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Technically part of Scotland, the Shetland Islands’ proximity to Norway makes them distinctly Scandinavian too. Situated northeast of Great Britain, this subarctic archipelago is steeped in history and tradition. Yet, despite covering an area of over 500 square miles, only 16 of approximately 100 islands are inhabited.

If you’ve explored the UK as much as travel and history enthusiast Fiyaz Mughal, you’ll know that it can be magnificently culturally varied. With their unique mix of cultures, blended with spellbinding North Sea scenery, the Shetland Islands stand out as one of Britain’s most extraordinary locations to visit.

Here are three activities that best showcase the Shetland Islands’ distinctively Scandinavian character:

The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights – also known as the aurora borealis – are the dancing ribbons of colour that light the northern night’s sky. This beautiful display is the result of particles that have become electrically charged interacting with Earth’s magnetic field. They’re considered one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

You might be surprised to hear that the Northern Lights actually reach the Shetland Islands too, as they lie closer to the North Pole than anywhere else in the British Isles. Known locally as the “Merrie Dancers”, the aurora borealis can be seen clearly on many nights throughout the winter months.

Meet the People and Read Road Signs

The peculiar Scotland-Scandinavian blend of the Shetland Islands is never more apparent than when speaking with its people. Islanders have a distinct Norwegian lilt to their accents as they speak. The local dialect also incorporates many Scandinavian words. Oystercatcher birds, for example, are known on Shetland as “shalder”, pronounced the same as the Nordic word “tjaldur”.

Many place names are Scandinavian and road signs also include Old Norse spellings and translations.

Up Helly Aa

To experience the Shetland Islands at their most dramatic, visit during Up Helly Aa. Held on the last Tuesday of January every year in Lerwick, Shetland, fiercely defiant of the weather, Up Helly Aa is a Nordic fire festival involving a series of marches and visitations. The festival features men in Viking armour marching, singing and telling traditional tales. Finally, Up Helly Aa climaxes magnificently with the ritual burning of a galley, a replica of a Viking longship.

If you want to experience a stunningly un-British side of British culture, you must visit the Shetland Islands.