World Heritage Site - Orkney

Follow this two day itinerary around the historic attractions of Orkney beginning with the Heart of Neolthic Orkney and taking in some of the islands' other fantastic monuments and ruins. You can also find out more on the history timeline of the Orkney islands.

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  • A detail of a roof at the Knap of Howar, Papay
    Knap of Howar
  • Midhowe Broch, Rousay
    Midhowe Broch, Rousay
  • Ring of Brodgar, Stenness
    Ring of Brodgar, Stenness
  • A young boy looking into an ancient Neolithic dwelling at Skara Brae
    Skara Brae Neolithic Dwelling
  • The Stan Stane, North Ronaldsay
    The Stan Stane

Begin your tour around 6,000 years ago, in the Neolithic era and discover the grand, ancient monuments that form the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. Awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999, these Neolithic remains provide a real insight into the lives of the ancient people who settled in Orkney.

Start your first day with a visit to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, situated in Orkney’s West Mainland. If one iconic site has come to represent Orkney’s ancient heritage, it must be the Ring of Brodgar, in the parish of Stenness. Built on a thin strip of land separating Loch Harray and Loch Stenness in around 2500 BC, it stands as the last of the great Neolithic monuments to be built on the Ness. Continue on to explore the prehistoric chambered burial cairn of Maeshowe and the grand 19 ft high Stones of Stenness, one of the earliest stone circles in the United Kingdom, built in 3400 BC. Discover the remains of the Barnhouse Settlement, the shell of a Neolithic village of houses and buildings with kerbed hearths and stone furniture.

Finally visit the last and possibly most remarkable of the Neolithic remains in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, Skara Brae. Concealed beneath sand dunes until 1850, Skara Brae is an impressive complex of Neolithic dwellings connected by low, covered passages. The protection of the sand has ensured that the buildings and contents are incredibly well-preserved, giving an unparalleled glimpse of life as it was in Neolithic Orkney.

Continue your journey into the past in the Via Folk Art Studio and experience Orkney’s rich story telling culture. Gather around a roasting peat fire and listen to entrancing folk and myth tales passed down through generations of islanders and thousands of years.

Continue exploring the history of Orkney by island hopping, as many of the oldest and most fascinating Neolithic monuments are scattered throughout the archipelago. Due to frequent hop-on ferry services and even the world’s shortest chartered flight, all of Orkney’s engaging history is easily accessible to visitors.

Begin your second day with a visit to the earliest known dwelling in Orkney and the oldest preserved stone house in Northern Europe at the Knap of Howar on Papay. These structures, two oblong stone houses, date from 3600 BC and were continuously occupied by a series of Neolithic farmers for at least five centuries. Continue on the short ferry ride across to North Ronaldsay and visit the Stan Stane, where ancient Neolithic architecture meets modern life. Over 13 ft high, the stone may have once been part of an ancient stone circle like that of Stenness or Brodgar. The stone is now the focal point of an ancient North Ronaldsay tradition, where the island inhabitants gather round to sing in the New Year. 

Hop back on the ferry to Rousay, named the ‘Egypt of the North’ due to its archaeological diversity and importance. With over 100 archaeological sites on Rousay, there are a wide range of places to explore and discover. Most famous of the Rousay sites include the complex of Midhowe Chambered Cairn and Broch, an incredibly well preserved burial chamber and the Blackhammer Cairn, dating from around 3000 BC.

With a final ferry ride back to the Mainland, finish your day at the Orkney Museum in Tankerness House. Reflecting Orkney’s heritage with relics dating back more than 5,000 years, the Orkney Museum is a fantastic place to finish your journey into the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. View original relics found in and around the sites you have visited and view real excavation photographs and tools. Trace Orkney’s history from the very beginning, through the Iron Age, Pictish influence and the Norse legacy to the traditions and culture of the modern day.