NorthLink Ferry : Your Gateway to Orkney and Shetland

NorthLink Ferry offers the most affordable transportation to Orkney and Shetland from Aberdeen. However, that affordable price comes at the cost of an 8-14-hour ferry ride! Wandering how you’re going to survive this journey?! We’ve got all the tips you need!!



Our Experience


Here ya have it… when we were taking the ferry up to Shetland, for Jason’s six-week clinical placement, we were bringing Isobel, our van, with us. That morning we started out in London, and had a full day of traveling – walking, busing, driving, flying, training, and ferrying… Pretty sure we hit every kind of transportation possible in one day! With all that transportation, we had a couple delays, and barely made it on the boat in time! Literally guys, we got a “courtesy call” at 4:15, asking if we still planned on boarding the ferry. Oops..


We made it though!! Drove on board, and they shut the doors right behind us. Luckily, while we were stuck in traffic, Heather jumped in the back of the van and started packing our bags to carry on board… lots of food, wine, warm clothes, and our sleeping bags. The ferry took off right on time, and the sea was rough! Like, extremely rough. We were in for a long 14-hour ride! We ate some food, and knew if we didn’t get to bed, we were both going to get sick. So by 7:00, we were both sound asleep tucked away on the floor in the front of the boat.


The few times we did get up and walk around the ship, we found ourselves stumbling around like we had just polished off a bottle of whisky. Walking to the back of the ship, we found glasses falling off tables and breaking and food and condiments falling off the shelves in the restaurant from the massive waves we were rolling over. We had to get back to bed… our stomachs are strong, but not that strong. So we slept some more. In fact, we slept until about 6:00 in the morning. We packed up our bags, walked around the boat some more, and before we knew it, it was time to drive little ol’ Isobel onto the island that would now be our home.


[Don’t let our story scare you. We talked with some of the boat crew, and they explained that the sea is usually never that rough during the non-winter months. If you’re ferrying between late November-February, you may experience this kind of journey, otherwise, you’re probably in the clear! And don’t worry, we’ve gathered some tips on how to deal with the rough seas… keep reading to find out more!]


NorthLink Ferry Info


Price: The price depends on when you plan on traveling. The prices range from about £25-£40 per person, and don’t seem to decrease if booked ahead. This price includes a seat only. If you want to have a bed pod, room, or special reclining seat, then you can book that as well. However, most of the seats will be open, and we don’t recommend booking any special accommodation, as you can really sleep in loads of areas on the boat! You only need to book a bed if you really want your own room/privacy! The vehicle ticket is a separate cost, though should be booked at the same time passenger tickets are arranged. The price of your vehicle is determined by the size of the vehicle.


Departures: NorthLink Ferry departs from Aberdeen and Shetland daily at either 17:00 or 19:00. If it departs at 17:00, it stops in Kirkwall, Orkney. Departing at 19:00 means a straight shot to Shetland or Aberdeen. Severe storms may cause you’re ferry to not take off… in which case, you should be happy about! Ha. 😉


Food/Drink: There are two different restaurants/cafes on the ship serving dinner and breakfast. You can get all you can eat breakfast for just under £10 in the morning… not too shabby of a deal! Dinner prices aren’t too bad either! There is a busy bar on the boat. You’ll find loads of people enjoying a beer or two to get them through the ferry crossing!



Extras: The boat has a movie theatre (you have to buy tickets for the shows), a small gift shop, a seating area where movies/TV is playing constantly, and a children’s play area. There are also showers on the ship that you can purchase tokens for if you feel like freshening up!



Booking the NorthLink Ferry


Passenger: To book the ferry head here. If you’re traveling without a car, there’s nothing too hard about booking.  If you’re a full time student, disabled, or over the age of 60, book the concession rate! You’ll get a 10% discount!


Vehicle: If you’re ferrying your vehicle to the islands, then you’ll need to know the type of vehicle, length of vehicle, and the plate number. Book your vehicle when you register the passenger. Again, it’s not too complicated, just be sure to have the information above! If you’re taking a car, be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early, the gates close at half till departure! (We got a check-up call 45-minutes prior to departure to make sure we were still showing up!!)



Beating the Sea on the NorthLink Ferry Crossing


First off, the NorthLink Ferry is huge. Yes, when the sea’s rough (like our experience) you can definitely feel the waves, but most journey’s aren’t too bad, unless you’re traveling in the winter. We’ve gathered some tips to help with that rough sea.


  • If you’re getting a room, try and reserve the mid-most room. Being close to the ocean, and in the middle of the ship you won’t feel the ocean as much.
  • If you’re not getting a room (most travelers choose this option) find a place to lay down towards the middle of the boat. You’ll have to be a bit higher than sea level, but the middle is better! However, there are much more comfy seats/cushions in the front lounge!
  • Try to watch the horizon! This supposedly helps you feel more stable, although we aren’t too sure this works!
  • Take Dramamine or something like it! And take it before the boat leaves! It’s supposed to help with motion sickness!
  • Keep food in your stomach. Contrary to what it seems, having a bit of food in your stomach will help you not feel queasy! Don’t go out and have a huge dinner, but do have something, and bring light snacks for the journey!
  • Try and get some sleep!! Think of the boat rocking you to sleep like your mama used to!
  • If all these tips fail… just have a dram or two of whisky, it will knock you right out! 😉


Our Ferry Tips


  • Bring your own snacks on board! Save money by bringing your own drinks and food!! You can bring on whatever you want, and there are loads of tables to set up for your meal time!
  • Speaking of food, the ferry arrives to Lerwick at 7:00am. Most places, if not all places in Lerwick, don’t open until 9 or 10. So, your best bet is to bring some kind of breakfast with you on board or sit and enjoy the £10 breakfast buffet with all you can eat food and drinks. Otherwise, you’ll get off the ship and be one hungry fella!
  • Pack something to sleep with. A blanket or sleeping bag are definite musts if you want to get some sleep on the boat!
  • Don’t forget your warm clothes!! You’re on a ferry, might as well go outside and enjoy the fresh sea breeze!! Just remember to bring your sweaters and beanies to keep you warm!
  • Don’t pay for the extras on the booking page! All you need is your ferry ticket! There are plenty of places to set up an area for sleeping. People sleep on the couches, the floors, and in free oversized reclining chairs! A little secret… the cushions come off the chairs in the front of the boat… Use these as a mattress and sleep on the floor!
  • Bring cards, some kind of game, or something to do that’s not reading! If you get even a little bit queasy, if you read anything, you’re going to get sick!! You want to have something else to keep you busy that isn’t reading!
  • Take photos and enjoy your time on board! It’s a really nice ferry and can be an enjoyable experience… even with the rough seas!



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