Shetland Nature

Wildlife, Birding & Photography Holidays

Scottish Tourist Board 5 Star Wildlife Experience
Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence 2017
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Shetland in Winter – Birds, Otters and Up Helly Aa

A unique mid-winter Shetland adventure in search of the evocative winter wildlife the islands harbour, culminating with an unforgettable night at Shetland’s world famous Up Helly Aa fire festival.

Holiday Overview

  • Experience Shetland’s world renowned Viking fire festival
  • Five nights full board accommodation and four days in the field
  • Unique insight through multiple tour leaders: wildlife, culture & heritage
  • Exclusivity of small group size of just six guests
  • Unrivalled insight into Shetland’s otters through dedicated field trips
  • The possibility to experience the Aurora borealis
  • No single supplement charge

The Shetland Islands unique and magical blend of isolation, stark beauty and exotic wildlife is justly renowned and especially in summer, but the rewards for a winter visit can be just as plentiful; evocative wildlife such as Otters, Long-tailed and Eider ducks, winter wildfowl, snow-white Mountain hare. This holiday however also targets a totally unique celebration of cultural heritage – Shetland’s world famous Up Helly Aa fire festival. There is also the added chance of a display of the magical Aurora Borealis or ‘Northern Lights’.

A Shetland winter might not be for the faint-hearted; short days, long dark nights and the occasional wild storm nevertheless, for the brave and more adventurous visitor, Shetland is a truly inspirational place during the winter months. Not only is the landscape fantastically and often dramatically transformed by the weather and low winter light, but there is a whole wealth of wildlife to enjoy.

The main highlight is of course the world famous Up Helly Aa fire festival. Up Helly Aa today is a tradition that originated in the late 1800’s. Since then the festival has been one of if not the main event Shetlands cultural calendar. Up Helly Aa is essentially a fire festival held annually on the last Tuesday in January. The day involves a series of marches and parades throughout Lerwick, Shetlands town center, with patriotic Shetlanders (dressed head to toe in the finest of Viking regalia) culminating in torch lit procession and the burning of a Viking long-ship, a spectacle that attracts visitors from all over the world year after year.

Winter is a truly special time for otter watching, as these elusive and wonderful animals tend to be most active during daylight hours, which in the winter months are very short so their daily routines are condensed. Whatever the weather life goes on for Shetlands charismatic wild Otters and the short winter days will often offer privileged opportunities to enjoy their captivating behaviour.

On the moorland the winter plumaged snow-white Mountain Hare shares the all but deserted hills with Red Grouse, and can be found with relative ease, especially the former, as their winter coats give away their presence against the red and brown tones of the heather.

For birdwatchers, winter in Shetland is far from bleak and although the density of species is much lower than in the summer months, a little effort can often reap great rewards. Sea ducks such as the very handsome Long-tailed and Eider Duck can be found in good numbers round much of the coast along with Great Northern Divers and Slavonian Grebes, especially in some of the more sheltered bays. Scarce wintering gulls like Glaucous and Iceland can usually be found with relative ease, typically frequenting the harbors, fish farms and factories. A good mixture of winter wildfowl can also be enjoyed, mainly on a few of some of the larger lochs. Round the coast good numbers of both turnstone and purple sandpiper can be found along with Black Guillemot or ‘Tystie’ as they are locally known. Add to that that few years pass without wintering White-billed divers or King Eiders and very often both!

To read about Shetland in Winter, have a look at our blog post Shetland in Winter.

The itinerary

Throughout the holiday we will remain relatively flexible so as to maximize our chances with the wildlife, vistas and locations we shall target. On Tuesday however, the Up Helly Aa festival day will be centered in or around the town Lerwick and nearby wildlife areas.

As our Up Helly Aa holiday itinerary spans over six days we are able to fully explore Shetland’s winter wildlife hot spots in the south, north and central Mainland at a leisurely pace and weather permitting may even venture further afield onto the north isles.

This holiday begins as we meet and greet you on Saturday evening at 1800hrs at Sumburgh Hotel. The holiday ends after breakfast on Thursday morning when you are transferred for departure.

Booking – Holiday Dates

Principal Tour Guides
Price: £995
Saturday 27th January to Thursday 1st February, 2018 Available

Contact Us to Book

Contact us for more information or to enquire about alternative dates for your own exclusive/tailor-made holiday.


  • On booking please advise of any special requirements medical or dietary
  • Throughout the holiday some of the activities will potentially involve walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain. There will require a reasonable level of fitness. We can also provide holidays at a more leisurely pace; please contact us for details

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