Shetland Islands Scotland: Ancient Viking Fire Festival in January

The coastline of the Shetland Islands of Scotland

The Shetland Islands are located 100 miles north of the mainland of Scotland with a history that is stepped in culture and traditions from the Scandanavian and Viking era.  The Shetland Islands became a part of Scotland when the King of Norway granted the islands as the dowry in the marriage of his daughter, Margaret to King James III of Scotland during the 15th century.

The citizens of the Shetland Islands are very proud of the Norwegian and Viking heritage.  And each January in the town of Lerwick, they celebrate their heritage with the “Up Helly Aa” Fire Festival held every year on the last Tuesday of January.


The head of the festival is known as the “Guizer Jarl” who will wear a kilt and a raven helmet, carrying an axe and shield and leading hundreds of other men dressed up as Viking invaders.  Each 45 squads in the parade will have their own uniforms designed to tell the island’s history.

“Up Helly Aa” gets its name from ancient Norse where “uppi” means coming to an end and “helly”means a holiday or festival. In effect, the end of the holiday season.  While “Aa” may mean “all” in the Scottish language.

One of the groups preparing for the festival
One of the groups preparing for the Up Helly AA festival

The more prominent “Up Helly Aa” festival is held in Lerwick, but in other towns you might find a smaller more subdued version of the same event happening on different nights.

The procession
The procession

All photos are from


For more on places to see in Scotland visit our site : Scotland Vacations

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