Up Helly Aa in Shetland — Possibly My Best Adventure Yet!

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I just got back from a five-day trip that I will never forget — ever.  I traveled with Haggis Adventures to the remote Shetland Islands, northeast of Scotland, to experience Up Helly Aa, the Viking Fire Festival held in Shetland every January.

This may have been my best trip…EVER.

Seriously.  I am still reeling from how good a time I had.


How was this trip the best trip I’ve ever had?

Was it about how the trip started — a race up a snowy mountain for a bottle of whisky at the robust hour of 10:00 AM?

(Despite that, this wasn’t a drinking trip by any means.  It was fine whisky we raced for, not crappy beer!)

Was it about our sweet, hilarious, and passionate Haggis Adventures guides Tony and Dougie, who love nothing more than showing off Scotland to travelers like us?

Without them, our trip wouldn’t have been a fraction of as awesome as it was.  I love those guys.

Could it have been about how even the overnight boat ride was a Shetland adventure?  They played the folk music and even let us play the drums for a bit!  We danced it up.

Or was it about Shetland itself?  Once we arrived, we discovered a raw, cold, untouched and breathtakingly beautiful land.

Maybe it was about the Vikings!  Posing with Vikings, dancing with Vikings, drinking with Vikings, singing with Vikings.  We did all of the above!

And there were Baby Vikings!  Speaking on behalf of the ladies, we just wanted to take them home with us.

But above all, it was about Up Helly Aa.  It was about the greatest festival I’ve ever experienced — yes, even better than Songkran — and it was amazing watching the sky light up with fire as everyone cheered!

Pyromaniacs, this is the festival for you!

Up Helly Aa is way more than just fire.  Next up was the most exclusive event — the Town Hall party.

And then this trip became all about the all-night Shetland/Scottish folk dancing…

It was about the wacky performances from 50 different squads, from 9 PM-8 AM…

And most memorably, it was about the lovely, funny, wonderful people with whom you vow to stay at the party until the final squad is done.

And when the festivities were all over and we headed back to Scotland…maybe it was about road tripping from Aberdeen to Edinburgh and making occasional stops for attractions like this:

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CASTLE IN SCOTLAND.  Just a casual stop.  That’s one thing that I loved about Haggis Adventures and our lovely guides — they knew just the kinds of stops that would thrill us.


On paper, it sounds like just the kind of trip I’d avoid — freezing cold, windy, far northern Shetland, in January, of all months!  But between the sheer amount of fun we had, the weirdness of Shetland and Up Helly Aa, and the stunning beauty of the landscapes surrounding us, I’m happy to say that I HAD THE TIME OF MY LIFE.

Here are the posts about the trip:

Many thanks to Haggis Adventures for a truly fantastic time on the Up Helly Aa trip.  All opinions, as always, are my own.