Orkney's lesser-known islands

Sarah Henderson ·June 23, 2023Reading time: 8 minutes

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.

Old Man of Hoy


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.

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!


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 TresnessLopness and Doun Helzie.

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.


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.


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!


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.

Getting Around Orkney's Lesser-known Islands

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