Now Lonely Planet, arguably the world’s most influential travel guide, has also fallen under the spell of Shetland, where Scandinavia meets Scotland and the North Sea clashes with the Atlantic to create a unique culture, heritage and environment.
Lonely Planet has named Shetland as one of the top 10 European travel destinations to visit in 2019 with it the only place in the UK to feature. Madrid, Lyon and the High Tatras of Slovakia also appear.
Shetland came in at number six, with judges describing the islands as the domain of the “hardiest of adventurers.”
“But those who make the journey to this enchanting archipelago, which can be reached by plane, or an overnight ferry from Aberdeen, will be rewarded with awesome coastal trails, wicked wildlife watching, and fabled fish and chip shops,” the entry said.
“Spot otters and orcas from craggy headlands, then ease into the evening at one of Lerwick’s local pubs. That is until the Viking-inspired Up Helly Aa festival bursts into fiery life each January,” it added.
Sandy Middleton, engagement officer at Shetland Amenity Trust said visitor numbers had been on the risewith special festivals - such as Wool Week, Shetland Folk Festival and Up Helly Aa - drawing crowds from around the world and “filling every bed on the island”.
An increase in cruise ships coming into Lerwick was also driving tourism, she added.
Ms Middleton said: “One of our big draws in the scenery and our incredible beaches, such as St Ninian’s Isle, where you have the white sands and the turquoise waters. Shetland is full of these beaches and quite often there is no one else on them. There is also this unique heritage we have here. Islanders don’t consider themselves as Scottish - they are Norse and we have this incredible mix of Old Viking and Pictish sites where you can really step back in time and get a feel for the different people who have invaded and made Shetland home over time.
“Shetland is also an incredibly friendly place and there is a brilliant music scene here. People feel they can come here, experience that and really feel part of it.”
Wildlife watchers have long been drawn to Shetland for its rich colonies of sea birds, from puffins, to great skuas and diving gannets, and to witness one of Europe’s densest population of otters. Sightings of orcas, dolphins and killer whales also add to Shetland’s wild allure.
Even the bad weather that Shetland can experience was part of the attraction for some, Ms Middleton said.
She said: “More and more people are looking for experience tourism and we know that some people want to come to experience the bad weather. It is a Millennial thing,” she added.
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland Chief Executive, said Shetland’s Lonely Planet listing was testament to its “strong pull” for visitors.
“We can’t be complacent however and it is important that we encourage the tourism industry to provide world-class service, facilities, events and attractions to keep up with ever-changing consumer demands and ensure visitors continue to have memorable experiences in Shetland.