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Orkney’s lesser-known islands

Visiting Orkney is an enriching experience; a place full of folklore, shifting landscapes, ancient history and abundant wildlife. Each island has a unique character and community to discover for those looking to experience and embrace the local way of life, from seaweed-eating sheep to stripey lighthouses.

Escape the crowds, unwind and enjoy some of Scotland’s most remote landscapes with our list of some of the lesser-known Orkney islands for an off-the beaten-track adventure.


Westray sits at the very top of Orkney, known for its impressive sea-cliffs that jut out of the North Sea along the rugged coastline, which is home to diverse wildlife. Miles of quiet and scenic country roads also make the “Queen o’ the Isles” an easy place to explore by bike.

Things to see and do

  • RSPB Scotland Noup Cliffs Nature Reserve – these epic cliffs are home to the largest seabird colony in Orkney. Look out for puffins, razorbills, gannets, guillemots and more as you follow the coastal path to the dramatic Noup Head Lighthouse.
  • Castle o’ Burrian – Castle o’Burrian is one of the best places to see Orkney’s puffin population from April to August, nestled amongst the atmospheric sea stacks.
  • Westray Wildlife tour guidesmake the most of your trip to Westray with a bespoke bird and wildlife watching tour by local experts.
  • Links of Noltland – this farming settlement dates back to around 3300 BC and was preserved by sand dunes until its discovery in the 1800s. It’s also the spot where the iconic “Westray Wifie” figurine was found.
  • Noltland Castle – an historic 1500s tower house connected to Mary, Queen of Scots, with a tumultuous history. The gun-holes in the walls and the epic inscription over the house certainly have a story to tell.
  • Westray Heritage Centre – delve deeply into island life, culture and history through photography, records and objects on display in the heritage centre, including the Westray Wifie and the Westray Stone.
  • Art galleries – check out local artists at Westray Art Gallery and the Wheeling Steen Gallery for inspiration. Why not pick up a souvenir to remember the local seascape and wildlife?
  • Saintear – add a pitstop at Saintear during your stay on the island for fresh coffee and admire the views over Loch Saintear. It’s also worth trying their signature sourdough pizza, available either to sit in or takeaway. It’s a multi-purpose venue, so make sure you check out the latest local events and experiences on offer.

Start your Westray adventure

Papa Westray


Papa Westray, or “Papay” as it is sometimes known, is a small island just over the water from Westray. Despite its size, it has a thriving community and ancient history that makes it well worth a visit. It also lays claim to the shortest flight in the world – it takes just over a minute to fly from Westray to Papa Westray!

Things to see and do

  • North Wick beach – Papa Westray is full of picture-perfect beaches to take a stroll and engage with Orkney’s natural wildlife and landscapes, from the clear turquoise waters to huddles of seals on the shore.
  • Knap of Hower – discover one of the oldest stone houses in Europe, dating back to 3500 BC.
  • RSPB North Hill Nature Reserve – as well as plenty of bird-spotting opportunities, the nature reserve is also home to rare Scottish primroses and other wildflowers.
  • St Tredwell’s Loch – take a walk around the loch and see the ruins of the legendary medieval chapel, one of the most-visited pilgrimage sites in Orkney.
  • The Kelp Store Craft & Heritage Centre – visit this local gem which features island crafts, archives, exhibitions and more.
  • Papay Peedie Tour – join a local expert for tours around the island to fully explore the history and nature of Papa Westray. You can even take a trip to the uninhabited island of Holm of Papay for a truly unique experience.

Plan your trip to Papa Westray


The largest of the northern Orkney isles, Sanday lives up to its name. Walk or cycle to explore miles of arresting coastline views and exceptional white sandy beaches. Walk or cycle across the island to explore hidden coves and sweeping sands, including the beaches at Tresness, Lopness and Doun Helzie.

Things to see and do

  • Quoyness Chambered Cairn – crawl through a dramatic 9-metre entrance and experience 5,000 years of history at this remarkably well-preserved megalithic tomb.
  • Start Point Lighthouse – this lighthouse cuts a striking figure at the tip of the island with its iconic black and white vertical stripes. It was the first Scottish lighthouse to have a revolving light and is now powered by solar energy.
  • Gallery in the Nortwa – soak up the art of local artist, Bill McArthur, and admire his evocative seascapes.
  • Sanday Heritage Centre – situated on the outskirts of Lady Village, the heritage centre tells the story of the island, its community and history.
  • Sanday Tours – Sanday Tours run tours on a range of subjects including wildlife, history, photography, flora and fauna, and more.
  • 59 Degrees North – winner of Orkney’s 2022 Tourism Award for Best Innovative Experience, make sure you plan a visit this café and pizzeria. The bakes are freshly made every morning and the pizza is the most northerly wood-fired pizza in the UK.

