The TIC is the VisitScotland iCentre on Market Cross, south end of the harbour. It's open Apr-Sept M-Sa 09:00-17:00, Su 10:00-16:00 and Oct-March M-Sa 10:00-16:00.
The town dates back at least 3000 years, initially centred a little to the west by the freshwater Clickimin Loch. A wooden town grew up but was burned down by the inhabitants of Scalloway in the 17th C, ostensibly because they objected to the drunken immorality of the Lerwick sailors. But it may have been relevant that they feared Lerwick would supplant Scalloway as capital of Shetland, and indeed that happened in 1708. Stone buildings came to predominate in the 18th & 19th C and Lerwick became a busy fishing and shipping port. It still is.
Either fly or take the ferry from the Scottish mainland. Some of the ferries also call at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands.
Sumburgh Airport (LSI IATA) is Shetlands' main airport, 30 miles south of Lerwick in Sumburgh. This airport has flights by Loganair to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Kirkwall and Bergen. One flight a day is local, to Lerwick/Tingwall. Bus #6 runs between Sumburgh and Lerwick (every hour or two; 60 mins), and there is car hire at the airport.
Flights between the islands fly from 1 Lerwick/Tingwall Airport (LWK IATA) 4 miles north of Lerwick. These serve Fair Isle, Foula, Papa Stour and Sumburgh; in summer day-trips either way are usually possible. Flights are operated by Airtask on behalf of Shetland Islands Council, using a couple of BNF Islanders, so they're not infrequently grounded by the weather. Bus #23 (Lerwick to Voe, for Yell ferry) and Bus #9 (Lerwick to Walls) pass near the airport, but better take a taxi. By car follow A970 north, turn left onto A971; parking here is free.
Northlink Ferries run an overnight passenger and car ferry from Aberdeen, with some sailings also calling at Kirkwall in Orkney. See Shetland page for practical info. Ferries no longer run to Scandinavia, Faeroes or Iceland. Cruise ships often visit Shetland in summer.
There are a number of car hire firms. They all have offices in Lerwick and all can also arrange for vehicles to be collected either at the ferry terminal or airport. Or you can bring your car on the ferry from Aberdeen. Parking spaces are limited in the centre and near the water during busy times. Parking time restrictions also apply.
Once you've found a car parking spot it's generally easier to walk around the town centre.
A number of firms operate bus services in Shetland. The local council maintains timetable information [dead link].
3 Viking Bus Station is north end of the centre, beyond Fort Charlotte.
A number of the islands are connected to each other and the Shetland Mainland by small ferries operated by Shetland Islands Council [dead link]. Most of these ferries are roll-on/roll-off type that can carry vehicles and passengers.
There are many taxi firms in Lerwick and all taxis are licensed by the local council. There is a taxi rank located on Victoria Pier which is in the centre of town.
- Lerwick is mostly a modern industrial town, with quays and marine industries sprawling along the shoreline. Scenically the best of it is one block back from the quay, along pedestrianised Commercial Street. Follow this past various Victorian buildings south out of town, onto Twageos Road, then out to the breezy headland of The Knab.
- 1 Fort Charlotte, Harbour Street ZE1 0JL. Keys available from staff on site Mon - Fri. A five-sided artillery fort that was built in 1665 against the Dutch. Then it was demolished, rebuilt, demolished, then burnt by the Dutch just to make sure. The present structure dates from 1780, raised against American revolutionaries, but never saw action. It's no longer in a commanding position, as it's become hemmed in by modern buildings behind, and reclaimed land has extended the shoreline in front.
- 2 Clickimin Broch, in Loch of Clickimin (1 km SW of Lerwick, just after the roundabout on South Road), ☏ . Always open. A broch (stone & turf fortified dwelling) occupied between 700 BC and 600 AD. It was built on an island in the freshwater loch - the water-level was lowered in the 19th century, so it's now connected to shore by a broad spit and pathway. No parking on the road here, use side streets or buy something at nearby Tesco. Free.
