"Tiny, friendly capital 'city'" Lerwick by leics

Lerwick Travel Guide: 29 reviews and 89 photos

Lerwick lies in the centre of mainland Shetland and has been its capital since 1708 (before that Scalloway was the capital...and, before that, Tingwall was of central importance).

The area has been settled for over 3000 years and, although its population now is only around 7500, almost half the Shetland population (which is only around 22000 anyway) live in the two or nearby.

It's the cruise port, and the ferry port, and still has an important fishing industry. So you'll see plenty of industrial buildings on its outskirts although its centre, around the old harbour area, gives you a taste of what Lerwick was once like.

The first settlement to be called Lerwick was built, largely of wood, in the 1600s. based on the fish trade with the Netherlands. Stone buildings followed in the 1700s, once Fort Charlotte was built. I recognised the many crow-stepped gables of the older buildings as being similar to those which were fashionable in the Netherlands at that time. No doubt some of their owners were Dutch traders and merchants.

The Victorians (mid-1800s onwards) added their own architectural touches: you can see turrets and twiddles and 'Gothick' features on many of the more imposing mansions and public buildings.

But it is the stone-flagged streets and the narrow 'closses' (alleyways) of central Lerwick which are its atmospheric heart. Walking there it's easy to imagine this place as a busy fishing port of the past, with all the sounds and smells associated with that trade, its streets full of roistering fishermen and sailors (and, no doubt, the 'herring girls' who travelled up for the herring season during the herring 'boom' of the 1800s).

Modern Lerwick has its shops and cafes, its takeaways (Indian, Chinese, Thai, Gurkha), its b&bs and a hotel or two, and a rather magnificent new museum which only opened in 2007. It's not a town aimed at the visitor (thankfully). It's a working port, and a working community..the two large supermarkets which lie a few minutes' drive from the harbourside provide not only jobs but also a much wider variety of goods than would have been available until a decade or so ago.

I liked Lerwick a lot. I enjoyed wandering its older streets, exploring Clickimin broch (much restored but still impressive), watching the birds and the boats at the harbour (especially early in the morning), walking out to the Knab to watch yet more birds and boats, and to gaze across the waters to Bressay and beyond,

It seemed to me that the people of Lerwick were particularly friendly, happy to chat and happy to welcome visitors to their town.

So don't visit Lerwick expecting to find umpteen tourist-focused shops, exciting nightlife and a vast range of restaurants. Lerwick is not like that. It's a functional place, rightly focused on its own concerns and community rather than on providing amusement for tourists.

But Lerwick does make an ideal base for exploring mainland Shetland, by car or by bus. It has friendly pubs, which have live music at times, it has the widest range of accommodation and eating-out options and, if you are self-catering, it definitely has the easiest food shopping.

And its museum is unmissable! :-)

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Superb setting and convenient location for exploring.
  • Cons:It may be the capital but it is tiny; don't expect city life!
  • In a nutshell:Lerwick is capital of Shetland, so of course you must visit!
  • Last visit to Lerwick: Aug 2011
  • Intro Updated Sep 2, 2011
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Reviews (12)

Comments (6)

  • angiebabe's Profile Photo
    Dec 19, 2015 at 4:10 AM

    nice to see your page Jane, was here in 2000 - by ferry from John o'Groats to the Orkneys for 10 days but only had time for a night or maybe it was 2 in Lerwick/the Shetlands til the next ferry onto the Faroes - seeing the broch at Mousa was the highlight of the Shetlands visit though but being so short would love to go up again. A kiwi cousin flew up especially a few weeks ago to have 3 days on the Shetlands, being after 31 oct though there were no more boats to Moussa - how sad to miss it!

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Dec 19, 2015 at 10:04 AM

      Thanks, Angie. It is a lovely part of the world and I was so lucky with the weather. Mousa was fascinating (basking seals sound remarkably mournful!) but it was Northmavine and St Ninian's Isle which I found most atmospheric.

  • davidjo's Profile Photo
    Dec 19, 2015 at 3:21 AM

    great reflections at the harbour

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Dec 19, 2015 at 10:02 AM

      Thank you. Arriving in a windy downpour which cleared to give 4 brilliantly sunny and almost windless days was just incredibly lucky! :-)

  • goodfish's Profile Photo
    Dec 3, 2012 at 7:38 PM

    Great page and glorious photos! Awfully glad the seasick pills worked. :OP. Is the K in Knab silent?

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Dec 3, 2012 at 11:00 PM

      Yes...K before n is silent in UK English (can't think of an example where it isn't). Most def needed those pills: I don't think Shetland sea is *ever* calm!

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Feb 11, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Thanks for recommending! And yes, this looks like my place! I wouldn't even mind the rain, it looks cute and comfy. And with these gorgeous food options... Osla's would be my place, the salad looks delicious, as does the other meals, especially the fishcakes. Excellent tip regarding accommodation. If I stay there I might even ask them to walk the dog :-) And I love = LOVE the dramatic cliffs :-)
    Oh, forgot: these brochs also look fascinating! Learned something new!

  • Gillybob's Profile Photo
    Aug 21, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    A really nice page - I especially liked the hanging boats. Looks like a lovely place to visit. Gillybob greetings

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Aug 20, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    Hello, Jane! ~~ You always present wonderful stories here on VT!~ I have to learn page writing from you!~ Thanks for your energy and enthusiasm!~ Keep well!~


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