Shetland’s yearly events start with the fire festivals which mark the end of the long winter nights. Shetland Folk Festival and Fiddle Frenzy are a celebration of Shetland’s outstanding musical heritage. Screenplay, Shetland’s film festival, brings movie stars to the islands, Shetland Wool Week showcases Shetland’s sheep and textile industry and the Simmer Dim Motorcycle Rally is a celebration of the long summer nights. It’s easy to see why this fantastic range of festivals draw people back to Shetland again and again!
Up Helly Aa
Scalloway Fire Festival – 12th January 2018
Lerwick Up Helly Aa – 30th January 2018
Lerwick Junior Up Helly Aa – 30th January 2018
Nesting & Girlsta Up Helly Aa – 9th February 2018
Uyeasound Up Helly Aa – 16th February 2018
Northmavine Up Helly Aa – 16th February 2018
Bressay Up Helly Aa – 23rd February 2018
Cullivoe Up Helly Aa – 23rd February 2018
Norwick Up Helly Aa – 24th February 2018
Walls Junior Up Helly Aa – 10th March 2018
South Mainland Up Helly Aa – 9th March 2018
Delting Up Helly Aa – 16th March 2018
In other island communities, January, February and March are the quietest months of the year, but this is not so in Shetland. The last Tuesday of January is when one of the biggest events of the year takes place – Up Helly Aa! Around 1,000 guizers, led by the Jarl and his squad, take part in a spectacular torchlit procession around the streets of Lerwick, before setting alight a purpose-built Viking galley. Should you miss Lerwick Up Helly Aa, there are other fire festivals which take place throughout Shetland during January, February and March.
Shetland County Drama Festival (5th – 8th March 2018)
Taking place in the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick, the Shetland County Drama Festival sees drama groups from different areas of Shetland perform a play, all vying for first place in the competition. Genres can be varied – a comedy may play alongside a drama – but each night is thoroughly entertaining. For each drama group, awaiting the adjudicator’s decision at the end in a dramatic moment in itself!
Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year Competition (27th – 28th April 2018)
One of Shetland’s fiercest fought competitions, this is open to fiddle players aged 16 or under. The competition takes place over two days, with the final decision made at the prize-giving concert on Saturday evening. The overall winner is hailed as “The Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year” – and previous winners read like a who’s who of fiddle excellence.
Shetland Folk Festival (3rd – 6th May 2018)
One of Shetland’s biggest events (that doesn’t involve fire!) is the Shetland Folk Festival. The incredible roster of artists includes some of the best local and visiting musicians there are, performing at venues throughout the isles. Begin the fun on board the Aberdeen to Shetland ferry during the unofficial opening in the middle of the North Sea!
Shetland Classic Motor Show (2nd – 3rd June 2018)
One of the Scotland’s premier motoring events – the Shetland Classic Motor Show takes place every two years – and the next one will take place in 2018. The sight of vintage cars and motorcycles around the isles will be a lovely one – hundreds of classic cars, motorcycles, and military vehicles will visit Shetland for the event.
Lerwick Lifeboat Open Day (16th June 2018)
The Lerwick Lifeboat Open Day takes place every year at Victoria Pier with tents, stalls, homebakes and a BBQ to raise funds for the RNLI’s Lerwick Lifeboat – the Michael and Jane Vernon. Each year NorthLink assist with the fundraising by organising a cruise around Bressay, which often involves a demonstration from the Lifeboat and the Coastguard helicopter.
Mid-Summer Carnival in Lerwick (16th June 2018)
The annual Mid-Summer Carnival in Lerwick involves a fancy dress parade through the streets (ending up on Victoria Pier) with topical floats and even Shetland ponies! It’s a great evening of fun with a super atmosphere, which raises money for good causes.
Simmer Dim Rally (21st – 24th June 2018)
The most northerly motorcycle rally in the UK attracts around 300 bikers from far and wide to enjoy midsummer in Shetland. The Simmer Dim Rally is famous for its superb atmosphere – and entry is by invite – see the Simmer Dim Facebook page for more details. Motorbikes are welcome with NorthLink Ferries – we expect a car deck full of bikes in the days before the event!
Bergen – Shetland Races (27th – 30th June 2018)
An Annual North Sea yachting challenge, taking place between Bergen in Norway and Lerwick, Shetland which attracts between 40 to 60 competing yachts!
Fiddle Frenzy (11th – 15th July 2018)
An annual celebration of world-class fiddle music from Shetland, Fiddle Frenzy is part traditional fiddle school (during the day) and part fiddle festival (during the nightly concerts). Come along to learn the tunes and secrets of the unique Shetland Fiddle style. There are also workshops on guitar accompaniment, knitting, drawing, painting, and writing run by experienced tutors.
