Reviewed on 13 May 2021
Reviewed on 23 Aug. 2021
The Orkney Islands offer a unique atmosphere different from any other region of Scotland. Continuously inhabited for more than 6,000 years, this collection of 70 islands is home to fascinating archeological treasures. Marvel at dramatic seascapes, visit ancient settlements and burial chambers and spot interesting seabirds and other wildlife in pristine natural habitats.
Kirkwall, located on Orkney mainland island, is the archipelago’s capital and main transportation centre. Admire the historic houses that define the curving streets of this lovely market town. See the stunning St. Magnus Cathedral, a 12th-century landmark that houses the remains of the islands’ patron saint.
Venture to Skara Brae, one of the islands’ most well-known prehistoric monuments. Sometimes called “Scotland’s Stonehenge,” the site is home to the remains of a Neolithic village that dates back to 3,000 B.C. The houses feature beds, dressers, fireplaces and cupboards constructed from slabs of stone. Look down on the original site from the outer walls and explore the reconstructed replica house.
Mainland Orkney is also home to Maes Howe, an intriguing Neolithic burial chamber. Follow the long passageway inside, which is perfectly designed to illuminate the chamber’s interior on the winter solstice. Inside the chamber is runic graffiti carved by Vikings who sought shelter here centuries after its construction.
Rousay is one of Orkney’s most-visited northern islands. It is sometimes called the "Egypt of the North" due to the hundreds of prehistoric monuments found here. Head to the northwestern part of the island to reach Hellia Spur, the island’s highest cliff and home to an important seabird colony.
Some of Orkney’s most wonderful scenery can be found on its second-largest island, Hoy. Unlike the lowland landscapes that characterise most of the archipelago’s other islands, Hoy features dramatic mountains, cliffs and valleys. Hike along the scenic coastal trail leading to the island’s famous sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy.
Flights to the Orkney Islands are available to Kirkwall Airport on mainland Orkney from Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen. The islands are connected by ferry to Scrabster, Aberdeen and John O’Groats. Don’t miss the rich cultural and natural offerings of this striking archipelago.