A Guide to Events and Festivals in Shetland
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! Please note that during 2021 many events may be cancelled or may move online due to COVID-19.
“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 – (Second Friday of January) Cancelled for 2021
Lerwick Up Helly Aa – (Last Tuesday of January) Cancelled for 2021
Lerwick Junior Up Helly Aa – (Last Tuesday of January) Cancelled for 2021
Nesting & Girlsta Up Helly Aa – (10 days after Lerwick festival) Cancelled for 2021
Uyeasound Up Helly Aa – (Second Friday of February) Cancelled for 2021
Northmavine Up Helly Aa – (Third Friday of February) Cancelled for 2021
Bressay Up Helly Aa – (Last Friday of February) Cancelled for 2021
Cullivoe Up Helly Aa – (Last Friday of February) Cancelled for 2021
Norwick Up Helly Aa – (Last Saturday of February) Cancelled for 2021
Walls Junior Up Helly Aa – (First Friday of March) Cancelled for 2021
South Mainland Up Helly Aa – (Second Friday of March) Cancelled for 2021
Delting Up Helly Aa – (Usually Third Friday of March) Cancelled for 2021
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 (Cancelled for 2021)
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 Folk Festival (Cancelled for 2021 / 28th April – 1st May 2022)
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!
Friday 30th April is the official 40th anniversary of the Shetland Folk Festival, so there will be a special night of live music in association with Edinburgh Tradfest Titled ‘Shetland Springs’. Visit https://edinburghtradfest.com/schedule/2020/5/10/shetland-springs for more information.
Lerwick Lifeboat Open Day (2021 event tbc)
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 (cancelled for 2020), which often involves a demonstration from the Lifeboat and the Coastguard helicopter.
Mid-Summer Carnival in Lerwick (2021 event tbc)
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 (Cancelled for 2021 / 16th – 19th June 2022)
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 (23rd – 27th June 2021)
An Annual North Sea yachting challenge, taking place between Bergen in Norway and Lerwick, Shetland which attracts between 40 to 60 competing yachts!
Shetland Nature Festival (2021 event tbc)
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.
UnstFest (Cancelled for 2021)
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.
Folk Frenzy (Cancelled for 2021)
A celebration of world-class fiddle and folk music from Shetland, Folk Frenzy (previously known as Fiddle Frenzy) is part traditional music school (during the day) and part folk festival (during the nightly concerts). Come along to learn the tunes and secrets of Shetland Folk Music. There are also workshops on guitar, mandolin and banjo playing, silver-smithing, and knitting run by experienced tutors.
Shetland Agricultural Shows
Voe Show (Cancelled for 2021)
Cunningsburgh Show (Cancelled for 2021)
Walls Show (2021 event tbc)
Unst Show (Cancelled for 2021)
Yell Show (2021 event tbc)
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 (Cancelled for 2021)
Shetland Boat Week offers a brilliant range of maritime activities to enjoy over the course of a week. 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!
Screenplay (1st – 5th September 2021)
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 in Autumn, 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.
Wordplay (15th – 19th September 2021)
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 Young Fiddler of the Year Competition (24th and 25th September 2021)
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 Wool Week (25th September – 3rd October 2021)
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 Wool Week in 2021 will be an online event.
Taste of Shetland (2021 event tbc)
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 Songwriting Festival (2021 event tbc)
If you’ve ever had a ditty in your head that could become a number one hit, then the Shetland Songwriting Festival is for you. Aimed at everyone from beginners to experienced songwriters, the festival can be enjoyed whether you play an instrument or not. Based in Lerwick town centre at The String, the festival opens with a tutor concert on Friday evening, followed by 2 days of workshops which focus on the tools of songwriting – song structure, lyrics, melody, meter, and song subject. The festival finishes up on Sunday evening with a ‘sharing session’.
Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival (2021 event tbc)
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.
Shetland Classic Motor Show (tbc June 2022)
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 2020. 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.
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.