UnstFest (14th – 22nd July 2018)
UnstFest is a week of fun events on the lovely island of Unst. Activities from previous years have included: Cooking for bairns, Rollerwheels (skates, scooters and bikes at the leisure centre), a Teddy Bear Hospital where you can get your best pal mended, Fire Station open night, a Stone Skimming Championship, a guided walk to Hermaness and the UnstFest Summer Carnival.
Shetland Nature Festival (28th July 2018 – 5th August 2018)
The Shetland Nature Festival has a full programme of events including guided tours, talks and family fun days which celebrate the seabirds, sealife, wildflowers and geology of Shetland. Coinciding with the school holidays; families are encouraged to come along to discover wildlife together – the activities throughout the islands are designed to suit all ages and abilities.
Shetland Agricultural Shows
Voe Show – 4th August 2018
Walls Show – 11th August 2018
Cunningsburgh Show – 8th August 2018
Unst Show – 25th August 2018
Yell Show – 1st September 2018
A great day out for young and old are the Shetland Agricultural Shows in August / September. Unlike Orkney, where there’s a show week, in Shetland the shows are distributed evenly throughout the month. All are great days out, with plenty for children to do and competitions for the best livestock and produce including veggies, baking, knitting and crafts.
Shetland Boat Week (6th – 13th August 2018)
A relatively new festival, Shetland Boat Week offers a brilliant range of maritime activities to enjoy. These include talks about the history of fishing and shipwrecks in Shetland, boat trips and demonstrations of traditional skills. During Shetland Boat Week, NorthLink will offer bridge visits, giving visitors the chance to see behind the scenes!
Da Big Bannock (2018 dates tbc)
Officially Shetland’ daftest festival, Da Big Bannock takes place in Northmavine and every year raises tens of thousands of pounds for charity. Expect humorous fun, including the annual bake of a massive bannock – a local delicacy similar to a scone! Tickets go on sale a few weeks before Da Big Bannock and are highly sought after!
Screenplay (25th August – 2nd September 2018)
Shetland’s annual Film Festival is curated by film historian Linda Ruth Williams and film critic Mark Kermode. It features a feast of film screenings, lectures and panel discussions. Every year, the festival attracts figureheads of the British Film Industry to Shetland – from film-makers to movie stars (Jim Broadbent and Mark Kermode are pictured above)! Screenplay also has a strong local flavour and celebrates the work of local filmmakers.
Mind Your Head Fun Run & Walk (Sunday 26th August 2018)
Mind your Head is a Shetland charity formed to promote mental health positively. The annual Mind Your Head Fun Run and Walk, held at Cunningsburgh, is a friendly event which raises funds for this worthy cause!
Taste of Shetland (5th – 7th October 2018)
The Taste of Shetland Festival is a celebration of Shetland’s delicious larder and there’s plenty to experience in the Clickimin Leisure Centre, Lerwick; including stalls, cookery demonstrations and samples to tempt your tastebuds!
Shetland Wool Week (22nd – 30th September 2018)
It is perhaps fitting that Shetland Wool Week occurs at the time of year you start to think about looking out your woollen jumpers! This popular and fun festival is a celebration of Britain’s most northerly native sheep and the craft producers that make the most of the surrounding resources. Events include exhibitions, open studio tours, and master classes with well-known local and international knitters and designers. Visit the website to download a free knitting pattern!
Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival (11th – 15th October 2018)
The annual Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival brings together the best of traditional music from Shetland, Scotland and beyond for a weekend of concerts, suppers and dances. The festival culminates with a grand dance where around 12 bands provide the music for around 1000 dancers at Lerwick’s Clickimin Leisure Complex.
Wordplay (2018 dates tbc)
Shetland’s book festival welcomes writers of local, national and international renown and features a mix of readings, writing workshops, and book signings. The Book Festival offers a unique opportunity for readers to meet with their favourite author and hear them read their work. It takes place in the winter – the perfect time to curl up in front of the fire with a book!
Shetland International Guitar Festival (2018 dates tbc)
The Shetland Guitar Festival is dedicated to the memory of Peerie Willie Johnson, who invented a jazz-influenced accompaniment style of guitar playing. Visitors to the festival can expect concerts, educational events and the chance for guitar enthusiasts to meet some of the world’s finest musicians.
Orkney and Shetland enthusiast, family man, loves walks, likes animals, terrible at sports, dire taste in music, great taste in films and tv, eats a little too much for his own good.