Whalsay | Yolanda Bruce

Island intro

The island of Whalsay, Shetland, sits off the east coast and is known locally as the ‘Bonnie Isle’.

Ask an Islander

We asked locals on Whalsay to tell us why their island is special. Here’s what they said:

The Vikings knew the island of Whalsya as Hvals-øy – or ‘The Island of Whales’ – and it’s clear to see why; the island’s profile looks like a whale when approaching from the sea. The waters around the island are also hot spots for viewing porpoises, minke whales and orca.

The community in Whalsay remains heavily linked to the sea and is the home port to some of the biggest fishing trawlers in Europe. Away from the bustle of the harbour, the island offers easy coastal walking, birds and flowers, great angling, and Britain’s most northerly golf course.

There’s plenty to do on the island, including Symbister House (or the New Haa), the finest Georgian mansion in Shetland where you can visit the museum and Heritage Centre in the outbuildings to learn more about the island’s heritage.

The Hanseatic Bod Interpretive Centre on the shoreline is worth spending a little time exploring. The building itself is a picturesque old stone booth on the water’s edge that has been restored with its dock and cargo hoist. Inside there are history displays about the role of Hanseatic merchants in the islands.

For those who want to combine stunning scenery and a spot of golf, the 18-hole course at Skaw, on the north eastern tip of the island, is the most northerly course in Britain.

Whalsay is a popular island for anglers, with some fine trout inhabiting the lochs. The record is a 9lb 4oz brown trout from the Loch of Huxter. Permits are required to fish any loch in Shetland.

People have lived in Whalsay for at least 4,000 years. Traces of former settlements include hilltop burial cairns and prehistoric field boundaries as well as Neolithic houses. If birding is your thing, ducks and waders gather at the shallows behind the beach at Symbister and at the houb (lagoon) on Kirk Ness and beachcombers will find plenty of interest too and, below the tideline, there is a profusion of sea life in the rock pools.

Getting Here

You can reach Whalsay via Mainland Shetland – find out more about getting to Mainland Shetland.

Once you are on Mainland Shetland, take the ferry from Laxo (near Vidlin) to Symbister on Whalsay.  Ferry operated by Shetland Ferries.

Explore More

Want to find out more about Whalsay and explore more of our amazing islands?

Download the free Scottish Islands Passport app to:

  • discover your perfect island match,
  • find out about the experiences each island has to offer,
  • collect passport stamps for the islands you visit,
  • find information on accommodation, travel and island amenities.

Get Your Passport

You can find lots more information about things to see and do on the island, see some amazing island photography and collect your island stamp by downloading our app.

Download the app

App in phone

Download the Scottish Island Passport app to collect your island stamps! The app also provides lots more information on each island including recommendations from locals about things to see and do, info on how to get around, more stunning photos and useful offline maps.

  • Unlock Stamps - Collect them all! Stamp your passport when you visit each island - with an individual stamp designed to represent a unique aspect of island heritage.
  • Experiences - Discover the best experiences each island has to offer – from local boat trips to exciting traditional festivals, there is something for everyone.
  • Maps - Navigate the islands with useful offline maps, handy for areas where internet connectivity is weak.
  • Travel Jounals - Create an in-location travel journal with pictures from your island adventures, to look back on your trip.
  • Favourites - keep track of your most loved islands with the favourites feature. Available to access from your account on both the app and web.