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Things to do in

Orkney

Our most recommended things to do in Orkney

From John O'Groats: Orkney Islands Day Trip

1. From John O'Groats: Orkney Islands Day Trip

Start the tour by boarding the ferry at John O'Groats. Depart 8.45am. Take the 40-minute ferry crossing, keeping a lookout for marine wildlife including puffins and orcas on the way. When you arrive on Orkney, board a luxury coach which will be waiting for you to begin your tour of the island. As you set off, enjoy the commentary from a local guide. First, see the Churchill Barriers built during the First World War. Stop in Kirkwall which is Orkney's capital city and discover St Magnus Cathedral, shops, the museum, and the scenic harbor.  Continue along the northern coast of Scapa Flow and admire the beautiful views of the Hoy hills. Then, arrive in Stromness, one of Britain's most picturesque towns. Stroll through the winding street, visit the museum, and find plenty of places to eat lunch.  Next, set off for the neolithic village of Skara Brae, established in around 2,500 BC and which has been hidden under sand dunes, perfectly preserved for thousands of years. Follow the route onwards along a narrow tongue of land between the lochs of Harray and Stenness, making a stop at the mystical Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. Finally, board the return ferry, and make a stop at the Italian Chapel which is beautifully decorated inside 2 Nissen huts. Return to John O'Groats 6.15pm with incredible memories of your excursion.

Wildlife Cruise from John O'Groats

2. Wildlife Cruise from John O'Groats

Experience the wild and windy Scottish coastline. Listen to informative commentary from your guide throughout the cruise and enrich your knowledge of Scotland’s natural history. Cruise through the Pentland Firth past Duncansby Head lighthouse passing close to the sheer 200-feet high cliffs teeming with sea birds followed by a close-up view of the famous Stacks of Duncansby. Cross the inner sound of the Pentland Firth for a view of the uninhabited island of Stroma and the colonies of Atlantic Grey Seals. See the various cliffs and birds of Stroma. The types of birdlife seen will depend on the nesting season. For example Puffins will be seen in large numbers in June and July but in much smaller numbers in August. If you are lucky, catch a view of some whales.

From Inverness: 3-Day Orkney Explorer

3. From Inverness: 3-Day Orkney Explorer

Day 1: Explore Orkney’s ancient capital, Kirkwall After an early start leaving Inverness at 08:00, travel north through the Black Isle, past the imposing Dunrobin Castle, before crossing the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Isles. Stay in Kirkwall, the modern day capital of Orkney for 2 nights. Here, you can visit Kirkwall's magnificent Viking cathedral and its historic winding streets. Day 2: Follow in the footsteps of the Vikings as you travel through Orkney Today is your chance to explore the modern and ancient wonders of this fantastic island; a land of contrasts, where fertile green pastures are fringed by shores of golden sands washed by waters of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Highlights include a visit to Skara Brae, the mystical prehistoric stone circle at Brodgar, the standing stones of Stenness and Maeshowe, where in the 12th-century the Vikings left one of the largest collections of Norse runic inscriptions. Day 3: Travel through the history soaked regions of Caithness and Sutherland Have your last chance to grab some gifts for friends and family, and visit the local cathedral in Kirkwall. And after a ferry back to the mainland, travel through the history soaked regions of Caithness and Sutherland. Find out about the highland clearances, a world-changing period in Scotland’s dark history, and get a glimpse of some of Scotland’s most remote fishing villages. The tour will arrive back in Inverness early evening at approximitely 19:00.

