjoyable thing to purchase and look at when you’re planning a trip, however, you wouldn’t want to be without it in the event that something happened. Accidents can happen anywhere and the extortionate medical bills will ruin your trip if you are not covered.

To ensure you have a stress-free trip with no worries about potential medical bills, make sure you cover yourself when you travel. We can recommend using SafetyWing, a backpacker-friendly and cheap insurance company that provides good coverage and support. It is also nomad-friendly, unlike most other insurance companies, meaning you do not need to worry about being out of your home country for too long.

Get a quote for your travel insurance right here and get covered!

So there you have it, your guide to visiting Shetland in winter. If you are visiting this incredible city and have any other questions on what to expect, leave us a comment down below. We love to chat about this stuff! If you have already been, let us know how it was! Did you get visit the castle? Did you manage the trip without getting caught in the rain? Let us know in the comments below!

Also, remember to share this with your friends and family that you are going to share this amazing experience with. Sharing is caring and we want to ensure that everyone is fully prepared to maximise their experience completing this stunning walk.

If you are planning a Scotland trip soon then check out our other Scotland content right here. Come and find us on social media to see where we are currently exploring. Tag us in your photos from your stay and we will share them with the rest of our community of explorers and backpackers.

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