All photos (c) Rob Fray

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Below is a selection of sample tours and ideas, which may assist in planning your day. These are just brief, basic itineraries to give a flavour of what is possible; all trips can be adjusted and refined to suit your requirements.

South Mainland

A very popular part of Shetland, with fantastic wildlife and archaeological sites, including Sumburgh Head, Jarlshof, Quendale Mill, Loch of Spiggie and St Ninian's Isle, amongst a wealth of other areas.

Sumburgh Head is home to an iconic Stevenson lighthouse, as well as thousands of seabirds during the spring and summer, including Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Shags. It is also a good place to see Twite and the Shetland race of Wren. Other birds likely to be seen in South Mainland at this time of year include Red-throated Diver, Whooper Swan and Arctic Tern. Common Seals can be viewed at a regular haul-out site, and Otters are a possibility. Important archaeological and historical sites such as Jarlshof, Old Scatness, Crofthouse Museum, Quendale Mill and St Ninian's Isle are all in this area. Can be combined with a trip to North Mainland, although obviously this leaves less time to explore both areas fully. 

North Mainland

The wild and rugged coast of North Mainland is geologically unique in Shetland. The stunning Eshaness cliffs host one of Shetland's ten Stevenson lighthouses, various seabirds,  and vast carpets of wild flowers.

Not far away is Ronas Hill, Shetland's highest point, whilst at nearby Mavis Grind, the gateway to the North Mainland, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean are a mere stone's throw apart. Avian inhabitants of this area of Shetland include Red-throated Diver, Red Grouse, Golden Plover and Whimbrel; in addition, Mountain Hares adorn the heather moorlands and Otters can be found with patience in sheltered voes. There is also the opportunity to view the nationally scarce Oysterplant at a couple of North Mainland beaches. Can be combined with a trip to South Mainland, although obviously this leaves less time to explore both areas fully.

Unst

The 'island above all others', Unst is Britain's most northerly island and requires two short ferry crossings to reach it from Mainland Shetland. Unst is home to two National Nature Reserves, Hermaness and Keen of Hamar.

Hermaness provides fantastic views to Muckle Flugga, the northernmost lighthouse in Britain, although the reserve is arguably more famous for the huge Gannet colony, the approachable Puffins and one of the largest breeding populations of Great Skuas in the world! The remarkable Keen of Hamar hosts the rare Edmonston's Chickweed, a plant found nowhere else on earth, along with numerous other Arctic plants. Other sites of interest on this magical island include the Heritage Centre and Boat Haven at Haroldswick, Muness Castle, and a very bizarre bus shelter!

Fetlar

The island of Fetlar, known locally as 'The Garden of Shetland' due to its vibrant displays of wild flowers, is famous as home to the majority of Britain's breeding population of the Red-necked Phalarope.

Add to this high densities of birds such as Red-throated Diver, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Whimbrel and Arctic Skua, along with a chance of seeing Otters and visiting a lovely Interpretive Centre, and you have the makings of a fine day out. Two ferry journeys are involved in visiting Fetlar from Mainland Shetland, meaning there is the possibility of a brief exploration of the island of Yell on the way to or from Fetlar.

Cruise ships

Guests from visiting cruise ships often do not have a full day on the islands. Special cruise ship itineraries can be arranged, taking in as many  of Shetland's iconic sights and sounds as possible in a short space of time.

Otters

Shetland has one of the highest densities of Otters in Europe, and is well-known as a fantastic place to search for these endearing animals. They can, however, be elusive animals, being shy and wary of humans.

Getting good views of Otters can be difficult without local knowledge of their behaviour, habits, and the sites they use. A day devoted to looking for Otters can be arranged, or time could be incorporated into a day trip.

Cetaceans

Shetland can be a good place to observe cetaceans, including Killer Whales, Minke Whales and Risso's Dolphins but, contrary to what you may see on some TV programmes, they are usually irregular in their appearances. 

With the exception of Harbour Porpoises, which can usually be located in their favoured bays on calm days, you will be very fortunate to see cetaceans on a single day trip. However, there is always a possibility, and we are fortunate in Shetland to have an excellent information system where sightings are broadcast quickly. If Killer Whales, or other exciting cetaceans, are reported during your day trip, and you want to try and see them yourself, we're happy to give it a go!

Winter wildlife

Shetland in winter may not be to everybody's taste, with short daylight hours and sometimes frequent wild storms, but there is a surprising wealth of wildlife to be encountered in the islands during the long winter season.

Birds such as Whooper Swans, Great Northern Divers, Slavonian Grebes, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers and Purple Sandpipers can be found in good numbers, there are often scarce Arctic gulls such as Glaucous and Iceland Gulls around the fish factories, and the diminutive Little Auk may occasionally be encountered in sheltered voes. Red Grouse share the hillsides with snowy-white Mountain Hares, Grey and Common Seals are easily seen, and Otters can be very active at this time of year as they make the most of the limited amount of daylight.