Set sail to Orkney and Shetland with NorthLink Ferries in 2024 and experience a staycation like no other
The Northern Isles have been known to enjoy almost 19 hours of sunshine on a clear summer day, which means visitors can fit so much more into their holiday than they would elsewhere.
Have you made holiday plans for 2024 yet? There are endless reasons why the Northern Isles make for the perfect escape.
In case you need convincing, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite things to do on these enchanting islands. There really is something for everyone all year round.
Brighten up your winter months with a visit to Shetland’s Fire Festivals
Shetland’s iconic fire festivals are returning for the first time since the pandemic and promise to be the best yet! Inspired by Shetland’s Norse roots, the festivals celebrate the end of the Yule season and the return of lighter days.
Local people walk in the footsteps of Viking warriors, who once ruled the islands for 500 years, donning commemorative Viking dress including fur-trimmed tunics, helmets and shields while carrying flaming torches and axes. Each fire festival is unique, but you can expect to see islanders parade through the streets, often pulling a replica Viking longboat, to the beat of rousing music.
Lerwick Up Helly Aa, the biggest and most famous of the fire festivals, takes place on the last Tuesday of January, and culminates in the torching of a replica Viking longboat. However, the fire festival season stretches from January to mid-March and visitors are also welcome at the smaller celebrations held by local communities in all corners of the Shetland islands.
Tip from an Islander: “If you want to get close to the burning and capture some incredible photos of the event, attend the Lerwick Junior Up Helly Aa Procession at 5.30pm. This takes place before the main procession and burning and includes a procession and galley burning, but without the jostling crowds.”
– Laurie Goodlad, a Shetland based writer, historian and adventurer
Bring in spring to the tune of world class folk music
Springtime in the Northern Isles is a dream for nature lovers. Wildlife reclaims the islands after a period of winter hibernation, with colourful puffins flying back to nest in the cliffs while rare flowers dot the fields and the islands’ coastlines are filled with the noise of seabirds.
And it’s not just the wildlife! The islands’ music scene comes to life in the springtime as the much-anticipated Shetland Folk Festival (2nd – 5th May 2024) and Orkney Folk Festival (23rd – 26th May 2024) get underway. The folk festivals draw in world class performers from the local community, wider UK, and further afield, creating a fantastic buzz in the islands.
Bringing together musicians, storytellers, and dancers from all different backgrounds to celebrate their shared love of folk music, visitors are guaranteed a good time should they venture up to the Northern Isles in spring. Make sure you view our Orkney and Shetland event guides when planning your trip!
Tip from an Islander: “Book accommodation early. Stromness is the ideal setting for the Orkney Folk Festival, with music literally spilling out on to the winding cobbled street that runs up through the town, but rooms get very thin on the ground, and many festival-goers return year-on-year. Don’t wait until tickets are released as artists appear multiple times across weekend – with a bit of flexibility, you will get to see them, but finding a bed might be your challenge. It’s more than worth it though, and chances are you’ll likewise find yourself coming back time and time again!”
– Craig Corse, Festival Producer at Orkney Folk Festival
Dreaming of white sandy beaches this summer? Look no further!
Shetland and Orkney are home to some truly breath-taking beaches. Shetland’s rugged coastlines stretch for 1,700 miles while Orkney boasts 500 miles of coastline, so you don’t need to look hard to find a good beach.
The picture-perfect stretches of white sand set against clear water are reminiscent of the Maldives. While the Northern Isles don’t quite reach the same temperatures as their tropical counterparts, the beaches are a great place to enjoy a barbecue, go for a dip, or hang out with friends.
The Northern Isles have been known to enjoy almost 19 hours of sunshine on a clear summer day, which means visitors can fit so much more into their holiday than they would elsewhere. So, pack up the car, bring together some family or friends, and enjoy summer on your doorstep – no need to remember your passport!
Tip from an Islander: “Orkney has a huge variety of beaches, ranging from those exposed to Atlantic and North Sea storms to more tranquil sheltered bays. All are at their most colourful in summer, when the seaside wild flowers come into bloom in turn. They are also frequented by breeding seabirds, waterfowl, waders and nearby landbirds. Seals and Otters may be present and cetaceans offshore.“
“Most beaches are best towards low tide, so it is worth checking tide times. This is especially the case towards Full Moon, when most sand may be covered.“
“As for my favourite Orkney beach, it is hard not to mention Grobust in Westray and Doun Helzie in Sanday, but often enough the ever popular Scapa near Kirkwall is also good. There is something for everyone and every type of weather. We even sometimes get a storm in midsummer.”
– Charles Tait, Orkney based photographer and writer
Wrap up warm and chase the Northern Lights or ‘Merry Dancers’ in autumn
The Northern Lights – or ‘Merry Dancers’ as they’re known in the islands – have long mystified adventure seekers from around the world. The aurora borealis can often be spotted in Orkney and Shetland skies, so if you’re lucky, you might get to see them should you visit in autumn or winter.
Regardless, if you like a good pub, hearty food or a brisk walk, the Northern Isles are the place to be when the leaves start turning. The dramatic lighting and sunsets promise to take your breath away.
Tip from an Islander: “Autumn is a fantastic time for landscape photography is Shetland, with amazing sunsets, especially in some of my favourite places in north Mainland, with its many jagged red cliffs and isolated waterfalls. Just for starters, head out north along Ronas Voe from Heylor and not only will you see the spectacular cliffs of Ronas Hill’s west flank, but you may also see mountain hares in the moors around you and grey seals in the Voe below you as well!”
– Austin Taylor, photographer and wanderer