Things to do in Orkney

Orkney, an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, consists of approximately 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. Its largest island, known as Mainland, is home to the majority of the population and serves as a cultural and economic hub for the islands. Orkney boasts a rich history dating back thousands of years, with its ancient Neolithic sites holding UNESCO World Heritage status. The islands’ unique landscapes blend rolling hills, rugged coastlines, and rich wildlife, making it a captivating destination for nature lovers and history enthusiasts alike.

The culture of Orkney is deeply influenced by Norse heritage, evident in place names, festivals, and traditions. Despite its remote location off the northern coast of mainland Scotland, Orkney has a vibrant community spirit and a thriving arts scene. The local economy is supported by agriculture, renewable energy production—particularly wind power—and tourism. Visitors to Orkney can explore its historical sites, enjoy its local produce including seafood and whisky, and immerse themselves in the natural beauty that surrounds this enchanting archipelago.

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  • Skara Brae: Discover one of Europe’s most complete Neolithic villages at Skara Brae. This prehistoric village was uncovered by a storm in 1850 after being buried under sand dunes for millennia. Visitors can explore the ancient homes connected by passageways and gain insights into life over 5,000 years ago.
  • Maeshowe Chambered Cairn: Visit Maeshowe Chambered Cairn for an intriguing look into Orkney’s Neolithic past. This large tomb is renowned for its Viking runic graffiti and winter solstice phenomenon when sunlight illuminates the chamber’s interior.
  • The Ring of Brodgar: Explore this massive stone circle set within a natural amphitheater between two lochs. The Ring of Brodgar is part of Orkney’s UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers insight into the island’s ritualistic past.
  • St Magnus Cathedral: Admire the stunning architecture of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. Founded in 1137 by Earl Rognvald Kolsson as a final resting place for his uncle Saint Magnus, it stands as one of Scotland’s best-preserved medieval cathedrals.
  • Orkney Wildlife Tours: Embark on a guided wildlife tour to experience Orkney’s diverse fauna. From puffins to seals and even orcas during certain times of year, these tours offer unforgettable encounters with nature.
  • Scapa Flow Wrecks: Dive into history with a visit to Scapa Flow’s underwater wrecks. This sheltered bay served as Britain’s chief naval base during both World Wars and is now one of Europe’s premier wreck diving sites.
  • Highland Park Distillery: Sample some of Scotland’s finest whisky at Highland Park Distillery. Established in 1798 on Kirkwall’s outskirts, it offers tours that delve into traditional whisky-making processes alongside tastings.
  • Pier Arts Centre: Immerse yourself in contemporary art at Pier Arts Centre located in Stromness. This gallery showcases works from prominent modern British artists alongside local talent within its permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.
  • Brough Of Birsay: Traverse to this tidal island accessible only at low tide to uncover Pictish ruins alongside Norse settlement remains while enjoying panoramic views across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The Italian Chapel: Experience peace within The Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm Island—a beautiful symbol of hope created by Italian POWs during WWII from two Nissen huts transformed into an ornate chapel adorned with artwork.
  • The Old Man Of Hoy: Take on the challenge to hike towards this iconic sea stack off Hoy Island’s west coast—one of Britain’s tallest at 137 meters high—and marvel at spectacular coastal scenery along your journey.