Kirkwall is huge by Orkney standards, but that doesn’t mean it’s an Edinburgh or a Glasgow. Instead, you’ll be greeted with a historic, sloth-paced capital that quietly hums with restaurants, museums and shops. Sitting in the centre of it all is the crimson red St Magnus Cathedral – the most northerly of its kind in the UK.
- Feel the nostalgia in the air at the Orkney Wireless Museum. Techies will be fascinated by its collection of old radios, juke boxes and wartime memorabilia.
- Wander the kitchens, great hall and private chambers of the Earl’s Palace. These ruins of a French Renaissance-style residence come with entry into the next-door Bishop’s Palace, too.
- Watch how whisky’s made at the Highland Park Distillery. After an hour-long tour, you’ll get to sample all sorts of ages – from 12 to 40.
SHORE EXCURSIONS► View all EXCURSIONS
Orkney Island Drive►
This tour is a great way to see the way to take in the historic sites and impressive wildlife which Orkney has to offer. Over 300 bird species have been recorded, so be sure to keep an eye out. You’ll leave the port of Kirkwall and head south, overlooking the renowned Scapa Flow – a vast inlet surrounded by protective islands. Sit back and relax as you cross the Churchill Barriers. This mile long causeway links the Mainland to South Ronaldsay. This heart-stirring little chapel was created out of Nissen huts by the Italian prisoners kept on the island in their spare time. Step inside and you’ll see delicate frescoes, which have been restored to their former glory, and remarkable wrought-iron window ornamentation. Moving on to the Standing Stones of Stenness, you’ll be able to speculate about their origin and admire the four remaining stones near neighbouring Ring of Brodgar before heading back to port.
The Ring of Brodgar & North Orkney Discovery►
If you want to get a real feel for Orkney, this driving tour is ideal – you’ll soak up the island’s coastal scenery, vast countryside and a UNESCO World Heritage site all in one hit. Leaving Kirkwall’s harbour behind, you’ll head through the village of Finstown, and through a wide expanse of sweeping heather moorland, past little lochs and streams. On the way, keep an eye out the window – you’ll often see otters and hares scurrying through the greenery, and rare birds like the puffin and the greylag goose flying overhead. As you continue along a coastal road, check out the vistas of the sea and the jagged cliffs. Look out for grey and common seals, too – they’re usually seen basking on Orkney’s rocky shorelines. You’ll drive through the town of Birsay, next, before making your way past Scapa Flow, a historic harbour that saw many a ship sink to its depths during the First and Second World Wars. Your final destination – and the highpoint of the trip – is the Ring of Brodgar. Well-known as Scotland’s answer to Stonehenge, the origins of this perfect stone circle is shrouded in mystery, but it’s thought to have been erected around 5,000 years ago.
Skara Brae & Skaill House►
Ever wondered what Scotland’s answer to Stonehenge might look like? You’ll find out at the start of this tour with a drive past the Ring of Brodgar – a circle of huge stone slabs that date back around 5,000 years. However, the prehistoric village of Skara Brae is our first stop of the day. This place was only discovered after a fierce storm in the 1800s. It dates back to the Stone Age, making it older than the Great Pyramids, and it’s been dubbed the Scottish Pompeii because it’s so well preserved. Wandering through the crumbling houses is like stumbling on to a film set – you can even see the stone cupboards, dressers and storage boxes the villagers fashioned thousands of years ago. And in some of the houses, there’s evidence of a primitive toilet. Down the road from Skara Brae is Skaill House, which is set in a spot between the Loch of Skaill and the sea. There’ll be time to look around this 16th-century mansion, which is home to artefacts from the prehistoric village.