10 amazing things to do in Orkney
There is a staggering number of things to do in Orkney. Whether you're spending two days or two weeks on these islands you'll be spoilt for choice. The Orkney archipelago has striking landscapes, fascinating history, inspiring culture, adrenaline-pumping adventure activities and everything in between that make it a must-visit destination for children and adults alike.
Orkney attractions will take you to the heart of this unique destination, but it can often feel hard choosing what Orkney points of interest to include in your bucket list. Consider taking an Orkney tour and let your guide unearth some of the best-preserved prehistoric sites in Europe for you amongst other amazing activities.
Heart of Neolithic Orkney Mainland, Orkney
If you didn't know already, Orkney is full of ancient monuments and buildings that you can visit on your trip. The most famous spots are known as The Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site and are extremely well preserved. This includes the Neolithic stone village of Skara Brae, which was hidden from history until a storm exposed it once again to the world in 1850. Elsewhere in the Orkney islands you could catch a boat to the Isle of Rousay to visit Taversoe Tuick, a two-storey burial cairn, or Midhowe Broch, an Iron Age tower house.
Top tip: Visit the more popular sites such as Maeshowe, The Stones of Stenness, Skara Brae and The Ring of Brodgar during twilight hours to avoid large crowds, especially in summer.
Italian Chapel Orkney
The Orkney islands were a site of strategic importance in the First and Second World Wars and you can see a number of attractions related to these points in history. There are lots of old military emplacements around Scapa Flow that you can explore, and the Churchill Barriers were built to keep naval shipping secure from submarines. Perhaps the most arresting of these locations is the Italian Chapel, a beautiful Roman Catholic chapel constructed by Italian POWs during the Second World War. This ingenious building is housed in a former military Nissen hut and the expert decorations and designs painted inside are one of a kind.
Top tip: For an overview of Orkney's military history, be sure to visit the island of Hoy where you'll find a major collection of wartime artefacts in the Scapa Flow Museum.Key facilities
- Accessible Parking Or Drop-off Point
- Level Access
- On Public Transport Route
Creative Trail Various
A great way to connect with the local culture and find a treasured keepsake when you visit Orkney is to follow the region's Creative Trail. Bringing together professional makers from the islands such as The Harray Potter, the trail follows local workshops where you can meet the makers, many of whom has spent year honing their craft. Local art and jewellery, ceramics and furniture are all on show along the trail.
Top tip: Following the trail is a great opportunity to discuss commissioning bespoke work.
Kirkwall Mainland, Orkney
If you only plan on visiting Orkney for a short time then Kirkwall is a great place to base yourself. From here you can see Neolithic sites and beautiful stretches of coastline or simply explore the town itself. It's hard to miss the towering 12th Century St Magnus Cathedral in the centre of Kirkwall, and a look inside will reveal one of the UK's best cathedrals. Elsewhere you'll find Highland Park Distillery where you can take a tour and sample a wee dram.
Top tip: Stop in for some Orkney ice cream in one of Kirkwall's shops - it's delicious!
Wildlife tours Various
Orkney is a haven for wildlife and a great place to photograph all kinds of animals in the wild. Booking a dedicated wildlife tour will give you the chance to see seals, otters and even whales off the coast. Ospreys and other birds are also often spotted around these parts too. If you find yourself on an island-hopping adventure be sure to stop in to North Ronaldsay and meet the famous seaweed-eating sheep!
Top tip: At certain times of year, Orkney is a good place to spot the Northern lights - a spectacular celestial show.
Here's one for the adventure seekers. Did you know that Orkney is home to one of the best wreck diving sites in the world? Scapa Flow, together with the surrounding islands of Mainland, Burray and Hoy make up one of the largest sheltered anchorages in the world and a graveyard of sunken ships. The wrecks here are incredible: from vast battleships resting in the heart of Scapa Flow, to smaller blockships dotted along the rugged coastline and German warships. Diving here is also a chance to spot amazing wildlife.
Top tip: Lonely Planet called Scapa Flow one of the top treasure hunting trips in the world.
Highland Park Distillery Kirkwall
A trip to Orkney offers the chance to visit one of the oldest working whisky distilleries in Scotland. Highland Park has been producing whisky since way back in 1798 and the tradition of whisky-making on Orkney is upheld to this day with pride and passion. Book a tour and see for yourself how the spirit is made. You could also visit Scapa Distillery, which is also near Kirkwall.
Top tip: Orkney's natural larder is bursting with fine produce from sublime seafood to whisky, gin, beer and ice cream.Key facilities
- Hearing Loop
- Accessible Parking Or Drop-off Point
- Accessible toilets
- Level Access
St Magnus Way Birsay
Don't forget your walking boots when you travel north to Orkney. One of the best routes is The St Magnus Way, a 58 mile-long walk on Orkney Mainland and the island of Egilsay. The walk is based on what is known of the story of St Magnus, the patron saint of Orkney. Before you set out, download the app for clear instructions on the way-marked route. Much of The St Magnus Way is over open country and some sections need sturdy footwear.
Top Tip: The St Magnus Way website and app are full of photos and information on the story of St Magnus and the places along the way.
Stromness Mainland, Orkney
Depending on what mode of transport you take to Orkney, you may arrive in the pretty town of Stromness. Don't miss the opportunity to browse the charming shops here and pick up a souvenir. Whether it's arts and crafts you're looking for or books, you might just find the perfect gift for a loved one.
Top Tip: Take a peek inside Stromness Museum while you're here for some inspiration.
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