What to do in Shetland with Kids!

What to do in Shetland with Kids – Shetland seems far away, but it was easier for me to reach than London, and well worth the effort. Shetland is one of the most authentic Scottish islands I’ve visited, very family friendly, with lots to do. The capital, Lerwick, is a busy bustling town, then there are unspoiled beaches and remote islands to explore – you can create the type of experience you desire. We were guests of Northlink and Visit Scotland, and here are the highlights of exploring Shetland with kids…

Getting There – What to do in Shetland with Kids

What to Do in Shetland with Kids

Setting sail for Shetland with Northlink Ferries

It’s a mini adventure. It’s also convenient. Board a ferry in Aberdeen at 5pm, wake up in Shetland at 7am the following morning. It’s as if the timetable was planned for parents. Read details about the journey here. Falling asleep on a boat is the height of excitement for wee ones. We had a smooth crossing but weather is obviously variable.

[Ferries are provided by Northlink – for fares click here, and check out the timetables here.]

Meet Shetland Ponies

Drive to the isle of Burra for the Shetland Pony Experience. Tours last an hour, and cover three stations. Meet the foals and mares in the paddock, take the ponies on an obstacle course in the riding arena, and then guide your pony down to a stunning beach for a coastal walk and lots of photo opportunities.

Mousa Broch

What to Do in Shetland with Kids

Inside Mousa Broch

This was really memorable for me, taking us to a tiny, wee island just east of mainland Shetland. A 15 minute crossing on a small boat, manned by a local father and son team, full of character and comedy, sailed us over to Mousa.

Visitors spend 3 hours on the island – (we brought a packed lunch at the Lerwick Tesco). The diving gannets are mesmerising – our kids kept shouting ‘Wow, wow, wow’ as bird after bird plummeted into the water, at speeds reaching up to 60mph. The free range sheep also amused the kids. And there’s a circular walk around the island that we managed with a 4 and 3 year old (though Junior did get help on daddy’s shoulders).

The highlight of the trip is the famous Mousa Broch – a roundhouse dating back 2000 years. Once inside, a dark, circular staircase winds around the walls of the building. Torches are left for intrepid visitors to ascend the dark staircases – Mr Tot LOVED this. The steps are old and worn, perfect for little feet, not so good for my big size 7s, but we made it to the top and the boys sang ‘King of the Castle’ to the American tourists below. Discover more here.

Eat – After the boat trip back to the mainland, drive to the Hoswick Visitor Centre. Not only is there a rather lovely gift shop and cakes, there’s amazing Viking fancy dress for kids and bigs kids. It’s hilarious and the boys loved it. I kept laughing at them…


St Ninian’s Isle

What to Do in Shetland with Kids

At play on the beach at St Ninian’s Isle – What to do in Shetland with Kids

This beautiful beach is simply breathtaking. With the tide coming in on both sides, the Isle of St Ninian is connected to the mainland by a thin strip (ayre or tombolo) of fine white sand. Kids can run free.

A local schoolboy found a horde of silverware hidden on St Ninian’s Isle, so even the history is relevant to mini visitors. FREE

The Shetland Museum

Museums are much more fun if you’re dressed up as a Viking

This free museum lets adults and children gain a thorough overview of the islands, covering everything from agriculture and emigration, to whaling and the Vikings. Tiny Viking costumes allow tots to get into character. A play-area allows children to amuse themselves, and adults get a moment to concentrate. FREE

Eat – The museum café (one of the very few places open on a Sunday) serves local produce in a relaxed setting, with great views over the water. Toys and games were also available – bonus! And the museum often has family friendly events running. When we visited it was Peerie Boat Week, so we got a chance to row around a small harbour for twenty minutes.


If you want to see 4000 years of social history whilst your wee ones run around, then Jarlshof ticks the boxes. It’s remarkable yet relatable archaeology, with lots of nooks and crannies to explore. You can still actually enter many of the buildings, which is a privilege. And there are even little doorways (more the size of cat-flaps) that only wee ones can get through. Climb the tower to get views out to sea.

Eat – drop by the neighbouring Sumburgh Hotel for bar lunches and evening meals.

Sumburgh Head and Visitor Centre

What to Do in Shetland with Kids

Sumburgh Head

The title doesn’t give much away, but this lighthouse on a clifftop has a lot to offer. In the Engine Room kids get to press the Foghorn – over and over an over again. The Radar Room reveals how Sumburgh Head saved the UK from the British equivalent of Pearl Harbour, and the Marine Centre is a colourful explanation of native sealife. A highlight are the life-size whale heads and fins that wee ones can measure themselves against.

[The lighthouse itself is operational so it’s not open to the public.]

Eat – For a café with potentially the best views in Shetland, if not Scotland, eat at the Sumburgh Head  Café. Sublime vistas.

Fancy a café with a view? What to do in Shetland with Kids

The Galley Shed

In the summer months it’s possible to visit the Galley Shed where the Up Helly Aa Viking longboat is constructed. A short film, longboat and lots of costumes are on display and, as the centre’s often manned by Jarls, you can ask any questions about the famous Viking festival. The kids relished the Minion costumes.

Seal Spotting

What to do in Shetland with Kids

Here’s looking at you kid.

Mr Tot Whatsapped his friends about seal spotting in Lerwick harbour, such was his enthusiasm. Whilst there are lots of picturesque spots in Shetland to see these elegant creatures in the wild, nip round the back of the Lerwick fish market and you’ll find seals aplenty. Apparently they receive regular titbits from the fishermen so they’re particularly friendly. So much nicer than seeing animals in tanks or cages. FREE

Eat – Another nice Lerwick spot to eat at is Fjarå – a little out of town, it’s a short drive from the harbour to this small café (that also serves cocktails).

Attend a Shetland Pony Show

What to do in Shetland with Kids

Children and ponies great and small

We rocked up at the Viking Shetland Pony Show where we could get up close and personal with these cute Shetlanders. There are several dates in the Shetland Pony calendar for breeders and hobbyists, and we were made very welcome. The owners were happy to answer questions. FREE

Scalloway Museum


Play area at Scalloway Museum, complete with longship and Shetland Pony

Another museum that also incorporates a play-area for children. I’d definitely recommend this museum if any adult or child has a particular interest in the WW2 bravery of the Shetland Bus. The town of Scalloway itself is nice for a wee mooch around as it’s photogenic and rich in history.

Eat – Dine at the informal Cornerstone Café in Scalloway.

Other activities that looked cool, but we didn’t try in person, include visiting Scalloway Castle and sailing on the Viking longship Dim Riv.

We ran out of time, rather than things to do. And this is just shining a spotlight on the Shetland mainland – there are so many other islands your peerie bairns can explore.


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  1. Reply

    Claire Jessiman 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🍽🥂 (@foodiequine)

    October 11, 2018

    I though I’d pretty much ‘done’ Shetland on our two previous trips but Mousa Broch, Jarlshof and The Galley Shed are new to me. Time for another visit…

    • Reply


      October 14, 2018

      I know the feeling, and that’s just on the mainland. I believe you got to Unst, we need to venture further next time.

  2. Reply

    Kathi Kamleitner

    October 13, 2018

    I don’t know what’s cuter – your kiddos dressed as Vikings or that tiny Shetland pony?!? Your kids are lucky to have such an adventurous mum 🙂

    • Reply


      October 14, 2018

      And then there are the seals with their big baby eyes. Islands of utter cuteness! 🙂

  3. Reply


    October 17, 2018

    I hadn’t realized there was so much on offer for kids in Shetland. I can tell that my girls would love it! Just the ferry over would have them thrilled–they’d probably lose their minds at all the dress up and running around opportunities!

    • Reply


      October 21, 2018

      That’s the thing, the journey is SUCH big a part of the excitement and thrill of it. Then they fall asleep once inside the cabin! The dressing up was a bonus.

  4. Reply


    October 19, 2018

    Looks grand- especially those beaches! I am sooo excited to visit the islands next year. Thanks for the inspiration 💙

    • Reply


      October 21, 2018

      Hope you venture far afield. Next on my list is Unst!

  5. Reply

    Cultural Wednesday

    October 21, 2018

    I love an island and overnight ferry, factor in a sleeper from London and this is pretty much heaven and so much to do and see! #CulturedKids

    • Reply


      October 22, 2018

      We both clearly love to sleep while we travel 🙂

  6. Reply


    October 22, 2018

    I would love to visit the Shetlands. I haven’t made it to Scotland yet which I am quite embarrassed about. I love overnight travel too, there’s something so nice about waking up in your destination! 🙂 Thanks for joining in with #CulturedKids

    • Reply


      October 22, 2018

      Certainly adds to the adventure. Love overnight travel.

  7. Reply

    Diary of a Londoness

    October 23, 2018

    Seals and shetlands, how cute! We used to have Shetlands on our paddock when we lived in Hampshire. Time for me to get in my bike and visit the place they came from! Thanks for linking up on #CULTUREDKIDS

    • Reply


      October 24, 2018

      Seeing them in blustery Shetland does set them in context, what a tough wee beast!

  8. Reply

    Gretta - Mums do travel

    November 25, 2018

    This sounds like a wonderful place to visit. I’d love to go there one day, especially to see the seals and the ponies.

    • Reply


      November 26, 2018

      We were just watching the seals in the harbour, the fishermen occasionally treat them to a bit of fish from the market so they are very curious and not at all afraid of humans 🙂

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