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More than 800 Vikings join a massive dragon ship set ablaze by flying torches for Scotland's Up Helly Aa Festival in January. (Photo credit: Visit Scotland)
More than 800 Vikings join a massive dragon ship set ablaze by flying torches for Scotland's Up Helly Aa Festival in January. (Photo credit: Visit Scotland)

For 24 hours on the last Tuesday of January, the town of Lerwick on the Scottish archipelago of Shetland, Scotland celebrates the area’s Viking past with an annual fiery display known as the Up Helly Aa Festival. More than 800 Vikings join a massive dragon ship set ablaze by flying torches in front of a crowd of approximately 5,000 spectators. Events that commemorate or showcase Scotland’s history and culture, such as this gathering, account for one third of the country’s tourism, according to VisitScotland.

To further entice visitors to experience Scotland’s fascinating heritage, VisitScotland has dubbed this year’s theme “Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.” Throughout the year, guests will find a range of events and activities highlighting Scotland’s lesser known sides. For example, a Great Roman Bake-Off, large scale projections of Viking imagery, a live archaeological dig of St Kilda in Minecraft and a festival to celebrate the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, are just a few of the events in the 2017 line-up. On World Heritage Day 2017 (April 18), Scotland will celebrate its six iconic World Heritage sites with six unique events (Scotland in Six) from sun up to sun down. Another event to look forward to is the Follow the Vikings Roadshow & Festival in September featuring the Vikings “reconquering” of Shetland. Expect fire breathing, re-enactments and beach raids, plus the opportunity to step aboard the actual long ships used in the popular “Vikings” TV series and even dine at a Viking banquet. For more information, go to visitscotland.com.