Orkney and Shetland Islands Feature

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Island Festivals

Islanders know how to celebrate their unique heritage and the performing arts. Joining one of the island festivals can be a memorable part of any trip. Some festivals are very popular, so plan well ahead.

Shetland has quite a strong cultural identity, thanks to its Scandinavian heritage. There are, for instance, books of local dialect verse, a whole folklore and identification system for lost fishermen contained in knitting patterns, and a strong tradition of fiddle playing.

In the middle of the long winter, at the end of January, Shetlanders celebrate their Viking culture with the Up-Helly-Aa Festival, which—for the men—involves dressing up as Vikings, parading with flaming torches, and then burning a replica of a Viking longship, followed by one or sometimes two nights of carousing. Women play hostess in the halls, feeding and quenching the thirsts of those involved, and dancing with them. The Shetland Folk Festival, held in April, and October's Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival both attract large numbers of visitors.

Orkney's St. Magnus Festival, a celebration focusing on classical music, is based in Kirkwall and is usually held the third week in June. Orkney also hosts a jazz festival in April, an annual folk festival at the end of May, the unique Boys' Ploughing Match in mid-August, and The Ba' (ball; street rugby-football played by the Uppies and Doonies residents of Kirkwall) on Christmas and New Year's Day.

On a smaller scale, throughout summer both islands run mini-festivals and events for lovers of literature, films, food, art, music, and in Shetland even bannocks! Information about these can be found in the visitor centers.

Updated: 2014-02-13

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