Orkney Islands Travel Info, Place to Visit, Things to Do

An insider’s guide to the Orkney Islands Scotland – this article about Orkney, written by one who lives there, is perfect for the independent traveler on a budget.
Extract from my writing at www.allfivesenses.com
Red phone box orkny islands

Red phone box orkney islands

Places in Orkney to explore:

(or put another way, what are the main names of places to visit whilst actually busy doing the more important things – which can be:

  • Relaxing in a safe and friendly place
  • Meeting interesting locals and making friends
  • Inhaling lots of fresh air and more
  • Eating tasty food, and ice cream mmmm
  • Learning about the ancient past and recent stuff too
  • Discovering yourself and what matters in life
  • Dancing, drinking and playing.

F = free at point of access

  • Stromness – cobbled streets, harbour and lanes, in this old stone fishing port (F)
  • Skara Brae – neolithic village (5,000 years old), the number one attraction
  • Stones of Stenness – 5,000 year old mystery – my favourite (F)
  • Ring of Brodgar – perfect stone circle, in a fantastic location (F)
  • Maeshowe Chambered Cairn – often called a Tomb, tours take you in to see the Viking graffiti
  • Tomb of the Eagles – Neolithic Chambered Cairn, with hands-on museum and coastal walk
  • Old Man of Hoy – sandstone rock pillar, tall cliffs and coastal walk, in isolation (F)
  • Dwarfie Stane – unique rock cut chamber, mysterious and exceptional (stone age) (F)
  • Broch of Gurness – Iron Age fort and stone village – that you can explore
  • Knap of Howar – oldest house in Europe that again you can still go inside (F)
  • Ness of Brodgar – archaeological dig in the centre of the World Heritage Site (F)
  • Papa Westray – and the shortest flight (scheduled) in the world, a perfect island
  • Brough of Birsay – Pictish and Viking settlement, and puffin colony, across tidal causeway
  • Birsay – village, Earl’s Palace (ruin), headland, beach and marine wildlife (F)
  • Saint Magnus Cathedral – Beautiful 12th century Red Sandstone architecture (F)
  • Kirbuster Farm Museum – unique old farmhouse with central peat fire (F)
  • Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn – best preserved Stone Age structure, dark inside (F)
  • Craft Trail – many local crafts people, potters, silversmiths, textiles, glass, furniture (F)
  • Scapa Flow – Dive Shipwrecks or revisit World War history, site of Royal Oak sinking (F)
  • Italian Chapel and Churchill Barriers – world war history, and human story of prisoners (F)
  • Earl’s Palace, Birsay – Stuart dynasty’s extravogance crumbling but good to explore (F)
  • Barnhouse Village – Stone Age village site beside Harray Loch and Stenness Stones (F)
  • Ness of Brodgar – amazing village discovery, ritual site, wild swans, stunning location (F)
  • Marwick Head and Bay – Puffins and HMS Hampshire memorial, and crazy surfers (F)
  • Yesnaby Cliffs – wild and windswept seascape, great cliff top walks and marine life (F)
  • Click Mill – beautiful, simple horizontal mill (vertical drive shaft) restored (F)
  • Rennibister Earth House – underground secret chamber, Iron Age (F)
  • Earl’s Bu and Saga centre – Viking Farmstead and interpretation, more nice walks (F)
  • Fishermen’s Huts – Skipi Geo and Marwick Bay, traditional ways almost forgotten (F)
  • Brough of Deerness – Remote Headland and Celtic Church, a good exposed walk (F)
  • Minehowe – Iron Age mystery underground, down 29 steep steps
  • Rackwick – “Rock Bay”, crofting township beside Atlantic, a place to stay a while, in peace (F)
  • Betty Corrigall’s Grave – Lonely Grave and tragic story (F)
  • Orkney Museum – Wonderful Museum opposite Cathedral (F)
  • Stromness Museum – Delightful museum in townhouse
  • Pier Arts Centre – Architectural restoration and quality art (F)
  • The Sorting Room – A new arts and gathering space, friendly and informal (F)
  • Holland Farm – traditional farm and folk museum (F)
  • Taversoe Tuick – unusual and evocative stone age structure (F)
  • Midhowe Broch and Cairn – more fantastic old stuff, on Rousay (F)
  • Fusion – Nightclub, live music and bar (I got tired of old stuff)
  • The Reel – cafe, music shop and traditional music venue
  • Via House Storytelling – be prepared to dance and inhale peat smoke
  • Art of Ancient Fire Making – 2 hour evening entertainment and full day tuition by Five Senses
  • Balfour Castle – more old stuff in a grand setting
  • That’s enough – you get the idea – lots to occupy brain and body
Orkney cliff top walk in typical weather

Orkney cliff top walk in typical weather

Why come to Orkney?

It is a long way and costly after all

The very reasons why you should question coming to Orkney are in fact the very reasons why you should make it a priority to get there.

