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Set sail for the remote Shetland Islands and join the fun at one of Europe’s biggest fire festivals. Pay homage to Scotland’s Viking past as you follow the torchlight processions, party around the bonfire and soak up the electric atmosphere of the legendary Up Helly Aa Fire Festival. Visit sights like St Andrews, Crathie Kirk and the Kingdom of Fife en-route, then enjoy free time to explore the islands’ rugged landscapes. This small-group 6-day tour is limited to 15 people and includes round-trip transport from Edinburgh, ferries and accommodation.

Highlights

  • 6-day 'Up Helly Aa Fire Festival' package with transportion 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 three 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

6-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 to Lerwick
Leave Edinburgh and travel 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
After sailing into Lerwick, spend the morning exploring the main town of Shetland. Then head to the north of the island in the afternoon to check out the coastal areas of Lunna and Eshaness. Return for a night out in the Shetland capital.

Overnight: 3-star hotel in Lerwick

Day 3: Shetland
In the south of Shetland, visit one of Scotland's finest prehistoric sites, before moving onto the old capital, Scalloway with its imposing castle. Return to Lerwick to prepare for the main event with some celebrations in town with the locals.

Overnight: Lerwick

Day 4: 'Up Helly Aa Fire Festival' in Lerwick

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 5: Lerwick to Aberdeen
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 6: Aberdeen to 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 6-day tour finishes with a drop-off at the start point in Edinburgh in the early evening.

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