Viking costumes and fire come together in a boozy celebration.
Up Helly Aa, Europe’s biggest fire festival, takes place annually on the last Tuesday of January in the town of Lerwick.
Shetland’s tourism describes it as ‘‘a superb spectacle, a celebration of Shetland history, and a triumphant demonstration of the islanders’ skills and spirit’’.
Also billed as a northern Mardi Gras, the festival lasts just one day and one night, but is highly anticipated, and transforms this usually quiet and peaceful town into a wild bonfire party.
Thousands of guizers (usually male amateur actors) parade the streets kitted out in Viking outfits. But the star of the show is the ‘‘Guizer Jarl’’ or the festival head – his costume, and which Norse character he depicts is a highly guarded secret that’s only unveiled on the day.
The Jarl leads his squad of Vikings through the streets, setting fire to a long boat or galley in the city centre. Once the flames die down, the celebrations continue well into the next night.
Although it’s winter, the rest of the country has a lot to offer too. Visit Edinburgh and Glasgow, explore familiar myth-soaked lochs, glens, and far-flung islands. Bonnie Scotland is certainly one of Europe’s most visually – and culturally – absorbing destinations.