Explore the isle of Sanday

North Ronaldsay

North Ronaldsday is the northernmost island in Orkney and has a thriving community and culture. They’re famous for their rare seaweed-eating sheep which wander and graze along the coastlines of the island.

Things to see and do

  • North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival –  a drystone dyke wall encircles the island to protect the famous sheep. The annual festival is a celebration of the local wildlife, where you can volunteer to help repair parts of the wall alongside a varied cultural programme for a real community experience.
  • North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory – the observatory is a great place for birdwatching as well as offering accommodation, local gifts and a café with a Taste Our Best Award.
  • Standing Stone – the “Stan Stane” is a 13-metre-high monolith. Legend has it that the circular hole in its centre was made by a giant woman who stuck her finger through the stone after finding it on the beach.
  • North Ronaldsay Lighthouse – the characterful red brick lighthouse and visitor centre houses information on local history as well as a delicious café full of local produce. The Wool Mill on site is also a great place to find out more about the process of turning the local sheep wool into yarn and felt.
  • Milldam Croft – get up close and personal with North Ronaldsay’s seaweed-eating sheep with a tour of this working croft.

Plan your trip to North Ronaldsay


Rousay is a must-visit for anyone interested in Scotland’s history, nicknamed the “Egypt of the North” because of how many neolithic sites there are to visit – over 166 sites of archeological interest! Make the most of the local ferry service whilst you’re in Rousay to hop between the nearby islands of Eynhallow, Egilsay and Wyre.

Things to see and do

  • Midhowe Chambered Cairn – one of the biggest and best examples of neolithic tombs in Orkney, situated right by the sea. There are plenty of other tombs to see on Rousay, including Taversoe Tuick, Blackhammer and Knowe of Yarso.
  • RSPB Trumland Nature Reserve – made up of blanket bog and wet heath, this remote reserve is a thriving hub of wildlife, including hen harriers, merlins, short-eared owls and more.
  • Sacquoy Head walk – taking just over 2 hours, this walk takes you along the wild coastline of the island with inlets, coves and arches to discover. Keep your eyes peeled for seals and Arctic skuas.
  • Rousay Tours – with so many historical and natural points of interest, why not join a bespoke guided tour with a local to help you see the sites on Rousay?
  • The Rousay Lap – if you’re feeling up for an adventure, sign up for a walk, cycle or run with this scenic half marathon that takes you on a loop of the island.

All you need to know about visiting Rousay


Known as the “island of bays”, Stronsay has an open and relaxing landscape. As its nickname suggests, it’s all about the beaches and inlets on Stronsay!

Things to see and do

  • Key scenic spots with beautiful bays to admire include the Vat of Kirbister, St Catherine’s Bay and Rothiesholm.
  • Whitehall Village – the picturesque fishing village is the main village on Stronsay. Spend an afternoon exploring the local shops and heritage centre to find out about its herring-fishing history as you admire the views across Mill Bay.
  • Stronsay Craft Trail – get involved with the community by visiting local artists in their studios on the island’s craft trail. Unlock your creativity with workshops and experiences, from glassblowing to soap-making to weaving.

Discover the isle of Stronsay


Hoy’s name comes from the old Norse, meaning “High Island” and it’s one of the most iconic islands in Orkney, full of dramatic hills, glacial valleys and imposing cliffs. It’s also worth a quick ferry trip over to the neighbouring island of Graemsay, which has spectacular views of Hoy and the Orkney mainland.

Things to see and do

Plan your Hoy trip

Getting around Orkney’s lesser-known islands

Part of the joy of visiting Orkney is to escape the everyday and savour the remote wildness of the isles, but you’ll be glad to know they’re pretty well-connected with regular ferry and plane routes.

We hope these lesser-known islands have inspired you to find out more about Orkney and all it has to offer! If you enjoyed this, you might also like: