Kirkwall and East Mainland

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  • Earl's Palace, Kirkwall
    Earl's Palace, Kirkwall
  • Looking over to vistors at the Highland Park Distillery
    Highland Park Distillery
  • Close up shot of jewellery being created at a workshop
    Sheila Fleet Jewellery
  • St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney
    St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney

This tour takes you on a one-day journey through the historic capital of Orkney and the neighbouring East Mainland. Enjoy a combination of fascinating history, spectacular scenery and natural beauty as you journey through the past and present of this charming area.

Begin your tour in the historic town and Royal Burgh of Kirkwall, the capital and administrative centre of Orkney. It is a Viking town that was founded around 1035 by Earl Rognvald Brusason. The name Kirkwall comes from the Old Norse, 'Kirkjuvagar' meaning 'church-bay' and refers to a much older church than the present day Cathedral. The original town is one of the best preserved examples of an ancient Norse town. Kirkwall has a population of approx 7600 people and is the busy heart of Orkney with many things for visitors to see and do. Spend some time exploring the main streets and the variety of shops selling Orkney Crafts and local produce.

Just a short walk across the harbour takes you to Bridge Street, Albert Street and Victoria Street which are full of local independent shops. Browse jewellery and craft in Sheila Fleet and Ola Gorie, confectionery and food in Nimms and William Shearer, clothes in Christine Clarke and Judith Glue.  

Continue down Albert Street and stop at the Orkney Museum on Broad Street. The Orkney Museum tells the story of Orkney, from the Stone Age, to the Picts and Vikings, right through to the present day. Originally a family house, the building is an A-listed building and is full of old photographs, artefacts and exhibitions to bring Orkney’s past and heritage to life.

Continue just across the road to the impressive St Magnus Cathedral. Known as the ‘Light in the North’, the Cathedral of St Magnus the Martyr is one of Orkney’s most impressive landmarks. Towering over the Kirkwall landscape, this striking red sandstone building was founded by Earl Rognvald Kolson and dedicated to his uncle, Earl Magnus Erlendson. Visitors can admire the splendid Norse architecture on guided tours of the upper areas of the cathedral including its tower which offers spectacular views, both within the cathedral and of the surrounding landscape.

Stop for lunch at one of the various bistros and cafes in the centre of Kirkwall and sample some of the delicious local produce and fresh food that Orkney is famed for.

Begin your afternoon with a visit to the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces. These palaces near St Magnus Cathedral are regarded as two of the finest examples of architecture in Scotland and highlight Orkney’s strong Norse and ecclesiastical links.

Continue your tour with a visit to Highland Park Distillery, the most northerly in distillery in the UK. Founded in 1798, by David Robertson on what was once the site of the infamous smuggler Magnus Eunson's cottage, it was eventually purchased in 1895 by James Grant of Glenlivet fame and remains one of the few Scotch whisky distilleries to operate onsite floor maltings. Perched on a hillside near Kirkwall, visitors can take a guided tour of the premises which reveal the whisky production process in its entirety, from malting to distillation. The tour begins and ends at the Visitor Centre and its well-stocked shop. Here visitors can browse a superb selection of whiskies including the distillery’s highly regarded Highland Park 12 Year Old which appeals to a broad range of palettes.

Finish your day with a beautiful drive across to Deerness in the East Mainland, a stunning peninsula with a wide variety of natural delights. One of the area’s most spectacular attractions is the Gloup, a dramatic collapsed sea-cave separated from the sea by a land bridge about 80 yards wide. The cave is approximately 40 yards long and 80 feet deep. The Gloup is easily accessible from a nearby car park, where visitors will also find and interpretation centre and toilets. The area is unfenced and great care is required.

Finish your day with a stroll along Dingieshowe Beach or watch the spectacular sunset from the high cliffs of Mull Head Nature Reserve, where you can see guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and puffins.