Wild, rugged and remote, the Orkney Islands are steeped in folklore. The archipelago is marooned in the North Sea and promises stunning coastal scenery and wildlife experiences worthy of nature documentaries. Wander around picturesque harbour towns, explore ancient Neolithic sites and get your pulse racing with adventure activities like sea kayaking and shipwreck diving.
Things to do in Orkney Islands
White-sand beaches and shimmering turquoise water give the Orkney Islands an idyllic feel. Don’t be fooled, though. The Orkney Islands are close to the Arctic Circle and can be chilly even in the height of summer. Pack plenty of layers and visit from July to September for the best weather.
Locals have been distilling whiskey on the Orkney Islands since the 1700s. Visit the famous Highland Park Whiskey Distillery to learn more about the process and try the whiskey. Barley smoked over ancient heather peat gives the whiskey a sweet and floral aroma.
The lively capital of Kirkwall is a launchpad to the islands. Stroll around the historic centre and admire architectural gems like the St Magnus Cathedral built in the 1300s. Learn more about the archipelago’s Viking past at the Orkney Museum.
The Orkney Islands are dotted with Neolithic stone monuments reminiscent of Stonehenge. The Ring of Brodgar is one of the most impressive and features a ring of towering stone monoliths dated to 2500 BC. Nearby is Skara Brae, a prehistoric village more than 5,000 years old.
Strap on scuba gear and explore a series of World War II shipwrecks in the waters surrounding the Orkney Islands. The water is cold but crystal-clear from April to November. Rent a sea kayak and paddle along the rugged coastline if you don’t want to get wet. The Orkney Islands is one of the best places in Europe to see puffins, and you can set sail on a scenic cruise to see the adorable, red-legged seabirds up close.
Getting around Orkney Islands
Rental cars offer the freedom to explore the Orkney Islands at your own pace. Ferries run to the Orkney Islands from Aberdeen on the Scottish mainland in six hours. The crossing from Scrabster to Stromness takes 1.5 hours. Flights connect Kirkwall Airport with major cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.