Kirkwall, Orkney

Destinations and maps


Upon arrival in Kirkwall, you might well think you've landed somewhere in Scandinavia. Fear not, you're in the right place.

Orkney's bustling capital is an ancient Norse town, standing at the divide between the East and West Mainland. An 11th century marvel, the town was founded by Earl Rognvald Brusason who built his kingdom here. This little town is just one example of the archipelago's fascinating past, with its narrow main streets and mysterious pathways. All of this, of course, lies in the shadow of the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral.

Once upon a time, the town was a serene haven formed around the harbour with only a few dwellings. Kirkwall is now a bustling centre with restaurants, museums, pubs and shops. Wherever you go, you'll be immersed in spellbinding architecture and it's hard to not get distracted by the sheer wealth of history on display at ancient sites such as the Earl's and Bishop's Palaces.

Things to do in Kirkwall

St Magnus Cathedral

Come and see the most northerly cathedral in Britain, which towers over Kirkwall, featuring striking red sandstone, ornate features and stained glass windows.

Earl's & Bishop's Palaces

These awe-inspiring palaces highlight Orkney's strong Norse and ecclesiastical links, and are widely regarded as two of Scotland's finest examples of architecture.

Orkney Museum

Learn all about the fascinating history of these spellbinding islands. This museum will give you all the background you need to fully understand the archipelago's colourful past.

Orkney Wireless Museum

Orkney's key role in the World Wars is represented in this superb collection of artefacts, which spans the development of wireless technology in Orkney from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day.

Sheila Fleet Gallery

Peruse the beautiful designs made by local jewellery designer Sheila Fleet, who runs her craft studio from Kirkwall. Take a little piece of Orkney home with you!

Highland Park Distillery

The distinctive Orkney malt is unique in several ways. Fancy a taste of Scotland's most northerly whisky? Visitors have the opportunity to see the entire process at the distillery from malting through to distillation.

Travel in Kirkwall

Getting here

Kirkwall is a great starting point and a useful place to stock up on supplies before you continue your Orcadian adventure to the more remote islands. With its harbour and airport, it is the arrival point for ferries from Shetland and Aberdeen, cruise ships, and flights from the UK, as well as a departure point for ferries to the other islands in Orkney.

Get yourself to Orkney now!

Getting around

Kirkwall is relatively small and compact, so it is easy to get to most places in the town on foot. You can even get there faster by bike, with good cycle paths around the town.

You can also hire local taxis to get you from A to B.

Cookie Policy

VisitScotland uses cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By using our website you consent to our use of cookies. Please read our new privacy and cookies statement for more information.