Fight off the lingering gloom of winter with blazing torch and bone-rattling cry, and see warm island hospitality and unabashed merrymaking come together in a festival unlike any other. This is Up Helly Aa, a once-yearly invocation of flame and festivity when Vikings take over the sleepy Shetlands — sure to put fire in the belly.
There is one night of the year — the last Tuesday in January, to be exact — when the ordinarily sleepy town of Lerwick undergoes an uncanny transformation. The darkened streets are lit up by the warm flicker of flaming torches as hordes of armour-clad Vikings pass through, singing uproariously. The reason? Up Helly Aa, a festival of fire held to mark the end of the yule season and usher in the just-dawning new year.
Join us on a five-day experience — of which the celebration is just the start — taking in startlingly beautiful landscapes, wonderful wildlife, and a whole host of historical sites. Explore the home of thousands of nesting birds — including puffins, kittiwakes and razorbills — at the Sumburgh Head RSPB reserve, explore the maritime town of Lerwick in the calm before the Up Helly Aa storm, and take a series of scenic ferry rides that offer a breathtaking perspective on the Shetland Islands. We travel through Tingwall and Girlsta, enjoy the panoramic views at Saxa Vord on Unst, and admire the utilitarian grandeur of the Sullom Voe Terminal.
All in all, between the affable hospitality of the Shetlanders, fascinating sites, and the flickering torches and rousing songs of the festival itself, there’s no better way to warm up from a long winter.
We are based at the Moorfield Hotel in Brae, Shetland’s second-largest village. This modern hotel offers contemporary, bright and spacious surroundings to relax in with welcoming and comfortable beds.
- Fire festival of Up Helly Aa
- 3000 years of archaeological history at Jarlshof
- Stunning seacliffs at Eshaness
- Bobby’s bus shelter in Baltasound – surely the most famous in the world!
- Return coach travel to Aberdeen with departures available from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Kinross, Perth, Dundee, Arbroath, Montorse or Aberdeen. You can also make your own way to Aberdeen should you wish to meet at the ferry
- 2 nights’ dinner, bed and full breakfast at the Busta House Hotel
- 2 nights’ accommodation in 2-berth cabins on Serco Northlink Ferries Hrossey or Hjaltland with dinner and full breakfast. All cabins have private facilities. Outside cabins are available on request for a small supplement
- Comfortable coaching throughout
- Guided coach tours of mainland Shetland and the islands of Yell and Unst, including all ferries (weather permitting) and entrance to Jarlshof
- Free day in Lerwick to enjoy the events of Up Helly Aa
Single supplements apply – prices available on request. Offer is subject to availability
We depart from our designated departure points and travel to Aberdeen, where we join the Serco Northlink ferry. We will sail overnight to Lerwick. Accommodation is provided in comfortable 2-berth cabins with en-suite facilities. Dinner is served on board this evening.
Our ferry arrives in Lerwick this morning. We start with a visit to Scalloway, the original capital of Shetland, where the castle built by Earl Patrick Stewart still dominates the skyline. We continue to the south of Mainland Shetland, where we visit the outstanding Prehistoric and Norse Settlement of Jarlshof – home to over 3 acres of remains, spanning 3000 years of history. We continue to Sumburgh Head, the southern tip of mainland Shetland. The RSPB reserve is home to thousands of nesting birds, including puffins, kittiwakes and razorbills.
We transfer to our accommodation, where dinner is served this evening.
Enjoy some free time to explore Lerwick at your leisure this morning. Various activities associated with the Up Helly Aa festival take place today. Keep an eye out for the various ‘squads’ of ‘guizers’. As darkness falls, these groups assemble for the torchlight parade — a procession of 1,000 men snaking their way through the streets carrying flaming brands of paraffin-soaked hessian. They also carry a superbly crafted galley which will be ceremoniously burned as a spectacular finale to the day’s events.
Dinner this evening will be served in a local restaurant. We transfer back to our hotels this evening.
We enjoy a full day touring the northern isles of Yell and Unst. Desolate is often a word associated with Yell, but its bleak landscape of brown, blue and green is nonetheless enchanting. Unst, on the other hand, is Scotland’s most northerly inhabited island, with velvet smooth hills that melt into gorgeous waterside locations. We travel through Tingwall and Girlsta, and past the oil terminal at Sullom Voe along our way. We travel as far north as it is possible to go in the British Isles this afternoon and enjoy the marvellous views from Saxa Vord Hill. We re-join our ship, which sails for Aberdeen. Dinner is served on board.
After breakfast on board, we disembark in Aberdeen this morning. We will return to the original pick up points, where we anticipate arriving late morning/early afternoon.