Birsay is a parish on the Orkney Mainland, located on the northwestern tip. The main street consists of a tea room, general store and a cluster of residences, a stone's throw away from the ruins of Earl's Palace. The surrounding area is farmland and rolling hills speckled with ancient standing stones that are sometimes used as fenceposts.
If you're driving, it's hard to get lost. If you do get lost, you'll end up in a town pretty quick. Probably the town you're looking for.
Out of Kirkwall, take the A965 towards Stromness. Turn right on the A986. Around Twatt, it will turn into the A967, keep following it. When you hit the intersection with A966 (just before you run out of road) you're at Birsay.
Out of Stromness, take the A965 out of the town, then turn left on the A967 (towards Skara Brae). It will meet up with A986 around Twatt. Stay on the A967 all the way to Birsay.
The local bus service, Orkney Coaches #6, #7, or #8, stops next to the Palace, just outside the general store. This service runs extremely infrequently.
From Kirkwall bus station, the bus runs Monday to Friday at 07:00 and 17:10, plus once on Monday at 13:50 and once on Thursday at 17:35. On Saturday, the bus runs to Birsay at 11:05 and 17:35. It takes roughly 40 minutes.
From Stromness bus station, the bus runs Monday to Friday at 13:20, with an extra service Monday mornings at 09:30. When the Stronmess Academy has classes, the bus also runs Monday - Friday at 15:20. Additionally, from June to September, a bus runs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 09:30 and 16:30. On Saturdays, a bus runs to Birsay at 07:25 and 12:35. It takes roughly 30 minutes.
There is no local Sunday bus service on the Orkney Islands.
Once you're in Birsay, pretty much everything is within walking distance.
The ruins of the Palace of Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney, built in the late 16th century. Admission free, always open.
Brough of Birsay
This tidal island, run by Historic Scotland, holds Norse ruins dating back from the 9th century to the 13th century, as well evidence of the earlier Pictish settlement from the 7th century onwards. Also a 1925 lighthouse and beautiful views of the striated cliffs. Open mid-June to end of September, 9:30-17:30, depending on the tides. Admission is £4.50.
Fishermen's Hut and Whalebone
From the Brough of Birsay carpark, walk east along the north shore. About 10 minutes down the path is a small fishermen's hut with adjacent boat rests. Down nearby narrow stone stairway is a natural spring. A bit farther down the path is a whalebone that was erected in the late 19th century and a great view of the Brough.
Experience 19th Century Life
There are several restored mills scattered about the Orkney Mainland. In Birsay, Barony Mills gives tours and demonstrates 19th century milling machinery. Open daily May - September. Free admission. 01856 721 439
Kirbuster Farm Museum also illuminates a 19th-century way of life through its farmhouse with traditional stone bed and central hearth.
Boat Rentals & Trout Fishing on Boardhouse Loch
Barony Hotel - boats and outboard motors for rent, and they throw in lunches. 01856 721 327
The Birsay general store, close to the Palace ruins, is the provider for everything from daily bread to souvenir marmalade.
Eat & Drink
Birsay Bay Tearoom
On the west end of Birsay's main street. Beautiful views of the ocean, snacks and light meals.
Birsay Outdoor Centre - three star hostel run by the local Orkney government. Adults £11.90, Juniors £9, Under 3's £3.25, Family Room £29.25. 01856 873 535.
Linkshouse B&B - situated on the main street in the village. £25-35 per person per night (based on double occupancy). 01856 721 221
Choin B&B - a little ways west of Birsay, close to Marwick Bay. £25-35 per person per night including breakfast. 01856 721 488
Barony Hotel - overlooking the Boardhouse Loch. Starts at £35 per person per night; including breakfast and ensuite amenities. 01856 721327
If you're driving you have no excuse not to go to Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Maeshowe chambered cairn. Not that you would want to make excuses not to go, cause these are some of the main reasons people tend to go to the Orkneys. They're all within an hour's drive of Birsay, just off of A967 towards Stromness. Skara Brae is off to the north, the others are off to the south.
Getting out is almost as hard as getting in.
Buses to Stromness (some with a stop at Skaill near Skara Brae) run Monday at 14:28 and Thursday at 18:13. When the Stronmess Academy has classes, the bus runs Monday - Friday at both 08:00 and 08:10. Additionally, from June to September, a bus runs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 10:55 and 18:15. They run Saturdays at 11:43 and 18:13.
Buses to Kirkwall run Monday to Friday at 07:45, 13:45, and 17:56, with an added route on Monday at 9:55. They run Saturdays at 08:00 and 12:50.
Again, there are no Sunday local bus services.