Once upon a time, the only people seen at Sumburgh Airport were fishermen and oil workers. Not today. More and more people are discovering the historic relics and natural wonders of Scotland’s northernmost outpost. Take a short break to Sumburgh from Glasgow Airport and step into a world of windswept lochs and Viking battle cries.
Gateway to the isles
Sumburgh is the stepping stone to a wild adventure. The Shetland Islands offer some of Scotland’s most dramatic coastal scenery – wild beaches, soaring sea cliffs, rolling moors and silent lochs. Explore these remote islands on foot, by bicycle, by car or by kayak, and you’ll have plenty of company; hidden away in this lonely landscape are some of Britain’s most charismatic birds and animals – puffins, otters, dolphins, seals, even free-roaming Shetland ponies.
The rich history of Scotland’s highlands and islands goes into overdrive in the Shetland Islands, where every hummock of grass is a prehistoric burial mound and every scattered pile of rocks is another ruined castle, fort or tomb. Within sight of Sumburgh Airport, Jarlshof has ruins spanning 4,500 years, from a Bronze Age village to a Viking longhouse. There’s even a ruined broch (drystone tower) within the city limits of the Shetland capital, Lerwick, though Scotland’s best-preserved broch dominates the shoreline on the nearby island of Mousa.
Viking blood runs thick in Shetland. Even the name Lerwick – 'Bay of Clay' in old Norse – has Viking roots. Locals celebrate their Viking heritage with wild abandon on the last Tuesday in January, as part of the Up Helly Aa festival. After a vast procession of guizers (islanders dressed in Viking garb, complete with winged helmets and flowing beards), the festival ends with the ritual burning of a life-size Viking longship and a city-wide party that lasts through to the following day.