Scotland: Orkney and Northern Coast 5-Day Tour

4. Scotland: Orkney and Northern Coast 5-Day Tour

Drive to the top of Scotland on a scenic 5-day tour, and learn the history of the Highlands at sites such as the battlefield of the Macdonald clan massacre, and Stirling Castle. Spend the day on the Orkney Isles, and travel the northenmost coast of mainland Scotland. The tour is by luxury 16-seat Mercedes minibus for a more intimate experience, while bed and breakfast accommodation is provided in Inverness, the lovely town of Kirkwall, and the whitewashed fishing village of Ullapool at the mouth of Loch Broom. Day 1: Depart Edinburgh, heading west towards Stirling. Pass Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, and continue to Doune Castle, used for location shoots in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail.” Stop in the small town of Callander for refreshments. Then, marvel at the splendor of Loch Luibnaig, Loch Earn, Glen Ogle, and Glen Dochart on a scenic drive over the wild and remote Rannoch Moor. The views of the extinct volcano will take your breath away, and were also the scene of the infamous Clan Macdonald massacre of 1692. Continue north up the Great Glen to mysterious Loch Ness, with plenty of time to try and spot “Nessie” the Loch Ness Monster. The evening will be spent in Inverness, with free time to explore the “Capital of the Highlands.” Day 2: Depart Inverness early to cross over the Black Isle and past Andrew Carnegie’s Skibo Castle. From here, drive the northeast coastline, traveling into some of Scotland’s most dramatic scenery. Enjoy the views of some of Europe’s oldest landscapes, and the chance to spot wildlife such as golden eagle and red deer. Close to Scotland’s most northerly mainland village, John O’ Groats, board the ferry to cross the Pentland Firth to the Orkney archipelago. It is a short drive on arrival to the famous Italian Chapel, where you will stop for a quick visit before continuing to the Viking stronghold of Kirkwall, your home for the next 2 nights. Look inside Kirkwall’s magnificent Viking cathedral, and wander the winding streets of the historic town center. Day 3: Explore the ancient island of Orkney, and discover a land of contrasts, where fertile green pastures are fringed by shores of golden sands, and washed by the waters of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Highlights include a visit to Skara Brae, the mystical prehistoric stone circle at Brodgar, the standing stones of Stenness, and Maeshowe, where Vikings left one of the largest collections of Norse runic inscriptions in the 12th century. Day 4: It’s time to leave Orkney and sail the Viking waters back to the mainland. From here, travel across the very top of Scotland, driving past the stunning Ben Loyal and Ben Hope mountains, following the rocky cliffs and stunning golden sand beaches of the northern coastline. Go to the far northwest of the Highlands, and admire the grandeur of the wild Assynt mountains. Stop to view the 15th-century ruins of Ardvreck Castle. Continue to Ullapool at the mouth of Loch Broom, a beautiful whitewashed fishing village where you will spend your last night. Day 5: Your morning includes visits to Corrieshalloch Gorge, and the ancient Clava Cairns, as well as exploring the more recent bloody history of the Culloden battlefield. Return south through the magnificent Cairngorm National Park, driving past the ancient Caledonian pine forests of Highland Perthshire, before your drop off in Edinburgh.

From Edinburgh: Orkney and The Far North 5-Day Tour

5. From Edinburgh: Orkney and The Far North 5-Day Tour

The 5-day tour from Edinburgh takes you on a discovery of the Scottish Highlands and the Orkney Islands. Heading north from Scotland’s capital city, you can admire the breathtaking scenery of the Scottish Highlands and explore the history of the Orkney Islands. On day 1, travel north to Loch Ness. The spectacular tour starts by heading west through the beautiful scenery of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The route then takes you through the haunting landscape of Glen Coe, the scene of the terrible massacre of the MacDonald Clan, and on through Fort William and the Great Glen to arrive at the fabled shores of Loch Ness. Stay overnight at Drumnadrochit. On day 2, head north via Inverness and the spectacular coastal scenery of the Moray and Cromarty Firths. Then, board the ferry for a memorable trip to the mysterious and magical Orkney Islands. Once you arrive, take in the stunning scenery and start exploring. Visit the beautiful Italian Chapel, which was built by Italian prisoners of war, as well as the famous Churchill Barriers – causeways that were constructed to protect the British naval fleet from submarines. Stay overnight at Kirkwall. On day 3, explore the ancient history of the islands. From your base in Kirkwall, which boasts many craft and gift shops to explore, spend the whole day exploring the islands. This is a land full of ancient history and you will be able to take in prehistoric marvels such as the Maeshowe chambered cairn, the world-famous Neolithic village of Skara Brae, and the brooding stone circles of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. The day will finish with a visit to the beautiful St Magnus Cathedral. Stay overnight at Kirkwall. On day 4, return via Inverness, Culloden, and the Cairngorms. The last day starts with a ferry ride back to the mainland. Then you will get the chance to take in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. Stay overnight in Inverness. On day 5, head back to Edinburgh. On the way, visit the battlefield of Culloden, the site of the defeat of the Jacobite forces. You will also pass the stunning Cairngorm Mountains and explore the picturesque town of Pitlochry.

Frequently asked questions about Orkney

What top attractions are a must-see in Orkney?

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Other Sightseeing Options in Orkney

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What people are saying about Orkney

Overall rating

4.7 / 5

based on 263 reviews

What a great trip! Robert, our guide, was exceptional. He was very knowledgeable and made adjustments based on the small group's needs. We had plenty of time at each stop and he even added in a few extra stops. The lodging booked for us was superb. The rooms were very comfortable and the breakfasts were tasty and plentiful. We saw all the sites on Orkney and a lot along the way. This is a great 5 day trip and we'd highly recommend it.

Loved the trip. Paul did an excellent job of both driving and acting as guide. Thank you Paul. We got to see everything we wanted to see in a timely manner and returned via ferry to caught our bus back to Thurso.

A very knowledgeable and entertaining guide made the whole experience a very enjoyable one.

Great tour, covered a lot of Orkney, driver/guide Darren was excellent. Would recommend

A great day out very informative guide worth every penny.