Up Helly Aa
A wander through the streets of Lerwick is normally a quiet, peaceful experience, but take a walk there at the end of January and it’s quite likely that you will bump into a squad of very large, very bearded Vikings, resplendent in gleaming chain-mail and winged helmets. Later, the Vikings and their fancy-dressed followers fill the narrow streets, their flaming torches illuminating the dark winter skies, their boisterous songs filling the air. A 30-foot Viking longship is carried aloft before it is set alight with a thousand blazing brands. As the sky over Lerwick shimmers with heat and light, fireworks explode, brass bands play and the gloom of winter is lifted for another year.
This is Up Helly Aa, the annual winter festival of Shetland, which celebrates the lengthening of the days and the coming of another year, not to mention the chance of a good old knees-up. It’s run by Shetlanders for Shetlanders, but that’s not to say visitors aren’t welcome and the island hospitality will be as warm as ever.
Shetland is a beguiling place to visit at any time but in the short winter days the islands take on a special character with steely grey seas and dramatic skies. During our stay we will take in the prehistoric and Norse settlement of Jarlshof to the south, and tour as far as the islands of Yell and Unst to the north. Up Helly Aa itself is on the Tuesday, when we will have the day free to enjoy the various events in Lerwick, culminating in the torchlight procession and boat burning ceremony in the evening, the highlight of an unusual and uplifting winter break.
We offer a choice of two hotels. The Busta House Hotel, situated at Busta Voe, north of Lerwick, dates back to 1588, with a colourful history that includes tales of family feuds, secret marriages and tragic events. Today, the hotel offers all modern conveniences and comfortable, individually decorated bedrooms. The bar features a selection of around 160 malt whiskies and an open peat fire, just the place to relax in the evening. Please note the hotel does not have a lift or ground floor rooms and may not be suitable for those with limited mobility.
In contrast, the Shetland Hotel is located opposite the ferry terminal in Lerwick, within walking distance of the town centre, making it the ideal base for those who wish to enjoy the Up Helly Aa festivities to the full. This modern, purpose-built hotel is notable for its spacious, comfortable rooms (supplement applies).
Bus stop on North Hanover Street, opposite Queens Street Station
Outside Reception at the Marriott Hotel, Glasgow Road
Halbeath Park & Ride, Jct 3, M90
Moto Services on M90
Broxden Park & Ride, A93
Outside Discovery Point
Bus stop off the A90, near McDonalds
Northlink Ferry Terminal
Please note that all timings are approximate and subject to change. Final timings and pick-up points will be confirmed with your joining instructions approximately 10 days prior to departure.
Your Departure date
£1,145 (including offers)
Benefit from this limited time offer:
- Save £50 if you pay your full balance today, just £1,145
The price above includes any applicable early booking discount and a pay in full discount, and applies only if you pay the full balance at time of booking.
Deposit: £100 Single supplement: £375
Enhance your experience
Whether you want to add extra nights on either side of your tour, you want to upgrade your flight or hotel room, or you are hoping to enjoy a door-to-door airport transfer, we can help.
To add special extras to your tour, call our Specialist Sales Executives to discuss your needs on 01334 657155.
Day 1 -
We depart from our designated departure points and travel to Aberdeen where we will join the Serco Northlink ferry (Hrossey or Hjaltland) for the 1700 hrs overnight sailing to Lerwick. Accommodation is provided in comfortable two-berth cabins with en-suite facilities. Dinner is served on board in the evening.
|Hotel||Northlink Sea Ferry|
Day 2 -
We arrive early in the morning at Lerwick and after our full Scottish breakfast on board we will depart on a full day tour which begins with a visit to Scalloway, the original capital of Shetland. The castle built by Earl Patrick Stewart (not a man you would want to have crossed) still dominates the skyline. More recently Scalloway was the secret base for the heroes of the Norwegian Resistance and the wartime exploits of the ‘Shetland Bus’ form a courageous memoir. Later we head for the south of Mainland Shetland, where we visit the outstanding Prehistoric and Norse Settlement of Jarlshof, with over 3 acres of remains, spanning 3000 years since the days of the Stone Age, including oval shaped bronze age houses, iron age broch and wheel houses, Viking long houses and medieval farmhouses. We continue to Sumburgh Head, the southern tip of mainland Shetland, which is an RSPB reserve and site of a lighthouse that is still functioning remotely, but incorporates museum aspects of its earlier operation as a manned station. In season, thousands of puffins, kittiwakes and razorbills nest here, but in January they will still be out at sea.
