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  • Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  • Duration:  5 days (approx.)
Go wild at the legendary 'Up Helly Aa Fire Festival' in the remote Shetland Islands this January 2014 on a 5-day experience from Edinburgh! Bringing the islands’ Nordic history to fiery life, the annual festival is made up of a day and night of torch-lit processions, bonfires and street parties that pay homage to the feared Viking warriors of old. Aside from the festival, this exciting experience also includes two tours of Mainland Shetland plus round-trip transport from Edinburgh, two overnight ferry crossings and two nights of hotel accommodation in the capital of Lerwick.

Numbers are limited to 15 on this small-group experience, ensuring personalized attention from a guide.

Highlights

  • 5-day 'Up Helly Aa Fire Festival' package in January 2014 with transport from Edinburgh
  • Visit St Andrews, Crathie Kirk and Royal Braemar while traveling between Edinburgh and the Shetland Islands
  • Join the 21st-century Vikings of Lerwick for a day and night of torch-lit processions, bonfires and partying
  • Take two tours of the Mainland island and visit scenic parts of Shetland such as the Knab or Lunna Ness
  • Enjoy two nights of hotel accommodation in Lerwick plus two overnight ferry crossings
  • Small-group tour with a maximum of 15 people ensures personalized attention

What You Can Expect

5-Day 'Up Helly Aa Fire Festival' Experience in the Shetland Islands from Edinburgh

See Vikings march through the streets at this unique festival!

The festival takes place annually to celebrate the end of the yule (Scottish holiday) season. Evolved from a centuries-old tradition of ‘tar barrelling,’ when local men dragged barrels of burning tar through Lerwick, the custom is now a wild Viking festival of torch-lit processions, bonfires, guizers (folk actors), drinking and music that celebrates the Norse heritage and culture of the Shetland Islands.

Bringing the community together, 'Up Helly Aa Fire Festival' is the biggest event that takes place during Shetland’s long and dark winter and draws crowds from all over the world. Preparation is done in strictest secrecy, allowing for a big build up to the main event itself. While the festival is just centered on one day and night, the days surrounding it are a spectacle, too, and the town comes alive with atmosphere and spirit.

'Up Helly Aa' takes place on Day 3 of your tour, and the two days either side of the festival are spent traveling from Edinburgh to the Shetland Islands and exploring Mainland — the main Shetland island. With the exception of breakfasts in your Lerwick hotel, all food and drink is payable at your own expense. Free time is factored in to your itinerary for all meals.

The Shetland Islands lie on the same latitude as southern Greenland, so bring warm clothes! The festival is held no matter what the weather conditions.

Itinerary

Day 1: Edinburgh – St Andrews – North Sea
Leave Edinburgh and travel northwest through the Kingdom of Fife, an area where peaceful countryside is etched alongside stretches of sandy coastline. Gaze out of the window to see castles and whisky distilleries dotted around the hills, and then stop at the town of St Andrews to enjoy some free time. Home to Scotland’s oldest university – where Prince William famously studied and met Kate Middleton – the city is also known for its golfing associations and stately architecture. Hear of St Andrews’ prestige as a world-class golfing destination and get tips from your guide for places to see during your free time. Perhaps take a look at St Andrew's Cathedral or Swilcan Bridge.

Continue to Aberdeen in the afternoon, and board for your ferry for your overnight crossing to the Shetland Islands.

Overnight: ferry on the North Sea

Day 2: Lerwick, Shetland Islands
After arriving at the Shetland capital of Lerwick, travel by minibus to your accommodation and drop off your bags. The day is then yours to spend at leisure. Perhaps head out on a bracing coastal walk to beauty spots like the Knab or Clickimin Broch. Alternatively, pay a visit to Up Helly Aa Exhibition in Lerwick at your own expense, and learn the history of the old Norse festival before the festivities begin.

In the evening, why not venture out to celebrate the festival with locals in town? The atmosphere in Lerwick the night before Up Helly Aa is legendary.

Overnight: 3-star hotel in Lerwick

Day 3: 'Up Helly Aa Fire Festival' in Lerwick (B)
Rise early for breakfast, and then head out for the big day with your guide. In the morning, crowds gather to follow the movements of the Jarl Squad — a group of men dressed as Vikings — through town. Follow the procession from Lerwick Community Centre down to the British Legion for a photo stop. Pose next to the Galley (a real Viking longship) with the Jarl Squad, and then head through Lerwick center to the main square for the Proclamation of the Bill. Artistically written, the bill lists funny anecdotes and stories about local happenings and people over the past year.

Listen to the bill being read, and then follow the procession to Bressay Ferry Terminal where the Jarl Squad leave to carry out their civic duties. Then, enjoy a free afternoon to soak up the 'Up Helly Aa' atmosphere in the village, take in some traditional Shetland music playing around the streets and enjoy lunch (own expense).

In the early evening, meet back up with your guide to see the Junior Jarl Squad Torchlight Procession and Burning of the Junior Galley, the youngsters’ version of the day’s main event when the Jarl Squad and locals form a procession of nearly 1,000 torchbearers. Watch the procession line the street and see the torches lit after a cannon is fired. The Jarl leader marches through the procession to a backdrop of loud singing and music, and leads the group to Lerwick’s playing fields where a replica Galley is set on fire: it’s the grand finale of the day! The party around the bonfire often lasts until the next morning, so join the locals and dance until daybreak, if you wish!

Overnight: 3-star hotel in Lerwick

Day 4: Lerwick – Northern Mainland – North Sea (B)
Enjoy a late breakfast the morning after the festival, and then meet your guide for a day of leisurely paced sightseeing around the northern half of the Shetland Mainland. Call in at the High Court of Tynwald, home of the oldest continuous parliament in the world. Learn all about the building’s Norse origin as you look around, and then continue north.

Where you go will be decided by your guide depending on weather conditions, but examples of where you may go include the parishes of Delting, Lunnasting or Nesting — areas that all boast stunning Scottish scenery and wildlife. Discover wild stretches of moorland with Shetland ponies or perhaps visit the jagged shores of Lunna Ness to see seals and otters.

Return to your hotel in the late afternoon, check out of your hotel and then board your ferry for your overnight crossing back to Scotland’s mainland.

Overnight: ferry on the North Sea

Day 5: Aberdeen – Crathie Kirk – Edinburgh
After arriving at Aberdeen, board your minibus and travel south back toward Edinburgh. Enjoy a stop in the pretty parish of Crathie Kirk, where the British Royal Family worship when vacationing in the Highlands. Continue to the resting place of John Brown, the faithful ghillie (servant) of Queen Victoria, whose story was made into the 1997 film Mrs Brown starring Billy Connolly. Stretch your legs on a walk around his grave, enjoy a break for lunch and then travel through the mountains and scenic hills of Royal Braemar. Your 5-day tour finishes with a drop-off at the start point in Edinburgh in the early evening.
From USD $ 1,187.76

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Tour code: 5211HELLY

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