The bustling fishing and ferry port of Lerwick is Britain’s most northerly town, almost as close to Bergen in Norway as it is to Aberdeen.
Shetland’s capital takes its name from the Old Norse for “Bay of Clay”. There is evidence of settlement going back 3000 years, but it was in the 17th century that Lerwick really began to establish itself as a haven used by the Dutch fishing fleet.
In this phase of its history, the seafaring community on the west side of Bressay Sound had a tendency to attract trouble. Its rough-and-ready collection of wooden huts was burned to the ground twice – first by citizens of the old capital, Scalloway, who took exception to the drunkenness, immorality and general wickedness of the assembled mariners, and then later by the French.
Lerwick prospered through its sea trade and fishing industry during the 19th century, and there was further rapid expansion from the 1970s as a result of the North Sea oil boom which saw the construction of a massive terminal at Sullom Voe.
Although it is now a thriving commercial and industrial centre, Lerwick retains a distinctive charm with its historic buildings and narrow lanes.
The waterfront is invariably packed with pleasure boats and fishing vessels. This is where you’ll find the outstanding Shetland Museum and Archives, featuring more than 3,000 artefacts including a re-creation of a typical 18th-century house.
There’s a superb choice of shops, bars and clubs in the town, while the Clickimin Leisure Complex plays host to a range of sports as well as concerts, conferences and other events.
Sumburgh airport, south of Lerwick, has scheduled flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Kirkwall and Bergen (summer only), while ferry connections include Aberdeen and Kirkwall.
Like every other part of Shetland, Lerwick is fiercely proud of its Viking heritage and the Norse era is celebrated every January with the famous Up-Helly-Aa fire festival.