Every year on the last Tuesday in January, the night sky above Lerwick is aglow with flames. The reason for this is that this is the occasion of the annual festival called Up Helly Aa, in which a day of marches and visitations reaches a climax with a torchlit procession and the burning of a galley. Females have traditionally been banned from taking part in the processions, meaning that many men dress up as women for the portrrayal of female characters, which has led to the event being dubbed "transvestite Tuesday". The festival takes place in a number of Shetland locations, but Lerwick's is the most famous. As is the case with many long-standing festivals, the origins of the event are lost in the mists of time, although a popular school of thought is that the festival marks the end of Yuletide. Of course, nowadays the fact that the festival is a good excuse for imbibing large quantities of alcohol is good enough reason for many.
Lerwick has been the capital of the Shetland Islands since 1708, having become a Dutch settlement in the previous century. Fort Charlotte was founded in 1653 to make use of the military potential of Bressay Sound. The old part of town by the waterfront still remains as a reminder of the town's origins, but during the 1970s there was an oil boom which led to significant growth. A relic of much earlier times can be reached via a causeway to an islet in the Loch of Clickimin, where there is a 4th century broch. The Shetland Museum on the waterfront has replicas of Celtic silverware and Norse artefacts on display. The Böd of Gremista, built in 1780, is a museum which tells the story of the fishing stations which once existed all over Shetland. The building also houses the Shetland Textile Working Museum. Lerwick is the most northerly town in Great Britain, so much so that it is actually closer to Oslo than to London.
For a list of events in Lerwick, see here.
Map of the area.