Skara Brae Stenness standing stones Italian Chapel

Orkney is a group of islands situated a few miles off the north-east tip of mainland Scotland. With its green fields and hills, stone pinnacles rising out of the sea, rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, it is the ideal place for getting away from it all.

Fishing in the lochs is free in Orkney, although it's a good idea to join the Orkney Trout Fishing Association to find out where to go. Also contact the Orkney Islands Sea Angling Association. Bird watching is another popular activity, as is diving around the wrecks. Orkney was an important strategic site for the British navy during both World Wars and the Germans scuttled their fleet here in 1919.

The main attraction for visitors to Orkney is its ancient history. From the Stone Age to the Picts and Vikings, the islands have so many sites of archaeological interest that it is impossible to list them all here. If you want to see prehistoric villages, ancient tombs, ruined palaces and standing stones, then book your ticket now. Orkney is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The people of Orkney (some 15,000 in total), with their unique accent, do not see themselves as Scottish so much as Orcadian. For a long time the islands were owned by Norway, so they have a very mixed culture. Today, many of the tourists that come here are Scandinavian and in the shops you will be able to buy Norwegian newspapers.

Details of all the events taking place on Orkney this year are available in the local calendar.

See below for Orkney map.

How to get to Orkney

Vehicle ferries:
NorthLink Ferries operate 3 services. Vehicles should be booked in advance. Telephone: 0845 6000 449.

  • Ferry from Scrabster (north Scotland) to Stromness (1hr 30 mins),
  • Ferry from Aberdeen (east Scotland) to Kirkwall (6 hours) and then on to Shetland
  • Ferry from Aberdeen (east Scotland) to Shetland direct

Foot passengers should note that the Kirkwall (Hatston) ferry terminal is situated some 2 miles out of town.

Pentland Ferries operate a vehicle ferry from Gill's Bay near John o'Groats to St. Margaret's Hope on Orkney. Sailing time is 45 - 60 minutes. There are 3 sailings every day all year round. Booking advisable. Tel: 01856 831 226.

Passenger ferry:
John O'Groats Ferries (from John O'Groats to Burwick on the southern tip of Orkney) - not operating for 2024.

British Airways and British Airways Express fly to Kirkwall from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, Wick, Sumburgh (Shetland). Connections can be made with flights to and from London Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester and Belfast. The airline has an online searchable timetable. More flight details online: Kirkwall Airport


  • Maynes Holidays offer a day tour where you can park your car at Gills Bay on the mainland, take the ferry over the Pentland Firth (passenger ticket included) and join their coach trip around the island. The tour includes Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar, Italian Chapel and time in Kirkwall, as well as driving by the Standing Stones of Stenness and Scapa Flow. Alternatively, you can start the coach tour from Kirkwall Bus Station (but won't see the Italian chapel). Operates on certain days from 12 May 2024 to 29 September 2024. Contact 01542 831219.
  • John O'Groats Ferries and day tours - not operating in 2024.

Alternatively, you can take the Citylink coach from Inverness to Scrabster for the all-year-round ferry service to Stromness. There are also local bus connections from Wick railway station to Scrabster or you can get a taxi from Thurso railway station.

The main railway line runs from Inverness up the mainland east coast to Wick and Thurso. You can then use the local bus service to reach the ferry points at Scrabster or John O'Groats. travelinescotland.com is the official public transport guide with online bus timetables and a journey planner.

photo of Orkney
Image copyright Colin Palmer stock photo library - purchase prints and posters online