- 3 Shetland Museum and Archives, Hay's Dock, Lerwick ZE1 0WP (200 m west of bus station). M-Sa 10:00-17:00, Su 12:00-17:00. Great modern museum, with the natural history, archaeology, history, and anthropology of the islands. Free.
- Up Helly Aa Exhibition, Galley Hall, St Sunniva St, Lerwick ZE1 0HL. Mid-May to Aug: Tu 14:00-16:00 & 19:00-21:00, F 19:00-21:00, Sa 14:00-16:00. Every February the "guizer" volunteers start building a Viking longship in this shed. By midsummer the work in progress is on display, along with "Jarl Squad" regalia and film & photos of previous events. Then in late January there's a grand torchlight costumed procession and the ship is ceremonially burned. The ritual goes back to the 1880s when earlier yule torchlight revels were stamped out because of drunkenness and fire-raising. Adult £3, concessions £1.
- 1 Clickimin Leisure Complex, North Lochside ZE1 0PJ (north end of Clickimin Loch). M-F 07:00-22:30, Sa Su 10:30-20:30. Shetland's largest leisure centre with swimming pool, steam room, gym and other facilities. Refurbished in 2019, good for kids and reasonably priced.
- Up Helly Aa events are held around New Year in several locations in Shetland, but by far the biggest and most spectacular is in Lerwick. The name means "end of holidays" but it's gradually slipped back in the calendar in order to attract visitors, and is nowadays on the last Tuesday in January. The next event is on Tues 26 Jan 2021. The programme starts with a morning procession at 09:00. That's followed by a civic reception before the "guizers" embark on a series of visits to schools, care homes and the hospital. The evening torchlight costume procession starts at 19:30 (by which hour it's black night in Shetland), culminating in burning the Viking longship. The guizers are then entertained at a series of "Halls": private receptions to thank volunteers for their work over the year.
- 2 Mareel, Shetland Arts Development Agency Mareel, Lerwick, Shetland, ZE1 0WQ, ☏ . Sun - Thurs 09:00 - 23:00, Fri - Sat, 09:00 - 01:00. Mareel is a multi-purpose entertainment venue located on the waterfront of Lerwick, Opening in 2012, the facility includes a music venue, cinema, conference rooms and educational facilities.
Lerwick has the best shopping in Shetland... since it's the only shopping. There's Tesco near the south end of town, plus a variety of shops in town centre.
- Anderson & Co, 60-62 Commercial Street ZE1 0BD. M-Sa 09:00-17:00. Range of knitware clothing items.
- High Level Music, 62-64 Commercial Street. M-Th 09:00-20:30, F 09:00-19:30, Sa 09:00-17:30. Music including tuition, instruments & accessories, CDs and books of music
- Shetland Fudge Company, Esplanade. M-Sa 09:00-17:00. Very nice fudge, locally handmade. Care to try the "puffin poo"?
- The Wine Shop, 113 Commercial Street (next to tourist info). M-F 10:00-21:00, Sa Su 10:00-22:00. Various different wines from around the world, good selection of whisky.
- Harry's Department Store, Esplanade. M-Sa 09:00-17:15. Department store selling a variety of items, not the cheapest but good range & service.
- Westside Pine, Esplanade. M-Sa 09:00-17:00. Gift shop with items made from pine wood.
- 1 Toll Clock Shopping Centre at 26 North Rd has some two dozen shops within. Open 09:00-17:30, a good refuge if the weather turns bad.
- 1 Havly Cafe, 9 Charlotte St, Lerwick ZE1 0JL (central), ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-17:00. Small cafe with hot drinks, light food and baked goods. Free Wi-Fi.
- Peerie Shop Cafe, Campbell's Close, Esplanade ZE1 0LL. M-Sa 08:00-17:00. Tiny place with a couple of outdoor tables, good coffee & brownies.
- 2 Grand Hotel, Commercial St. Daily 12:00-14:00 & 18:00-21:00. They have a formal restaurant and a more informal lounge. Serves locally sourced food.
