Orkney is an archipelago of 70 small islands north of Caithness in Scotland. The Scottish mainland is only a few miles away from the Orkney Islands, but once you set foot on one of the grassy, flat isles, it can feel like you have stepped back in time several thousand years. The majority of the island’s population live on Mainland, which is the largest island. Kirkwall is the capital, but Stromness, the second largest town, has a port, and both are easily accessible via ferry from the mainland. The Orkney Islands have a strong Viking heritage. There are numerous standing stones and the remains of ancient settlements to explore. There is also spectacular scenery to admire. Explore seabird colonies and stroll along glorious white, sandy beaches, or go whale watching and sample the local food and drink. But however you decide to spend your time, Orkney is a truly magical destination, particularly during the long days of summer when the clear turquoise sea sparkles in the sunlight.
Things to See and Do
Most people start off on Mainland, but the South Isles are a short drive across the Churchill Barriers. The island of Burray is the place to go if you enjoy water sports, and if you love scuba diving, Scapa Flow should be on your to-do list. South Ronaldsay is only 6 miles from John O’ Groats and in the summer, there is a short ferry crossing between the two points. Lamb Holm is the location of the famous Italian Chapel, which was built by prisoners of war during World War II. The Outer Isles can only be reached by boat or plane, but they are the most beautiful. North Ronaldsay is actually further north than southern Norway, but thanks to warm ocean currents, the climate there is a lot milder. Westray is full of history, including the remains of Viking, Norse and Neolithic settlements and Rousay has some wonderfully preserved monuments. Many of the Outer Isles have wonderful beaches and panoramic views.
Orkney has lots of fascinating museums, galleries and other interesting attractions. The Scapa Flow museum offers some great insights into the history of naval anchorage in the Orkney Islands during both world wars, and there is more wartime history to be found in the Orkney Wireless Museum. There are a great number of Neolithic sites scattered across the islands, which is why Orkney is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Maes Howe is an extraordinary Stone Age tomb constructed from huge sandstone rocks that is almost as grand as the Egyptian Pyramids. Skara Brae is Europe’s best preserved prehistoric village. The Tomb of the Eagles Stone Age and Bronze Age sites on South Ronaldsay guide you through thousands of years of pre-history and the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall tells covers the period from Stone Age Orkney through to the present day. If arts and crafts are your thing, follow the Orkney Craft Trail and discover some wonderful local artisans working out of studios and workshops across the islands.