Isolation has enabled this place to become and remain somewhere special – and now as the world rushes headlong into globalisation and stress and fear, Orkney offers a haven, of sanity, community, genuine crafts and a better way of life.

Protected by being islands, cut off from mainland UK, the Orkney Islands / Orkney has managed to prosper. Not only does it have all the old stuff (listed above) but it has:

  • # Great libraries
  • # Festivals (St Magnus, Science, Folk)
  • # College and superb schools
  • # A thriving community
  • # Great shops and artists
  • # Supermarkets and family stores
  • # ‘No’ unemployment
  • # ‘No’ crime (worth talking about, except once in a while)
  • # It’s own history and identity
  • # A Norwegian heritage
  • # Cinemas and sports centres
  • # Superb meat, ice cream, beer, whisky, cheeses 🙂

I could go on – you get the idea?

(See the Guestbook below for some of the downsides and disappointments that you could encounter, depending upon your attitudes and expectations).

I reckon some of the best things about Orkney are the very things that a first time visitor might describe as dull or boring. In a world of instantanious gratification, and over stimulation, pollution and incessant provocation – we actually need to get back in touch with what really matters – the basics: feeling safe, fresh air, clean water, friendship, community, a sense of belonging and shared history, awareness of the environment around us and of the mess we, as a species, are making of our world. These are the real reasons for visiting these old piles of stones all over Orkney: To get a perspective on our lives, sort ourselves out, de-stress and live better lives.

Orkney is a very special place to be, for what it is and can become, not just what it was. Orkney represents a future we should seriously consider – a blend of ancient wisdom and modern technology – solutions to global warming and social problems.

Rackwick Bothy at Burnside, Hoy, Orkney Islands

Rackwick Bothy at Burnside, Hoy, Orkney Islands

Orkney Links – The Best Websites

Find out about Orkney with these Links:

Orcadian Newspaper Online
The number one site for news, weather and stories about the Orkney Islands. Read online.
Orkneyjar’s Amazing Orkney Heritage Site
Sigurd Towrie’s private masterpiece about Orkney heritage has become one of the most searched sites about the islands.
Orkney Tours and Primitive Skills Courses
Explore using your senses: Five Senses runs private tours of Orkney and teach primitive survival skills: Learn to make fire, navigate and find wild foods, in the vicinity of the ancient sites.
Orkney Tourist Board Official Site
The Orkney version of VisitScotland’s tourism ‘service’. A good general resource and the main site for accommodation listings.
Where to Stay in Orkney
A personal review of accommodation in Orkney – the best places to stay, in comfort.
Travel Advice for getting to Orkney
A personal account of travel options to Orkney, including great pictures and advice.
Driving Itineraries, Edinburgh to Inverness to Orkney
Very useful and detailed information about travel to Orkney by car, with suggestions for places to visit along the way, not just the towns of Edinburgh and Inverness either. Also all the ferry options.
Northlink Ferries to Orkney
Ferries to Orkney from Aberdeen, Shetland and Scrabster (Thurso). The main but not the only ferry service to Orkney.
Orkney Community Websites
A large and complicated site containing much about Orkney – for those who live there or have time to dig deep for juicy information.
Orkney Islands Council
The local government body for the county of Orkney and a site full of hidden information – not just for residents to use.
Do Good Design – Website Designer
Orkney based website designer offers website design and business support for ethical, creative and personal businesses. Includes portfolio, articles, design tutorials and advice.
Useful Links
A large list of Orkney links, crafts, travel and accommodation.

3 responses to “Orkney Islands Travel Info, Place to Visit, Things to Do

  1. I think I’m in love! Oh, but I see you’re engaged – and I’m happily married with a wee two year old anyway, so it’s academic, but you know what I mean!

    Figuratively of course.

    Malcolm, the world needs you and people like you! Thank God for this site.

    We have land in Orkney and we are thinking of moving there from the burgeoning metropolis of the Scottish Highlands (too many Porsches and spiky designer shoes for my tastes – although a Boxter would be kind of nice….).

    Anyway, just wanted to say hi – “HI!” – and you’ve burrowed under the surface where few people seem to want to venture; I know Orkney is a dazzling, vibrant and spectacular place; you know Orkney is a dazzling, vibrant and spectacular place. The rest of the world (or those I speak to at least) don’t seem to agree. But hey, that’s their loss! Thanks for posting this breath of fresh air and making Orkney really come alive.


  2. Pingback: Orkney Standing Stones in Winter Snow « Play2survive’s Weblog

  3. I could relate to the last couple of sentences in Gael’s comment. When I was trying to find out how to get to Orkney from the U.S. back in the early 1990’s, no one had any info at all on how to get there. Finally one agent told me, “No one goes there! You’re supposed to go to Edinburgh!” Well, I found my way there and fell instantly in love with the whole place. I look forward to going back sometime and lingering longer than a week.

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