Up Helly Aa Fire Festival

22 November 2016

Light up the winter sky and say goodbye to January at the Up Helly Aa fire festival in Lerwick, Shetland. As the largest fire festival in Europe, this thrilling event attracts vast numbers of tourists to the rugged capital of the Shetland Islands every year. If you’re in Shetland on the 28th of January, don’t miss this dramatic mixture of history, drama and art. If you wait until the sun sets, you’ll be treated to the spectacular sight of a replica Viking longboat known as “the Galley” burnt following a torchlight procession.

At Up Helly Aa you’ll see the Shetland landscape lit up with torches and bonfires and experience the island’s history come to life. Every year local participants known as Guizers, celebrate their Norse heritage by dressing up in replica Viking costumes complete with traditional weapons and wooden torches. The islanders are extremely proud of this popular festival; on the day you can expect to see the Guizers start their procession through the town from as early as 8.30am.

On its way through the town the procession will stop off at the Market Cross to sing praises for the Up Helly Aa 2014 Bill. The Bill dates back to 1899, each year a local artist is chosen to create the Bill using local jokes and satire. After this, the procession will gather at Bressay Ferry Terminal for a photo opportunity. The ferry terminal can get extremely busy so you should turn up early to get a good spot for a photo.

When the sun sets over Shetland, 1000 torches are lit to signal the start of the torchlight procession. This thrilling sight adds a sense of Nordic drama to the event. The procession concludes with the Guizers surrounding the Viking Galley ship to sing the traditional song "The Norseman's Home" before throwing their torches onto the boat and setting the ship ablaze. This fiery sight is guaranteed to shake off the winter blues!

Even if you’re not a history enthusiast, experiencing the festival atmosphere and seeing the boat light-up the night sky makes the Up Helly Aa fire festival an unmissable experience. Once the fires have gone out, the festivities continue long into the night. Follow the Guizers to the town halls to see the locals preform a song or dance routine to entertain the 1,000 visitors who are expected to turn up to the event. Prepare yourself for a big night as the party lasts until 8am the following morning!

The Up Helly Aa 2014 festival in its current form was first seen at the end of the 19th century but, the origins of the current festival can be traced back to the 1880s. While the unpredictable Scottish weather could mean disaster for many events, the locals are proud of their perseverance and will carry on whatever the weather throws at them. Since it began the festival has only been cancelled three times, for the death of Queen Victoria and during World War one and two.

If you want to experience this thrilling festival, browse our range of properties available in the Outer Hebrides to start planning your trip today.