Shetland is wild and beautiful in the winter. Recently I have been delighted to show 3 separate groups of visitors around who had come up to Shetland to see the famous Up-Helly-Aa fire festival. Up Helly Aa is a great reason to visit Shetland in January as it is an incredible spectacle, however, Shetland has plenty more to offer in the winter months. If you are planning to visit for one of our winter fire festivals it is a good idea to allow a few extra days to fully enjoy seeing Shetland.
Visitors to the isles at this time of year enjoy the fact that this is not the main tourist season and often they can have whole beaches or attractions to themselves. Our scenery also takes on an entirely different beauty when the elements are in full force and the winter sun is low in the sky.
Up Helly Aa
Lerwick Up Helly Aa is held on the last Tuesday of January every year and is the largest and most spectacular of the fire festivals held in Shetland during the months of January, February & March.
This involves various groups of guizers (people in disguise), numbering around 900.
The festival is headed by the elected Guizer Jarl who is the central figure of the festival and leads a group of around 60 people dressed in elaborate Viking/norse attire. This main Jarl Squad has a full day of events and you can see them in the daylight in the morning of the festival in the centre of the town. The other guizers join for the evening procession which culminates in the burning of a replica Viking longship/Galley. Afterwards the squads rotate around 11 different venues around the town, performing their specific ‘act’, which can be musical topical, comical or otherwise. The evening continues right until breakfast time with plenty of dancing, eating & drinking. The evening venues are ticketed events with special invitation from the hosts & hostesses of the halls.
Scenery, Photography & Wild Swimming
Shetland beauty spots are gorgeous in the winter, and as long as you are dressed appropriately you can enjoy them just like any other time of the year. Be prepared for stormy weather!
Those photographers among you will enjoy the beautiful light during the winter.
A welcome new addition in 2023 was this lovely wood-fired beach sauna at St. Ninans Isle. A lot of people like to wild swim in Shetland all year around, but this is the only place with with cozy respite nearby! Are you brave enough to try wild swimming in Shetland?
The Shetland ponies are hardy animals and have been in Shetland for over 300 years. They have evolved to live in this climate and stay outside all year around. The owners provide them a shelter from the wind and give them extra feed. The ponies always go to a different area for winter grazing, but if you know where to find them then they will happily come up and pose for photos!
Shetland is the best place in the UK to see the Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis and the season ranges from mid-August till the end of April. Shetland sits 400 miles south of the Arctic Circle and is just within the 60-75 degree latitude of their range.
Known locally as the Mirrie Dancers – from the word ‘Mirr’ which means to shimmer. Northern Lights are a spectacular night time light show caused by energised particles from the sun (solar wind) hitting the earths upper atmosphere and the earths magnetic fields redirecting the particles to the poles. The particles react with the gases in our atmosphere and release light.
The best place to view the Northern Lights is in a place with no light pollution and with a low horizon with no high hills blocking your view. Also a cloudless sky is important. Remember to dress warmly and be patient! There is no guarantee you will see them due to overcast weather for example, so its a good idea to combine your visit to Shetland with another event such as Up Helly Aa.
It is also helpful to follow ‘Shetland Aurora Hunter’ on Facebook where you will find the latest updates for the area.
Plan Your Trip
Would you like to immerse yourself in the atmoshere of Shetland in winter?
Do you fancy a trip outwith the traditional tourist season?
I am a certified member of both the Scottish & Shetland Tourist Guides Association and I will be delighted to show you around and even help you secure tickets for the evening celebrations of Up Helly Aa!
All details can be found at www.shetlandguidedtours.com where you can book online.