Tours & Cruises

  • John O'Groats Ferries - day tours, cruises and ferry are not operating in 2024.
  • Wildabout Orkney offer a choice of 6 different day and half day guided tours by minibus from Stromness & Kirkwall. Highly recommended. Private tours also available.
  • Explore Orkney offers a choice of 7 day trips from Kirkwall featuring the historical and spiritual places of Orkney. For parties of 6 or more, customised itineraries can be arranged. Tel: 01856 761159 / 07934 839058.
  • Private tours on Orkney can be arranged with guides from the Orkney Tourist Guides Association.
  • Patricia Long is an Orkney tour guide who offers private guided tours and can also help with family research. Her web site contains a lot of information about daily life in Orkney over the last 100 years.
  • Great Orkney Tours is run by Jean Ross who has lived in Orkney all her life. A qualified Orkney Tourist Guide, she offers private guiding for any number of guests. Archaeology, heritage, wildlife, geology and folklore.
  • Professional archaeologist and qualified tour guide, Caroline Mamwell, specialises in Orkney Archaeology Tours.
  • Stromness by Carriage offers tours of the harbour and town in a Landau pulled along by Friesian horses. The carriage can seat 4 people. Also available for weddings and special events. Tel: 01856 851388.

Travel on and between the islands:

Orkney Ferries Ltd sail to Rousay, Egilsay, Wyre, Shapinsay, Hoy, Graemsay, Flotta, Eday, Stronsay, Sanday, Westray, North Ronaldsay and Papa Westray. Telephone: 01856 872044.

Orkney ferry, Scotland
© Piotr Rydzkowski | Dreamstime.com

British Airways Express operate light aircraft from Kirkwall to Eday, Stronsay, Sanday, Westray, Papa Westray and North Ronaldsay. Orkney Adventure tickets are available which enable you to visit 3 of these islands at special rates. The fares to Papa Westray and North Ronaldsay are good bargains as they are subsidised. Check the details by phoning 01856 872 494.

Vehicle Hire:
Car hire is available in both Kirkwall and Stromness, as well as at the airport.

  • Orkney Car Hire provide car and mini-bus hire. Tel: 01856 872866.
  • W.R. Tullock. Tel: 01856 873212.
  • Norman W. Brass, Stromness. Tel: 01856 850850.
  • Drive Orkney. Tel: 01856 870000
  • Europcar at Kirkwall airport. Tel: 01856 875500.
  • Horse-ON: 16 seater minicoach for private hires available evenings and weekends. Contact Alan Aim. Tel: 05600 764 190.

Bike hire:

  • Stromness Cycle Hire, Ferry Road, Stromness, Orkney KW16 3AA. Tel: 01856 850750
  • Orkney Cycle Hire, 54 Dundas Street, Stromness, Orkney. Tel: 01856 850255

Local bus service
Stagecoach operates several bus services on Mainland Orkney which usually operate Monday-Saturday.

What to see - an overview

Orkney Map
Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service.
Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey
and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

The largest island of the Orkney group is known as "Mainland" and has two main towns (Kirkwall and Stromness). The overal population of the islands is around 21,000 with the majority (17,000) living on Mainland Orkney according to the 2011 census data.

Known as Hamnavoe ("haven bay") in old Norse, it is still a busy harbour thanks to the car ferry which links Orkney to Shetland and mainland Scotland. Although with a population of only 2000, it is over 3 times smaller than Kirkwall. Also called the Venice of the North, it has the Pier Arts Centre, tourist information, a library, marina, as well as numerous shops and a nearby golf course.
See the Stromness harbour webcam.
The Stromness museum on Alfred Street includes exhibits about marine life, birds, fossils, fishing, Scapa Flow, Arctic explorer John Rae, and the links between Orkney and Canada involving the Hudson's Bay Company.
Visit the Orkneyjar web site for details about the history of Stromness.

Kirkwall is a beautiful old town with lovely architecture and many interesting historical sights (see below). Its name comes from the Old Norse word Kirkjuvagr meaning "church bay" relating to a long since disappeared church.

Kirkwall has many shops and businesses including: hotels, post office, banks, travel agents, pharmacies, grocers, computer supplies, supermarket, numerous cafés, fish and chip shops, Chinese and Indian restaurants, etc. The Kirkwall BID (Business Improvement District) web site includes a town directory and events list.
There are also several craft and souvenir shops selling woolly jumpers, Viking jewellery and local artwork. Make sure you visit Judith Glue's shop opposite the cathedral, which includes work by her sister - the artist Jane Glue.
The Orcadian Bookshop in Albert Street is excellent.
The town is also home to a cinema, theatre, marina, swimming pool, sports centre and a golf course.
There is an excellent public library dating from 1683 (the oldest in Scotland) which has Internet access.
The Tourist Office here is very good. There are lots of free information leaflets and videos to watch about the history and wildlife of the islands.
The Orkney Distillery at the harbour produces hand-crafted gin and offers guided tours (Monday - Saturday). There's a coffee and gin bar within the visitor centre. Free WiFi. Tel: 01856 875338.
Outside the town is the Highland Park Distillery. Open all year, it has tours and visitor centre with a shop.

