Between January and March every year, communities across Shetland come together for a series of spectacular and unique fiery celebrations.

The Up Helly Aa fire festivals are amongst the biggest annual celebrations in Shetland. Inspired by Shetland’s Viking past, communities across the islands come together for a night of guizing (dressing up), burning torches through the streets and dancing the night away to traditional Shetland music.

While very much a series of community-led festivals – 12 Up Helly Aas are held between January and March – people travel from all over the world to witness the spectacle. The biggest fire festival is Lerwick Up Helly Aa, which takes place on the last Tuesday in January each year.

Shetland’s Up Helly Aa Fire Festivals - events calendar

This is a list of upcoming fire festivals in the order that they take place. Click on the individual listings for more information.

Watch Up Helly Aa live!

Can't make Up Helly Aa in person? See all the action from the Lerwick festival on 31 January and the South Mainland festival on 10 March on our dedicated streaming site.

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What to expect at an Up Helly Aa

To give you a flavour of what happens during an Up Helly Aa fire festival, we've put together this handy video to give you a useful overview.

Visiting Shetland for Up Helly Aa

Thinking of visiting Shetland for an Up Helly Aa? We've compiled a handy list of frequently asked questions to help you plan your trip.

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Up Helly Aa in the community

While the torchlit parades and burning of the galleys are what most people associate with Up Helly Aa, there's much more to each fire festival than one night of revelry. Each of the 12 festivals take months of planning and involve the whole community.

On fire festival days, the Viking Jarl squads spend the daylight hours visiting care homes, supported living accommodation and schools in their communities, to make sure that people of all ages can get involved in the celebrations.

There are community events too, including an Up Helly Aa Food and Drink Market the day before Lerwick Up Helly Aa and music in the form of Fiery Sessions at the Garrison Theatre on the afternoon of Lerwick Up Helly Aa. These events are particularly popular with visitors who want to experience aspects of Shetland's culture beyond the fiery evening procession.

Of course, once the galley burning is done the night is far from over. Community halls open their doors to welcome the various squads who entertain the crowds with their amusing skits before a Shetland reel or two on the dancefloor.

Sustenance comes in the form of a delicious spread of sweet and savoury treats laid on by the hosts and hostesses of the halls. The highlight for many is reestit mutton and tattie soup – a staple of the Shetland winter diet and guaranteed to keep hungy bellies satisfied throughout the night.

The history of Up Helly Aa

Shetand's Up Helly Aa festivals are known for their Viking pageantry and fiery torch-lit processions, but despite the clear Norse inspiration the event itself originated in the 19th century. Archivist Brian Smith explains more in this blog post from the Shetland Museum and Archives.

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Discover Shetland's Viking past

The Norse history that inspired our Up Helly Aa festivals

Why we love Up Helly Aa

  • The excitement builds up in the dark and out of nowhere bang on half seven the rocket goes up … there’s the glow and the heat … for me that’s always special.

    Liam Summers, Guizer Jarl of Lerwick Up Helly Aa 2020 on the lighting of the torches before the procession
  • It’s a once in a lifetime experience. There’s nothing else like it. I’ve been all over the world and seen lots of different things but this is just an unbelievable experience.

    A visitor on experiencing Lerwick Up Helly Aa in 2020
  • It's hard to explain but it's just the sense of pride you get in your heritage when you're involved in Up Helly Aa.

    Up Helly Aa image gallery

    Discover more things to see and do in Shetland in winter

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