How can first-time visitors save on transportation to the Shetland Islands?

11 June 2024

For first-time visitors to Scotland, the Shetland Islands offer an alluring mix of rugged natural beauty, rich history, and enticing local culture. Located North of the mainland, these islands are not as readily accessible as city centres like Edinburgh or Glasgow. However, with some savvy planning and a bit of insider knowledge, you can make your trip to Shetland without breaking the bank. Let's look at ways you can economize on transportation to and around Shetland, whether you're considering a car, train, bus, or ferry.

Choosing Your Mode of Transportation

When planning your adventure, the first step involves deciding on your primary mode of transportation. You have various options, from flying to Shetland, driving, or embarking on a ferry ride. The best choice will depend on your budget, time constraints, and personal preferences.

Flying to Shetland

Flights can be a quick way to reach the far North, bypassing the lengthy train or car journey. Several airlines operate flights to Shetland from major UK cities, including Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, it's essential to book your tickets well in advance to secure the best deals. Prices can fluctuate significantly, and last-minute bookings can be costly.

Taking the Train and Ferry

A more scenic but longer option involves taking a train to Aberdeen, followed by a ferry to Lerwick, the capital of Shetland. The train journey itself is a treat, passing through the stunning Scottish landscape. Remember to book your train tickets in advance for the best fares.

The ferry ride from Aberdeen to Lerwick takes roughly 12 hours, making it an overnight journey. The cost varies depending on the time of year and the type of accommodation you choose on board. A shared cabin is a budget-friendly option for those willing to forego some privacy.

Driving to Shetland

If time is not a constraint, driving to Shetland can be the most economical option, particularly if you're travelling in a group. The drive from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, where you can catch the ferry to Shetland, takes about 3 hours. However, keep in mind the cost of fuel, as well as the ferry cost for transporting a car.

Navigating Shetland: Car vs. Bus

Once you've reached Shetland, you'll need to decide on the best mode of transport for exploring the islands.

Renting a Car in Shetland

Renting a car offers the most freedom and flexibility, allowing you to visit the islands at your own pace. Car rental companies are available in Shetland, including options for booking online in advance. Compare prices from different companies to find the best deal.

However, be aware that driving in Shetland can be challenging due to the narrow, winding roads and sometimes harsh weather conditions. Moreover, fuel prices are often higher than on the mainland.

Taking the Bus in Shetland

For a more stress-free and sustainable mode of transport, consider using the islands' extensive bus network. Timetables are available online and at the Lerwick bus station.

The cost of bus travel in Shetland is reasonable, especially with day or week passes. Plus, you can enjoy the scenery without the worry of driving.

Booking a Guided Tour of Shetland

If you'd prefer not to navigate the islands on your own, consider booking a guided tour of Shetland. This could be a cost-effective option, particularly if you're short on time or want to gain in-depth knowledge of the islands' history and culture.

Tour operators offer a variety of packages, including day trips to key attractions and multi-day tours covering several islands. Some even offer discounts for early bookings or group travel.

Saving on Inter-Island Travel

Shetland is an archipelago of over 100 islands, and visiting more than one can enrich your experience.

Inter-Island Ferries

The most common method of inter-island travel is by ferry. Shetland Islands Council operates a network of inter-island ferries, with regular departures from Lerwick to various islands. Prices are reasonable, and multi-journey tickets are available for frequent travellers.

Inter-Island Flights

Alternatively, you can book inter-island flights operated by Airtask. These short flights can save you a considerable amount of time, especially when travelling to the more distant islands. However, they can be more expensive than ferries.

By considering these points, first-time visitors to Shetland can make informed decisions about their travel options, leading to potential savings. Whether it's booking flights in advance, taking the train and ferry, opting for bus travel within the islands, or seeking out early booking discounts for tours, there are numerous ways to stretch your travel budget while still enjoying all that Shetland has to offer.

Embracing the Explorer Pass

If you're planning to soak up the rich history of the Shetland Islands during your trip, the Explorer Pass offered by Historic Scotland can be a smart investment. This pass allows unlimited access to many of the islands' historic sites, including the Broch of Mousa, Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement, and Muness Castle.

By purchasing the pass, visitors can save on individual entry fees, and the cost of the pass can be quickly recovered after visiting a few sites. You can buy tickets online or at any of the participating attractions. Keep in mind, the Explorer Pass is valid for a set number of consecutive days, so plan your visit to maximize its benefits.

Additionally, the pass includes a handy guidebook and discounts on audio tours at Edinburgh and Glasgow. So, if your itinerary includes a stay in either city before or after your Shetland journey, you can extend your savings even further.

Opting for Public Transport

While Shetland may seem remote, its public transport network is surprisingly robust and reliable. Buses operate regularly between Lerwick, the islands' capital, and other major towns. Timetables are well-structured and easy to understand, and buses are usually on time.

Bus travel in Shetland is not only affordable but also an environmentally friendly choice. It's an excellent opportunity to relax and take in the unique Shetland scenery without worrying about driving or parking. Plus, it can also give you a more authentic experience, letting you mingle with locals and get insights about the best places to visit.

Public transport isn't limited to buses, either. The Shetland Islands Council operates a well-connected network of inter-island ferries, making it easy to hop between the islands. Remember to check the ferry times in advance and be prepared for possible weather-related disruptions.

In Conclusion: Enjoying Shetland on a Budget

With the right planning, a trip to Shetland doesn't have to break the bank. Even for first-time visitors, it is entirely possible to enjoy the breathtaking beauty, rich history, and unique culture of these islands while sticking to a budget.

Start by deciding on your preferred mode of transport to and within the islands, considering your budget, time availability, and personal preferences. Whether you choose to fly, drive, or take a train and ferry, there are numerous ways to save, including advance bookings and off-peak travel.

Once in Shetland, take advantage of the well-connected public transport system or consider renting a car for more flexibility. Don't overlook the potential savings from the Explorer Pass if you're interested in visiting historic sites.

In the end, remember that your trip to the Shetland Islands is about more than just getting there - it's about the journey, the experiences, and the memories you'll make along the way. Enjoy every moment, from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh and Glasgow to the tranquillity and stunning natural beauty of Shetland and Orkney. Happy travels!

Copyright 2024. All Right Reserved