The main historical sights in Kirkwall are:

Since they are so interesting, I have put my historical Kirkwall information on a separate web page.

St Magnus Cathedral
St Magnus Cathedral
Image copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland 2009

By the harbour you will find the Wireless Museum which moved here from St. Margaret's Hope in 1997. It is a huge unique collection of wartime communications equipment, wireless sets, headphones, old magazines, ancient valves and lots of other displays.

Take a short walk out of town to a place called Grain and visit an Iron Age souterrain or earth-house with stairs leading underground.

For local news, check out The Orcadian newspaper.

Otter crossing signs are located near what is called the Peerie Sea. I found one on the busy causeway which heads west and the other just around the corner next to a petrol station. I wasn't lucky enough to see any otters though.

Shorelines Gallery at Finstown (6 miles between Kirkwall and Stromness) showcases the work of artist Jane Glue. Open Monday - Saturday from Easter to December. Tel: 01856 761142.


Some of Orkney's most important places are:
Skara Brae - Ring of Brodgar - Stones of Stenness - Maes Howe - Brough of Birsay - Broch of Gurness - Rennibister Earth House - Onstan cairn
Because of their importance, I have created a separate Orkney archaeology web page.

Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar photo copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland

The Ness of Brodgar (between Harray and Stenness lochs) has now become a major site for excavation near the Ring of Brodgar. The scale and uniqueness of the discoveries are remarkable, including a possible neolithic 'temple' and 'great wall'. Excavations are ongoing each summer - click here to read the latest news and you can buy the official guidebook from The Ness of Brodgar Trust.

Historic Environment Scotland offers free guided walks at the Ring of Brodgar, Stones of Stenness and Barnhouse. Contact the Orkney Ranger service - tel: 01856 841732

Two other sites were discovered by a team from Glasgow University. One is situated near Stonehall Farm near Finstown and is a village thought to be 5800 years old. The other can be accessed along a track leading from the Stones of Stenness to Barnhouse. Here 15 dwellings thought to be 5000 years old have been found, along with a larger possibly ceremonial structure.

In April 1998 a previously unknown 4,000 year-old underground burial chamber, named the Crantit Tomb, was discovered in a field by a local farmer.

In September 1999 another local farmer re-discovered the mysterious (possibly unique) underground chamber Minehowe and massive ditch which archaeologists now believe may have been at the heart of Iron Age Orkney. It is situated on private land but is open to the public May to September, 10am - 6pm (contact Mr. Paterson, tel: 01856 861 234 or 861 209). Large parties must book in advance. There is a small admission charge. Full details and photos are available from Orkneyjar and the Orkney Archaeological Trust.

The South part of Mainland Orkney

During the Second World War, Scapa Flow was protected by "block ships" - old ships which were strategically scuppered to prevent vessels entering through the channels between the string of islands in the east. When a U-boat slipped through these defences and sank HMS ROYAL OAK six weeks into the Second World War, Winston Churchill ordered the sea to be filled in between Lamb Holm, Glims Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay.

Churchill Barriers, Orkney, Scotland
One of the Churchill Barriers © Juliane Jacobs | Dreamstime.com

Scapa Flow appears as a huge natural harbour. As well as being the resting place of HMS ROYAL OAK, whose wreck is marked by a single buoy, it is also the graveyard of the German High Seas Fleet. On Midsummer Day 1919, Admiral von Reuter gave the order to scupper his ships. Fifty-four out of seventy-four were sunk, but most were later salvaged and today only 7 remain on the sea bed.
M.V. Invincible, the largest of all the Orkney dive boat fleet, is the best way to explore these wrecks. Ian & Fiona Trumpess of Scapa Flow Diving Holidays operate their boat out of Stromness (but can also arrange diving in Shetland). All charters include onboard accommodation. Tel: 01856 851110 / Mobile: 07826 930297.
Take the ferry from mainland Orkney to the Lyness Interpretation Centre to learn all about it. Diving guides and courses are available from Scapa Scuba.

