The Orkney Islands 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
- Mainland, Orkney's largest island where 2/3 of the Isles' population resides. It has a huge concentration Neolithic and Iron Age sites.
- Eday, the Isthmus Island with excellent walks.
- Egilsay, where Earl Magnus was martyred.
- Flotta, location of oil terminal
- 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.
- 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.
- Papa Westray, referred to locally as "Papay", the island is home to the oldest site in Orkney, Knap of Howar.
- Rousay, the Egypt of the North with a large concentration of spectacular archaeological sites.
- Sanday, aptly named the Sand Island for its beautiful beaches.
- Shapinsay, a short ferry sailing from Kirkwall and home to Balfour Castle.
- 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.
South Isles connected by the Churchill Barriers:
- Lambholm, home of the stunning Italian Chapel.
- South Ronaldsay - including the village of St Margaret's Hope and Burwick harbour.
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.
- 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.
- Gill's Bay (near John O'Groats) to St Margaret's Hope, South Ronaldsay. 60-minute sailings offered 3 times a day, 7 days a week. Service provided by Pentland Ferries. Approx. 35 minute drive to Kirkwall from St Margaret's Hope.
- John O'Groats, ☎ . 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
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.
There are ferries linking the mainland with 13 other islands.
- 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.
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.
Awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1999, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney includes:
- 1 Skara Brae. 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.
- 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.
- Diving: Most of the German WWI Imperial Fleet was scuttled in Scapa Flow and offers excellent opportunities to dive. Some diving companies:
- Orkney Archaeology Tours. Holidays & day tours led by professional archaeologists & qualified Orkney tourist guides
- Explore the Isles:. Take an eco tour or holiday with Wildabout Okney.
- The Orkney Folk Festival. May
- St Magnus Festival. June
- Orkney International Science Festival. September
- 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.
- Holland House (Harray).
- Merkister Hotel (Harray).
- Rickla (Harray).
- Scorralee (Orphir).
- Westrow Lodge (Orphir).
There are several other groups of Scottish islands:
- Outer Hebrides, the main islands are: Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Harris, Lewis.
- Inner Hebrides, the main islands are: Tiree Mull, Islay.
- Shetland Islands, some 100 islands (15 inhabited) to the north of the Orkney Islands.
- The islands in the Clyde, principally the Isle of Arran and the Isle of Bute