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!

It’s easy to see why this fantastic range of festivals draw people back to Shetland again and again!

Up Helly Aa procession
Up Helly Aa procession through the streets of Lerwick photo © Copyright Magnus Dixon

Up Helly Aa

  • Scalloway Fire Festival – (Second Friday of January) 12th January 2024
  • Lerwick Up Helly Aa – (Last Tuesday of January) 30th January 2024
  • Lerwick Junior Up Helly Aa – (Last Tuesday of January) 30th January 2024
  • Nesting & Girlsta Up Helly Aa – (10 days after Lerwick festival) 9th February 2024
  • Uyeasound Up Helly Aa – (Third Friday of February) Postponed until 2025
  • Northmavine Up Helly Aa – (Third Friday of February) 16th February 2024
  • Cullivoe Up Helly Aa – (Last Friday of February) 23rd February 2024
  • Norwick Up Helly Aa – (Last Saturday of February) 24th February 2024
  • Bressay Up Helly Aa – (Usually Last Friday of February) 1st March 2024
  • South Mainland Up Helly Aa – (Second Friday of March) 8th March 2024
  • Delting Up Helly Aa – (Third Friday of March) 15th March 2024
  • Walls Junior Up Helly Aa – (usually Fourth Friday of March) tbc 2024

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 Drama Festival
Shetland County Drama ‘Oliver’ photo © Copyright Shetland County Drama

Shetland County Drama Festival (11th – 15th March 2024)

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
Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year photo © Copyright Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year

Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year Competition (26th – 27th April 2024)

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
Shetland Folk Festival photo © Copyright Shetland Folk Festival

Shetland Folk Festival (2nd – 5th May 2024)

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 Songwriting Festival
Rachel Sermanni and Louis Abbott live at The String for the Shetland Songwriting Festival photo © Copyright Shetland Songwriting Festival

Shetland Songwriting Festival (26th May – 1st June 2024)

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 Classic Motor Show
Shetland Classic Motor Show in the Clickimin Leisure Complex photo © Copyright Shetland Classic Motor Show

Shetland Classic Motor Show (1st – 2nd June 2024)

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 2024. 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.

Simmer Dim Rally
Vikings at the Simmer Dim Rally photo © Copyright The Simmer Dim Rally

Simmer Dim Rally (20th – 23rd June 2024)

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!

Lerwick Lifeboat Open Day
Lerwick Lifeboat Open Day – Coastguard helicopter and Lifeboat rescue demonstration photo © Copyright Billy Fox

Lerwick Lifeboat Open Day (tbc 2024)

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.

Bergen to Shetland Race
Yachts in Lerwick harbour photo © Copyright The Shetland Race

Bergen – Shetland Races (19th June 2024)

An Annual North Sea yachting challenge, taking place between Bergen in Norway and Lerwick, Shetland which attracts between 40 to 60 competing yachts!

Lerwick Midsummer Carnival
Lerwick Midsummer Carnival photo © Copyright Living Lerwick

Mid-Summer Carnival in Lerwick (tbc 2024)

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.

UnstFest – Where’s Wally Half Marathon photo © Copyright UnstFest

UnstFest (15th – 21st July 2024)

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 Folk Frenzy
Shetland Folk Frenzy photo © Copyright Shetland Folk Frenzy

Folk Frenzy (tbc 2024)

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.

Cunningsburgh Agricultural Show in Shetland
Cunningsburgh Show photo © Copyright Cunningsburgh & District’s Agricultural Society

Shetland Agricultural Shows

Voe Show (tbc 2024)
Cunningsburgh Show (tbc 2024)
Walls Show (tbc 2024)
Unst Show (tbc 2024)
Yell Show (tbc 2024)

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.

Screenplay - Shetland's Film Festival
Screenplay photo © Copyright Shetland Arts

Screenplay (tbc 2024)

Shetland’s annual Film Festival 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 – including film critics, film-makers and 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 - Shetland's Book Festival
Wordplay – Shetland’s Book Festival photo © Copyright Shetland Arts

Wordplay (tbc 2024)

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 Wool Week
Fair Isle knitting photo © Copyright Charles Tait

Shetland Wool Week (29th September – 5th October 2024)

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
Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival photo © Copyright Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Club

Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival (10th – 13th October 2024)

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 Food Fair
Taste of Shetland Festival photo © Copyright Taste of Shetland

Taste of Shetland (tbc 2024)

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!

Magnus DixonBy Magnus Dixon
Orkney and Shetland enthusiast, family man, loves walks, likes animals, terrible at sports, dire taste in music, adores audiobooks and films, eats a little too much for his own good.

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Header image: Up Helly Aa 2017 photo © Copyright Alex Mazurov