Both Shetland and Orkney have an absorbing history, which can be discovered at a variety of heritage attractions, a selection of which are shown below (seasonal opening may apply for some):-
Shetland Museum & Archives: This award-winning multi-functional visitor attraction lies in the heart of Lerwick and offers the opportunity to step back in time and find out more about the people and places that helped shape Shetland.
Sumburgh Head Lighthouse Visitor Centre & Nature Reserve, Shetland: Providing an engaging and interactive experience for the whole family, this world-class attraction showcases the history and natural heritage of Sumburgh Head from early geological beginnings and Iron Age settlers to lighthouse keepers, whales, puffins and more.
Old Scatness, Shetland: Accidently uncovered during road construction in 1975 and excavated from the late 1990s, Old Scatness is a large broch, dating from between 400BC and 200BC, and is tightly surrounded by an Iron Age village. The structures were later adapted by the Picts and then the Vikings. It’s a fascinating time capsule into how people used to live in Shetland.
Jarlshof Prehistoric: One of the best maintained historic sites in Shetland, Jarlshof allows you to delve into more than 4,000 years of human settlement in the same location. Discoveries here include oval-shaped Bronze Age houses, an Iron Age broch and wheelhouses, Norse long houses, a medieval farmstead and a laird’s house dating from the 1500s.
Scalloway Castle & Museum, Shetland: Scalloway is the ancient capital of Shetland and home to an impressive castle in the centre of the village. The castle is next to Scalloway Museum which tells the story of Scalloway and its people from the earliest settlers right up to the present day.
Viking Unst, Shetland: Unst, the most northerly island in Britain, is thought to be the first footfall of Vikings in the North Atlantic. Here, you can see the remains of at least 60 longhouses, the highest density of rural Viking sites anywhere, including Scandinavia.
Hearth of Neolithic Orkney: Orkney’s most famous archaeological wonders and fascinating ancient monuments – Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, and the Maeshowe chambered tomb – form the keystones of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney: This magnificent cathedral, the most iconic of Orkney Norse sites, was founded in 1137 and took around 300 years to complete. Today, as well as being a place of worship, it is used for concerts, talks, art exhibitions and acts of national remembrance.
Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Orkney: Step inside the spectacular ruins of two remarkable residences in the heart of Kirkwall. The medieval Bishop’s Palace was built around the same time as St Magnus Cathedral and is full of history. Across the road is the Earl’s Palace, which was constructed around 1606 by Patrick, Earl of Orkney – one of Orkney’s most notorious rulers.
Orkney Museum: This museum, which is located in Kirkwall, tells the story of Orkney from the Stone Age to the Picts and Vikings right through to the present day.
Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, Orkney: Located at Lyness on Hoy, learn more about this momentous period of British history through a captivating archive of video, photographs and artefacts (closed until Spring 2022 for major renovations).
Old Man of Hoy, Orkney: This 450 foot sea stack is perhaps Orkney’s most famous landmark. View it from the Scrabster-Stromness ferry or step out on the 3 hour round trip walk from Rackwick, which is a fairly demanding route and follows a rough track.
The Brough of Birsay, Orkeny: This tidal island hosts the remains of a substantial Pictish settlement and has evidence of Viking buildings too. History isn’t the whole story though, as it’s full of birdlife and is one of the best places to see puffins during the summer months.
The Creative Orkney Trail: Discover some of the amazing Orkney arts, crafts and design people that thrive in these inspirational islands, whilst also exploring some of the sensational landscapes that make these beautiful islands so unique. Download here.