- 3 Queen's Hotel, Commercial St. Daily 12:00-14:00 & 18:00-21:00. They have a restaurant that is accessible from the opposite side of the building from their bar. Reservations are recommended as they can get quite busy in the evening.
- Fort Cafe & Take Away, 2 Commercial Road, Lerwick ZE1 0HY. Fish & chips.
- At the bus station are Great Wall (Chinese) and Raba (Indian/Nepalese), both open daily.
- 4 The String, 88 Commercial St, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0EX, ☏ . A modern restaurant, bar and venue that places strong emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and produce.
- 5 The Dowry, 98 Commercial St, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0EX, ☏ . A light and airy cafe bar with Scandinavian influences in the decor and fantastic views out over the harbour area.
Lerwick has a few pubs and bars. Some are pubs on their own and some are hotel bars that are open to and frequented by non-residents:
- Thule Bar, Esplanade ZE1 0LL. Daily 11:00-01:00. Not the most salubrious of bars but busy at the weekend. Boilersuits and work boots are perfectly acceptable dress. Pool tables.
- The Lounge, 4 Mounthooley St ZE1 0BJ. Daily 11:00-01:00. This central bar is popular with locals and visitors. There are two parts, the "public bar" downstairs is very basic. Upstairs the "lounge" bar is much nicer and far more comfortable. Often has live traditional music.
- Douglas Arms (Marlex), 67 Commercial Street ZE1 0NL. Daily 11:00-01:00. The public bar is very basic, the Lounge bar is far more cosy with dark wood tables and a fireplace, live music Tuesday nights in summer.
- Captain Flints, Market Cross ZE1 0LU. M-Sa 11:00-01:00, Su 11:00-00:00. Aaarr Jim lad! A pirate-theme bar in the centre of Lerwick.
- Da Wheel Bar, 13 Commercial Road ZE1 0LX. Sa-W 11:00-00:00, Th F 11:00-03:00. The "public bar" is downstairs open all day, and has a pool table. The "lounge bar" is open evenings & late and has a big dance floor.
- Grand Hotel, Queens Hotel & Shetland Hotel, see "Eat" & "Sleep" listings.
- 1 Islesburgh House Hostel, Islesburgh House, King Harald Street, Lerwick ZE1 0EQ, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 16:00 - 16:30, 21:45 - 22:15. 64-bed hostel run by the local council, affiliated to SYHA. Book by email or phone. Oct-March is cheaper, but Up Helly Aa in Jan is peak rate. Shared room around £20 pp, own room from £40.
- The Shetland Hotel, Holmsgarth Road, Lerwick ZE1 0PW (Opposite ferry terminal), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Slabby building, but comfy 3-star, handy for ferry and short walk to town.
- 2 The Lerwick Hotel, 15 South Road, Lerwick ZE1 0RB (off A969 south side of town), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Three-star run by Brudolff Hotel Group.
- Kveldsro House Hotel, Greenfield Place, Lerwick ZE1 0AQ (East along alley from jcn A969 & Knab Rd). Comfy, welcoming 4-star with good restaurant. Run by Brudolff Hotels who also run Lerwick Hotel and Shetland Hotel in town.
Most of Shetland can be visited on a day-trip from Lerwick. Highlights include:
- Jarlshof, the prehistoric settlement at Sumburgh, next to the main airport 30 miles south;
- Scalloway, Shetland's second largest town and home to Scalloway castle, is a 6-mile drive away;
- Noss is a small island nature reserve with spectacular sea-cliffs, reached via the island of Bressay, a short ferry-ride from Lerwick;
- Trondra, Burra and East Burra are three small isles on the west coast, connected to Mainland by a road;
- Yell & Unst are the two islands north of Mainland, linked by short ferry crossings; here you reach the northern tip of the British Isles and UK.
Otherwise, return south (perhaps via the Orkney Islands) to the Scottish mainland. You'll have to return there to reach other island groups such as the Hebrides.