Lerwick, Shetland's only burgh, had a population of about 7,500 residents in 2010 and is the most northerly and most easterly town in Scotland.
One of the UK's coastal weather stations is in the settlement.
Lerwick is a name with roots in Old Norse and its local descendant, Norn, which was spoken in Shetland until the mid-19th century. The name "Lerwick" means bay of clay. The corresponding Norwegian name is Leirvik, leir meaning clay and vik meaning "bay" or "inlet". Towns with similar names exist in southwestern Norway (Leirvik, Lervik) and on the Faroe Islands (Leirvík).
Evidence of human settlement in the Lerwick area dates back 3,000 years, centred on the Broch of Clickimin, which was constructed in the first century BC.
The first settlement to be known as Lerwick was founded in the 17th century as a herring and white fish seaport to trade with the Dutch fishing fleet. This settlement was on the mainland (west) side of Bressay Sound, a natural harbour with south and north entrances between the Shetland mainland and the island of Bressay.
This collection of wooden huts was burned to the ground twice: once in the 17th century by the residents of Scalloway on the western side of Mainland, then the capital of Shetland, who disapproved of the immoral and drunken activities of the assembled fishermen and sailors; and again in 1702 by the French fleet.
Fort Charlotte was built in the mid 17th century on Lerwick’s waterfront, and permanent stone-built buildings began to be erected around the fort and along the shoreline. The principal concentration of buildings was in the "lanes" area: a steep hillside stretching from the shoreline to Hillhead at the top.
Lerwick became capital of the Shetland Islands in 1708, taking over the function from Scalloway. The civil parish of Lerwick had been in 1701 created from a small part of the parish of Tingwall, to which Scalloway still belongs. When Lerwick became more prosperous through sea trade and the fishing industry during the 19th century, the town expanded in 1891 to the west of Hillhead, thereby including the former civil parishes of Gulberwick und Quarff, as well as the islands parish of Burra. Lerwick Town Hall was built during this period of expansion.
The next period of significant expansion was during the North Sea oil boom of the 1970s when large housing developments were built to the north of Staney Hill (located in Lerwick) and to the south (Nederdale and Sandveien).
Lerwick has an oceanic climate (Cfb) closely bordering on the subpolar oceanic climate (Cfc) with cool to cold temperatures all year long. The lack of trees resembles the latter type. This is particularly pronounced by virtue of Lerwick being on a small isolated island, so even extreme temperature records are subdued; the record high stands at just 23.4 °C (74.1 °F) (July 1991) and the record low just −8.9 °C (16.0 °F) (January 1952 and January 1959). Lerwick is also a very cloudy town, averaging only 1,110 sunshine hours annually. February is the coldest month, with high temperatures averaging around 5.5 °C (41.9 °F). In August, the warmest month, average high temperatures are near 14.5 °C (58.1 °F). This produces an extremely narrow difference for an area north of the 60 parallel. In terms of average monthly precipitation, October through January are the year's wettest months, with over 5.5 inches of precipitation each month; May and June are the driest months, with average monthly precipitation less than 2.3 inches each. Snowfall can occur, primarily from December through March, but snow accumulation is rarely heavy and usually short-lived. The exposed North Atlantic location and proximity to autumn and winter storm tracks means high winds are a regular occurrence, alongside high levels of cloudiness and precipitation. The weather station is at an elevation of 82 metres (269 ft), so temperatures are likely to be slightly milder in the town centre at sea level.
Owing to its northerly location, winter months are extremely dark in Lerwick. On the day of the winter solstice it gets only 5 hours and 49 minutes of daylight. In sharp contrast daylight lasts 18 hours and 55 minutes on the day of the summer solstice. As a result, nights never get completely dark for a period of time in summer, with dark blue elements remaining in the sky. The maritime influence tempers the climate effects of these swings in daylight, but in many areas of the world this latitude has hostile winters. Farther north in the world, only Faroe Islands have such high January averages as Lerwick and fellow Shetland station at Baltasound – with the warm Atlantic currents preventing ice formation. Only when temperatures in continental areas are record cold does Lerwick experience some cold as was the case in December 2010 during the severe cold wave affecting the British Isles and Europe that covered much of England in snow. Even so, average highs remained above 3 °C (37 °F) and frosts were light. Even warm summers are also extremely rare with the warmest recorded month being July 2006 at an average high of 16 °C (61 °F).
Lerwick has 6,958 residents, as of 2011. It is 97.0% White (83.3% White Scottish, 8.9% White Other British, 2.6% White Other, 1.4% White Polish, 0.8% White Irish), 2.2% Asian or Asian Scottish or British Asian, and 0.8% Other ethnic groups. Lerwick's residents are 2.5% unemployed, 17.3% are part-time employees, and 50.3% are full-time employees.
Lerwick is a busy fishing and ferry port. The harbour also services vessels supporting the offshore oil industry.
Main power supply is from Lerwick Power Station located in Gremista.
Significant buildings in Lerwick include Fort Charlotte, Lerwick Town Hall, the Böd of Gremista, Shetland Museum and Archives and Clickimin Broch.
Because of the historic nature of the area, some scenes from BBC's Shetland (TV series) were filmed in Lerwick.
Lerwick is served by the Tingwall Airport located a few miles away and Sumburgh Airport that is further south and flies all year to some Scotland destinations.
Northlink Ferries operate a daily overnight ferry service between Lerwick and Aberdeen, regularly calling in to Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands.
The Shetland Islands Council operate a ro-ro ferry service to Out Skerries and Bressay from a terminal in the centre of the town.
The local bus service is provided by the Regional Transport Partnership ZetTrans and operated by a number of different local bus service operators.
Lerwick has three schools; Bell's Brae Primary School, Sound Primary School and Anderson High School.
Shetland College, a constituent partner institution of the University of the Highlands and Islands, is also based in the town, offering degree-level education (among other further education courses) to locals who may have difficulty travelling further afield to study (the next closest university-level institution is the University of Aberdeen, a twelve-hour boat journey away).
The Gilbert Bain Hospital provides secondary care services to all of Shetland. The Lerwick Health Centre is situated across the South Road from the hospital.
The town is home to three football teams, Lerwick Spurs, Lerwick Thistle and Lerwick Celtic.
Local independent radio station SIBC broadcasts daily from a studio in Market Street. BBC Radio Shetland, a BBC Radio Scotland regional opt out, has its studios in Pitt Lane. The Shetland Times, a weekly local newspaper, has its premises in Gremista on the northern outskirts of Lerwick. Millgaet Media Group, a multi-media production company that includes Shetland Television, is based at the North Ness Business Park.
Lerwick has strong ties with Scandinavian countries, particularly Norway (Lerwick has a friendship agreement with Måløy in Norway), and this is reflected in the street names of Lerwick (e.g. King Harald Street, King Haakon Street).
Lerwick is the focus of most events in Shetland, including the largest of the annual Up Helly-Aa fire festivals which takes place on the last Tuesday of January every year.
There are several churches in Lerwick, including:
In the nineteenth century there were more churches in Lerwick including a Free Church on South Hill Head.