Stromness is a port on Mainland, the largest of the Orkney Islands. To the Vikings, Straumsnes meant the headland just south, where a fierce tide rips between Scapa Flow and the Atlantic; get past that and you came safely into Hamnavoe or "peaceful harbour", where the town now stands. It's long been a fishing port but it was more important in the 17th-18th C, when Britain was often at war with France, the Channel was unsafe, and shipping had to detour around the north of Scotland. Hudson's Bay explorers and traders, and the expeditions of Captain Cook and of Franklin, all stopped here for rest and re-supply. Today Stromness is the second largest town in the Orkneys but it's a quiet place, with a pleasant narrow flagged main street, and it's escaped the industrial sprawl seen around Kirkwall.
Northlink car ferries sail 2 or 3 times daily between Stromness and Scrabster, taking 90 mins. If you book a cabin on the early morning sailing to Scrabster, you can board between 21:30 and 23:30 the previous evening. The ferry terminal is central in town next to the bus station.
The other ferry routes from the Scottish mainland to Orkney are Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Shetland, Gills Bay to St Margaret's Hope, and John O'Groats to Burwick: see "Orkney Islands: Get in".
Orkney Ferries sail at least twice a day from Stromness to Moaness on Hoy and to Graemsay. The other Hoy ferry (to Lyness its main village, and to Flotta) sails from Houton five miles south of Stromness: bus 5 connects.
The main bus into town is Stagecoach X1, hourly from Kirkwall via Stenness. This also runs south of Kirkwall but less frequently, past the Italian Chapel to the ferry terminal at St Margaret's Hope.
Stromness town is compact and a walk along the flagged main street is never less than pleasant.
The Stones of Stenness are only four miles away, an hour's hike, but it's a busy main road with intermittent sidewalk. Bike is the ideal way to reach these, Skara Brae, Birsay and Kirkwall, and to potter around Hoy, though for sure the stiff breeze will contrive to be in your face in both directions. Orkney Cycle Hire are based at 54 Dundas St, call +44 1856 850255.
- 1 Stromness Museum, 52 Alfred Street KW16 3DH, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. April-Oct daily 10:00-17:00, closed winter. Covers natural history, sea-going and maritime exploration, and wartime Orkney. Adult £5, concs £4.00, family (2+2) £10, school pupil £1.
- 2 Pier Arts Centre, 28 Victoria Street KW16 3AA, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-Sa 10:30-17:00. Gallery with permanent collection of work by 20th C artists, some of whom are local to the area. The centre also hosts temporary exhibits and runs a programme of educational and community outreach activities. Free.
- For the must-see neolithic sites, see Stenness for Maeshowe, Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae. See Birsay for the Earl's Palace and Brough there.
A short easy walk up behind the town brings you atop Brinkies Brae (94m), for views of Hoy. A longer but level walk leads south from town to Point of Ness, with its campsite. Continue west along the coast, by the golf-course, to the gaunt structure of 1 Ness Battery. You can tour inside this gun battery. It was built in 1915, in regular service until 1955 and used for training until 2001. You may also drive here along the golf course private road. £6 for a guided tour. Continue further west to the tranquil graveyard, where lies the poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996), with an unobtrusive sandstone headstone. A public road leads back over the ridge to town.
- Orkney Folk Festival is held annually in May, mostly in Stromness. The next is Th 20 - Sun 23 May 2021.
- 1 Stromness Books and Prints (Tam's Book Shop), Graham Place, Stromness, KW16 3BY. Tiny but much-loved bookshop tucked into the corner with Dundas Street.
The main place to stock up on food and other essentials is the Co-op, north end of town.
All the hotels have bars and restaurants, including Ferry Inn, Royal Hotel and Stromness Hotel, see "sleep".
- 1 Julia's Cafe & Bistro (Ferry Rd. Opposite the ferry terminal), ☏ . Popular restaurant.
- 2 , 35 Graham Place Stromness Orkney KW16 3BY, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- The Flattie Bar is a cosy traditional pub within the Stromness Hotel, see "sleep".
- 1 Brown's Holiday Hostel, 47 Victoria St KW16 3BS, ☏ . Hostel with single, twin, triple and family room. They also run Harbourlee self-catering house. Hostel £20-25 ppn, house £200 / night.
- 2 Point of Ness Caravan and Camping Site, KW16 3AA (a mile south of town), ☏ . On draughty headland south of town.
- 3 , 10a North End Road, Stromness KW16 3AG (just north of bus station & ferry terminal), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: from 2pm, check-out: 10pm. Hostel with six rooms, the largest sleeps four, one is an en suite twin.
- 4 The Ferry Inn, 10 John Street KW16 3AD, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. As well as rooms here, the Ferry Inn also run the nearby Royal Hotel, and other properties to let across town. Plus, let it not be doubted, their bars.
- 5 The Stromness Hotel, 15 Victoria St KW16 1AA (Facing bus station & ferry terminal), ☏ . Straightforward 3-star hotel, with the "Flattie Bar".