Ever since the 19th century, the people of Shetland have been celebrating their Norse heritage every year by parading through their town centres as Vikings and by setting fire to a longship. Afterwards, locals and visitors alike alike gather to continue their party by dancing in one of the town’s many charming pubs and restaurants until deep into the night.
Shetland was a part of Norway until 1469, but the Up Helly Aa celebration is unique to the islands. It’s not celebrated anywhere else in Scandinavia or in other former Viking areas. If anything, this wintry fire festival seems to have more similarities with the other Celtic fire festivals on mainland Scotland, such as the Stonehaven Fireballs.
Nevertheless, when the first Up Helly Aa parade was held in Lerwick in 1881, it was intended as a celebration of Shetland’s Norse heritage. More Viking elements, such as the burning of the longship, were added in later years. Every community on Shetland organises their own Up Helly Aa, each of which is slightly different. There are 11 in total, taking place between January and March and attrachting thousands of visitors every year.
Experience these unique events yourself in 2022, marvel at the fire parade and party all night with Vikings. The first Up Helly Aa of the year is the Scalloway Fire Festival (second Friday of January) while the largest celebration takes place in Lerwick (final Tuesday of January). There is also the Delting Up Helly Aa (third Friday of March) which roughly takes place around the time that the first puffins return to Scotland for the summer.