From here we transfer to our accommodation. Dinner is served in the evening.
Day 3 -
After a leisurely breakfast we depart for a full day tour which, weather permitting, will take us to the northern isles of Yell and Unst. We travel north through Tingwall and Girlsta and past the oil terminal at Sullom Voe, which has transformed life in Shetland over the last 25 years, before arriving at Toft, where the ferry departs for the island of Yell. After a 15-minute crossing we travel across Yell to Gutcher at the north end of the island. After a refreshment stop we make another short ferry crossing to the island of Unst. We shall drive north to Baltasound for a lunch stop. After lunch (not included) we continue northwards again, (about as far north as it is possible to travel by coach in the British Isles) and enjoy the marvellous views from Saxavord Hill. Our return route takes us via East Yell and Burravoe.
Dinner is served in the evening.
Day 4 -
After breakfast this morning we depart for Lerwick, which you are free to explore at your leisure and view the various activities associated with the Up Helly Aa festival which takes place today. Keep an eye out for the various ‘squads’ of ‘guizers’ – groups of about 20 men who choose a theme and dress up as whatever takes their fancy each year. Only one squad, a different one every year, is allowed to dress up as Vikings and are known as ‘jarls’, the Viking term for Earl. As darkness falls (mid-afternoon at this time of year) the squads begin to assemble for the torchlight parade and eventually a procession of 1,000 men snakes its way through the streets carrying aloft flaming brands of paraffin-soaked hessian and carrying the superbly crafted galley which will then be ceremoniously burned in the spectacular finale to the day’s events.
Dinner this evening will be served in a local restaurant. At an agreed time we will be transferred back to our hotels in the evening.
Day 5 -
After breakfast today we enjoy another scenic excursion to the west mainland of Shetland, which will take us to Walls, terminus for the ferry service to the island of Foula, and the headland at Sandness, overlooking the island of Papa Stour.
Dinner is served in the evening.
Day 6 -
After breakfast this morning we depart on a scenic excursion to the north mainland of Shetland. Our route will take us over the Mavis Grind, an isthmus just 100 yards wide, and through a stark landscape of hills, moors and lochans. We will stop for a walk (weather permitting) along the spectacular sea cliffs at Eshaness, which offer spectacular views over the many skerries, islets and offshore rocks. There are also many caverns and sea caves, one of which was recently declared the largest in the Britain. Look out too for the lighthouse which was built by David Alan Stevenson, one of the famous 'lighthouse' Stevensons, between 1925 and 1929. Back at Lerwick we will re-join our ship, which sails at 1900 hrs for Aberdeen.
|Hotel||Northlink Sea Ferry|
|Meals included||Breakfast, Dinner|
Day 7 -
After breakfast on board we will disembark in Aberdeen at around 0900 hours. We will then return to the original pick up points, where we anticipate arriving late morning/early afternoon.
Tour dates & prices
Included in your cost:
- Services of a professional tour manager
- Comfortable coach travel throughout
- Meals - as per the itinerary
- Ferry crossings
|Tour Departure||Tour ID||Departure date||Return Date||Guided by||Price||Deposit||Single supplement||Offer||Availability|
|28 January 2023||BUPV230128||28 January 2023 (Saturday)||3 February 2023 (Friday)||Alastair Walker||£1,195
|29 January 2023||BUHF230129||29 January 2023 (Sunday)||2 February 2023 (Thursday)||£945
|Call for availability|
|28 January 2024||BUHF240128||28 January 2024 (Sunday)||1 February 2024 (Thursday)||£995
|£125||£325||Call for availability|