last Tuesday in January
If you thought the Vikings were a thing of the past, hold on to your helmet.
On the last Tuesday in January, hundreds of Vikings invade the otherwise sleepy archipelago known as Shetland.
Shetland lies between Scotland and Norway, making it the perfect pillaging point in the heyday of the Vikings. Around 1000 AD, the Vikings began settling on the islands. A thousand years later their descendants are still proud of their heritage.
At no time is that more apparent than the morning of Up Helly Aa, when hundreds of men dressed as Vikings (women are not allowed) take to the streets of Lerwick to recreate events from the great Norse sagas. Now, if you’ve ever read the great Norse sagas, you would think this would be compelling reason to stay away. On the contrary, Up Helly Aa is one of Shetland’s biggest tourist draws, as travelers come from all over the globe to witness the motley crews and be a part of the drunken revelry.
It’s at night that the Shetlanders really heat things up. Up Helly Aa is one of Europe’s greatest and most famous fire festivals. The bonfires and torchlit processions replaced the tar-barreling activities which were banned.
Enormous galleys are built for the celebration. The highlight of the evening is the torching of the amazing galleys, which light up the Lerwick night.