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Orkney Islands

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The Orkney Islands (Scottish Gaelic: Arcaibh) are an archipelago of approximately 70 islands some 10 miles (16 km) off the northern coast of Scotland. The "Heart of Neolithic Orkney" is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


The Orkney Islands have been settled since the Neolithic Period. There is plenty to do on the islands. They are easy to navigate. The islands are great for culture holidays and sight-seeing

Islands, Towns and Villages[edit]

Map of the Orkney Islands
Map of Orkney Islands
  • Mainland, Orkney's largest island where 2/3 of the Isles' population resides. It has a huge concentration Neolithic and Iron Age sites.
    • 1 Kirkwall town on Mainland – the administrative capital of the Orkney Islands and largest settlement
    • 2 Stromness town on Mainland – attractive port and Orkney's second-largest town
    • 3 Birsay village on Mainland
    • 4 Dounby village on Mainland
    • 5 Stenness village on Mainland
  • 6 Eday the Isthmus Island with excellent walks.
  • 7 Egilsay where Earl Magnus was martyred.
  • 8 Flotta location of oil terminal
  • 9 Hoy the High Island – hike through R.S.P.B. Nature Reserve to cliffs overlooking the Old Man of Hoy sea stack. Also village of Lyness.
  • 10 North Ronaldsay well-worth the trip if only to climb to the top of the new lighthouse for fantastic views, and to see Old Beacon, the third oldest lighthouse in Scotland.
  • 11 Papa Westray referred to locally as "Papay", the island is home to the oldest site in Orkney, Knap of Howar.
  • 12 Rousay the Egypt of the North with a large concentration of spectacular archaeological sites.
  • 13 Sanday aptly named the Sand Island for its beautiful beaches.
  • 14 Shapinsay a short ferry sailing from Kirkwall and home to Balfour Castle.
  • 15 Stronsay
  • 16 Westray Queen o' the Orkney Islands. Excellent place to spot puffins in late spring to find the best fish & chips in Orkney at the Pierowall Hotel.
  • 17 Wyre

South Isles connected by the Churchill Barriers:

  • 18 Burray
  • 19 Glims Holm
  • 20 Lamb Holm home of the stunning Italian Chapel
  • 21 South Ronaldsay – including the village of St Margaret's Hope and Burwick harbour.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

Flybe offers flights to Kirkwall, Orkney from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and Sumburgh. Aircraft are operated by Loganair, a subsidiary of British Airways. You can take Stagecoach bus number 3 from the airport to Kirkwall.

By boat[edit]

Ro/Ro Ferries:

  • Scrabster to Stromness, Orkney Mainland: 90-minute sailings offered 3 times a day, 7 days a week. Service provided by Northlink Ferries. Approx. 30 minute drive to Kirkwall from Stromness.
  • Aberdeen (and Lerwick) to Kirkwall, Orkney Mainland: 6-hour night sailing offered Tuesdays*, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Service provided by Northlink Ferries. No Kirkwall call from 1 Jan - 31 Mar & 1 Nov - 31 Dec.

Passenger-only Ferries:

  • John O'Groats, +44 1955 611353. Daily: 1 May to 30 Sept. 40-minute ferry from John O'Groats to Burwick, South Ronaldsay £30 return. To go from John O'Groats with a connection to Kirkwall is £32 return. Day tour from [Inverness] is £65

Get around[edit]

By plane[edit]

Unusually for the UK, short internal flights are regularly used to connect to the six outer north island (Eday, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Sanday, Stronsay and Westray). Flights depart from Kirkwall Airport to the airstrips on each island, and are operated by Loganair. Fares start at £15 return.

Orkney also has the shortest commercial flight in the world, at just under 2 minutes between Westray and Papa Westray. Some children use a flight to get to school every day!

By boat[edit]

There are ferries linking the mainland with 13 other islands.

By bus[edit]

Stagecoach Bus operates the buses on the Orkney mainland, also across Burray to St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay. Phone: 01856 878014. Bus schedules are at Orkney's website.

  • The X1 bus runs from St Margaret's Hope to Kirkwall and then to Stromness (also tgoing the other way).

There are infrequent bus services run locally on some of the outlying islands, such as Hoy and Westray. Some information is given in the transport guide available on the above Orkney website.

By taxi[edit]

To get to places outside of the bus routes, taxis are your best option. Be aware however that you might wait a long time if you are outside of the Kirkwall area.

The airport website has a list of taxi providers in Kirkwall. Craigie's Taxis (01856 878787) appears to have the largest fleet.


Neolithic structures[edit]

Houses at Skara Brae

Awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1999, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney includes:

  • Skara Brae, near Dounby. 30km west of Kirkwall, the best-preserved prehistoric village in Western Europe, inhabited before the pyramids of Egypt were built. 2016 Admission: adult £7.10, child £4.30, concessions £5.70. Prices include admission to Skaill House April to September. Admission to Skara Brae reduced October to March. Skara Brae on Wikipedia Skara Brae (Q816437) on Wikidata
  • Maeshowe. 14km west of Kirkwall, finest chambered tomb in north-west Europe, which contains the best collection of Viking runes outside Scandinavia. Advance booking required. 2016 Admission: adult £5.50, child £3.30, concessions £4.40
  • Ring of Brodgar. 16km west of Kirkwall, amazing stone circle with henge ditch. Free admission.
  • Standing Stones of Stenness. One of the oldest stone circles in Britain. Free admission.

Orkney's World Heritage site also includes a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites.




  • Highland Park and Scapa whisky distilleries in Kirkwall. Tours, including a free sample of the product and a gift shop are available.
  • Orkney Wine. On the way to the Italian Chapel. They offer free samples of most of their products.
  • Orkney Brewery. Tours can be booked, but tasting flights are also available in the cafe.


There are plenty of places to stay meeting all price criteria, from youth hostels to grand hotels. See town/village articles for listings.

Go next[edit]

There are several other groups of Scottish islands:

This region travel guide to Orkney Islands is an outline and may need more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. If there are Cities and Other destinations listed, they may not all be at usable status or there may not be a valid regional structure and a "Get in" section describing all of the typical ways to get here. Please plunge forward and help it grow!