The work on the Churchill Barriers was carried out by Italian Prisoners of War who were captured in the North Africa campaign and held at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm. Far from home, they requested permission to turn a couple of old Nissen huts into a Roman Catholic chapel. Trimmed with red, the white angular façade and belfry hide the original shape of the two buildings with an exterior akin to a wedding cake.

Italian Chapel
Italian Chapel photos copyright 2004
The Internet Guide to Scotland
Italian Chapel Inside, the surprises continue. Walls covered in plasterboard have been painted in mock brickwork. Plain glass windows have been painted to imitate stained glass. Corned beef tins have been turned into candle-holders and stair rods into candlesticks. The ornate ironwork of the sanctuary screen was formed out of yet more scrap. The altar was sculpted from concrete and polished to resemble marble. Painted on the roof above it, a white dove symbolising the Holy Spirit looks down on a magnificent mural of the Madonna and Child. Restored several times over the years, the chapel stands as a reminder of the unfailing faith of the Italians and their ingenious use of scavenged material.

It is open daily during daylight hours all year. Visit Undiscovered Scotland for more photos of the chapel.

The island between Holm (Italian Chapel) and South Ronaldsay (St. Margaret's Hope) is Burray. Here you will find the Fossil and Vintage Centre with cafe which opened in 1993.

Located on South Ronaldsay which is joined to Mainland Orkney by the Churchill Barriers. Once a busy port, St. Margaret's Hope is now a rather sleepy place whose attractions include a blacksmith museum and a craft co-operative. The Creel Restaurant with Rooms has good food. The village reputedly owes its name to Edward II's Norwegian child bride who died at sea on her way to become Queen of Scotland. Her body lay in St. Magnus Cathedral before being repatriated to Norway.

A chambered tomb some 5000 years old, named after all the eagles claws that it contained when discovered. Located on South Ronaldsay. Admission charge.

Photo copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland

Other places of interest on Mainland Orkney

At the summit are 3 experimental wind turbine generators which can be seen for miles around. Adjacent to them is an RSPB hide overlooking a small loch.

A horizontal water mill used for grinding grain in the 19th century. The name comes from the wooden bit which releases the grain between the stones: it clicks each time it goes around and lets some grain through the hopper.

Skaill House Orkney
Skaill House © Froggy | Fotolia.com

Situated close to the prehistoric village of Skara Brae, this 17th-century house has been refurbished and is now open to the public. Gift shop. Apparently you can see the dinner service which was used on Captain Cook's ship The Discovery. Open daily April - September. Tel: 01856 841 501. Web site. There is a joint ticket arrangement with Skara Brae.

Climb to the top and you will find a 200-foot drop straight down into the foaming sea. Many birds nest in the nooks and crannies of the cliffs. Up here is the Kitchener Memorial. It is a tall, square tower which was erected in memory of the 600 men who lost their lives when HMS Hampshire struck a German mine and sank on 5th June 1916 while conveying Lord Kitchener and his staff to Russia.

Formed by layer upon layer of the Middle Old Red Sandstone that makes up most of Orkney, these cliffs are a warm, ochre colour. Be prepared for strong winds coming in off the ocean.
Look carefully at the rocks for fossil "horse-tooth" Stromatolites, blue-green algae that grew in the lake that covered Orkney 350 million years ago. In cracks in the rock you can sometimes see tiny, blue-grey snails that live in the spray zone about fifty metres above sea level and feed on lichen.
On the moorland, you may see some tiny mauve flowers with yellow centres. These are rare Scottish primroses (primula scotica) found only in Orkney, Shetland and Caithness.
If you look south, you might just see the outline of The Old Man of Hoy, the much-photographed sea stack off the Orkney coast. At 449 feet (137 m) high it can be seen from the ferry before entering Stromness.
Walking northwards, climb over a few barbed wire fences and cross a stream. You will come to the Brough of Bigging, a ruined tower, which overlooks the sea stack known as Yesnaby Castle.

Old Man of Hoy Old Man of Hoy
The Old Man of Hoy - photos copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland 2010 and 2012

Both farms have displays of old farm houses and equipment. When I visited in 1993 there was a little man who baked bread over the fire and looked after the sheep. If he's still there, he will have lots of stories to tell you about his life and local traditions. Open March to October Mon-Sat 10.30am - 1pm and 2-5pm, Sundays 2-7pm. Free admission. Gift shop.

Orphir church, Orkney
Orphir © johnbraid | Fotolia.com

Scotland's only circular Medieval church can be found at Orphir (halfway between Kirkwall and Stromness as the crow flies). Now in ruins, it dates from the 12th century. Nearby are the remains of a Viking drinking hall called the Earl's Bu'. An interpretation and orientation centre with an audio-visual presentation has now opened here which tells you all about the Norse influence as described in the Orkneyinga Saga.
Built around 1769, the Hall of Clestrain at Orphir was the birthplace of the famous Arctic explorer John Rae.

Off the road near Deerness. The Covenanters' Memorial was erected following the loss of two hundred souls in 1679. Found guilty of religious dissent by Charles II, they were being shipped to America to be sold as slaves, but were hit by a raging winter storm.

Covenanters' Memorial
Covenanters' Memorial photo copyright 2004
The Internet Guide to Scotland

The smaller islands of Orkney

These can be reached by local ferries and in some cases by light aircraft from Kirkwall. They are worth visiting for their landscape and their history. This is just a brief introduction to some of them. Visit North Ronaldsay to have a guided tour of the lighthouse and see the Bird Observatory.

Hoy has the highest hill in Orkney and also one of the highest vertical cliffs in Britain. Just off the coast is the Old Man of Hoy, a 450-foot pinnacle of rock rising out of the sea. Other sights include the Dwarfie Stane, a tomb which is about 5000 years old.
You can also see the old Royal Navy base which now has a Visitors' Centre and look around the cemetery.
The Martello Towers at Hackness were built in 1813 to protect British ships from the US Navy.

Isle of Hoy, Orkney, Scotland
Rackwick Bay, Hoy © Orion9nl | Dreamstime.com

The father of the author of Rip van Winkle was born on Shapinsay.
Just visible from Kirkwall is Balfour Castle which sits on Shapinsay. Built in 1847-48 it was designed by architect David Bryce. The interior owes much to a team of 30 Italian craftsmen. The castle was run as a hotel until sold in 2009 and has now been refurbished as a 5 star exclusive use venue.

Full details about the island on the school's community web site.

This small island has nearly 200 prehistoric monuments including the magnificent Midhowe Broch and many burial cairns. Visitors also come to see the seabird colonies. For more info about the island see: visitrousay.co.uk
Rousay Tours & Taxis can take you on a day tour in a 7 seater vehicle (contact Patrick Maguire - tel: 01856 821234). Booking essential (picnics provided by arrangement).

Swandro - Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust is focussing on The Knowe of Swandro (Rousay) which is an amazing multi-period site including a Neolithic chambered tomb overlain by Iron Age, Pictish, Viking and Norse settlement. Coastal erosion is having a devastating effect on the archaeology at the Knowe of Swandro and cannot be stopped. In response to this threat, this charity aims to raise funds to excavate and record the Knowe of Swandro before it is destroyed. During the excavation season, usually in July, visitors are very welcome. Free site tours and special open days with re-enactors and other demonstrations. If you wish to visit, please click here for directions.

Famous for the ruins of Cubbie Roo's castle, the oldest stone castle in Scotland (dating from the 12th century). More info.

Famous for St Magnus Kirk (a distinctive round towered church built by the Vikings). A cenotaph marks the spot where Earl Magnus was murdered (the cathedral in Kirkwall was built in his memory). More info.

Home of Viking burial grounds and broch sites, plus the Quoyness chambered tomb dating from around 2900 BC. Lots of sandy beaches, 2 golf courses and much wartime history. The Start Point lighthouse (built by Robert Stevenson) can be visited on the community minibus Sanday Experience tours.
Visit the local web site www.sanday.co.uk

The main village is Whitehall which used to be one of the largest herring ports in the country, and now includes a couple of shops and the Stronsay Hotel. See VisitStronsay.com for full local information.
The Vat O' Kirbister is a natural rock arch formed by the sea - known as a 'gloop' - accessed by a cliff top walk.

Vat O' Kirbister
© 2009 The Internet Guide to Scotland
Noup Head
© 2009 The Internet Guide to Scotland

Pierowall is the main settlement with grocery stores, accommodation, cafe, heritage museum, art gallery. The ruins of Noltland Castle can be seen nearby (now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland).

The Noup Head RSPB reserve has huge colonies of seabirds, spectacular cliffs and a lighthouse built by David Stevenson.

Minibus tours, bike hire and local information are available from Westraak.

For information about the island, visit the web site by the Westray Development Trust and the Westray Heritage Centre.

Dating from around 3500 BC, the Knap of Howar is the earliest standing dwelling house in north-western Europe. Other places of interest include St. Treadwell's Chapel, St. Boniface Church and a long chambered cairn. More info about the island is available on the web site by the Papay Development Trust (which operates a small arts, crafts and heritage centre) and the Westray & Papa Westray Tourist Association.
The Papa Peedie Tour features a minibus tour of the archaeological sites in the morning followed by lunch. Then in the afternoon a guided tour on foot of the RSPB North Hill reserve to see the local wildlife, followed by afternoon tea. Operates Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from May to end August. Booking essential with the Papa Ranger - Tel: 0793 1235213.
Bike hire available.


Miscellaneous accommodation listings:

  • The INN Guest House on the waterfront at St Mary's (Holm) has 6 ensuite bedrooms. Scottish Tourist Board 3 Stars. Contact Mike and Shona. Tel: 01856 781 786.
  • Westrow Lodge B&B on Orkney mainland half-way between Kirkwall and Stromness. 2 kingsize ensuite bedrooms. Scottish Tourist Board 4 Stars. Contact Kathy Bichan. Tel: 01856 811360

Self catering:

    Miscellaneous accommodation listings:
  • Banks of Orkney - 2 cottages (each sleeping 2 - 4) and a converted barn (sleeping up to 6). Situated on the island of South Ronaldsay. B&B accommodation also available during the summer. Tel: 01856 831605.
  • Burnhouse - a new luxurious bungalow sleeping 5 on Hoy, Orkney. Tel: 01856 870058.
  • Buxa Farm Chalets are 3 Norwegian style semi-detached chalets (each sleeping 2-5 in 2 bedrooms) located on the shore between Houton and Stromness in Orphir. Spectacular views of Hoy and Scapa Flow. A renovated Croft House (sleeping up to 8) is also available. All properties are graded Scottish Tourist Board 4 stars. Tel: 01856 811360.
  • The Croft: Byre at Heddle offers ground floor accommodation for 1 or 2 people. 1 kingsize double bedroom, wetroom, lounge, kitchen. WiFi broadband.
  • Shorelines Cottage is in Finstown (6 miles from Kirkwall and 7 miles from Stromness). 2 bedrooms (1 twin & 1 double), 2 bathrooms, kitchen/living area with glass end overlooking the sea. Private walled garden area with decking. All modern facilities including WiFi broadband.
  • Wheems Bothy and Camping on South Ronaldsay (15 miles south of Kirkwall). The bothy sleeps up to 8 people, 40 per night (min 2 nights), 190 per week. Camping field with space for 12 tents (pricing from 4 per night). Facilities include bedding, washing machine, water, hot showers and toilets. O.S. grid reference ND466916. Tel: 01856 831 556.
    Wheems is a small organic farm overlooking sandy bays and cliffs. Farm produce & basic food requirements are available including organic vegetables and eggs. Soil Association Certified. There is an artist's studio with some work for sale.
  • Widefirth Self Catering Cottages - a choice of 2 cottages (each sleeping 6) situated in the parish of Rendall. Scottish Tourist Board 4 Stars. Tel: 01856 761028.

Hostels (please check before planning your visit):

  • London Bay, Eday - tel: 01857 622 283. Open from March to October. 24 beds.
  • Isle of Hoy (north, 1 mile from Moaness Pier) - tel: 01856 873 535. Open mid May to mid September. 26 beds.
  • Isle of Hoy (south at Rackwick) - tel: 01856 873535. Open mid March to mid September. 8 beds.
  • Isle of Westray hostel - contact Mr & Mrs J Harcus at Chalmersquoy - thebarn@orkney.com.
  • Isle of Papa Westray (Beltane House) - tel: 01857 644267. Open all year. 16 beds.
  • Kirkwall Hostel. Situated on Old Scapa Road, 15 minutes walk from Kirkwall town centre. 2 star SYHA hostel. 75 beds. Open April - October. Map Ref: O.S.06 (GR 444101). Tel: 01856 872 243.
  • Stromness (Hellihole Road) - tel/fax: 01856 850 589. Open March to October. 40 beds.
  • North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory - tel: 01857 633200. Sleeps up to 13. Solar- and wind-powered building.
  • Birsay Hostel - sleeps 30, open all year. Telephone 01856 873535.
  • Evie Hostel run by Mrs. Sabiston - tel: 01856 751208. Sleeps 12.
  • Evie Centre Bothy - sleeps 4, closed October to March. Telephone 01856 751270/751254. Located on Mainland, opposite Rousay island. Can be rented for your exclusive use for a week.
  • Rousay Hostel - sleeps 13, open all year, on Rousay island. Telephone 01856 821252.


  • Eviedale Centre - telephone: 01856 751270/751254
  • Pickaquoy Caravan and Camping Site, near Kirkwall - telephone 01856 873535.
  • Point of Ness Caravan and Camping Site, near Stromness - telephone 01856 873535.

Where to eat

There are lots of places to eat in Kirkwall including two Chinese restaurants, a curry house, an American diner, numerous cafés, plus various hotels which also serve meals. Vegetarians are catered for Chez Réjane in Bridge Street. Trenabies Cafe at 16 Albert Street serves great pizzas.

Specialities of the island include Swannay cheese. My best memory of the food here was some excellent shortbread which I bought in one of the grocery shops in the main street.

Tourist Information Centres

6 Broad Street - Kirkwall - Orkney KW15 1NX
Telephone: 01856 872 856

Ferry Terminal Building - The Pier - Stromness - Orkney
Telephone: 01856 850716

Orkney Tourist Board - free brochure including accommodation list

Useful Books and Maps

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases)

If you are sightseeing around the islands, then an indispensable tool is the Leisure and Tourist Map for Orkney and Shetland which pinpoints well over 100 important places to see and has a gazetteer with a short description of each.

Lovely colour guide with over 100 pages of photos devoted to these amazing islands. Covers local heritage and culture, ancient monuments, history of settlement, nature and the landscape, places to visit, etc. Second edition published 2007. Even if you don't get chance to buy it before you go, you will certainly want a copy for a souvenir when you have visited! Order online from Amazon.co.uk (commission link)
Another useful one of the Pevensey island guide series covers Shetland.
Monuments of Orkney: A Visitor's Guide (Explore Scottish Monuments)
Published in 2012. In this extensively illustrated guide, Orkney-based archaeologist Caroline Wickham-Jones introduces more than 60 monuments in concise and accessible terms, set in context by a brief history of the islands. A site location directory is also included.
Amazon US - Amazon UK (commission links)
Orkney: A Historical Guide Paperback
Published in 2015. Caroline Wickham-Jones, whow has worked extensively on Orcadian sites for many years, introduces the history of the islands and provides a detailed survey of the principal places and sites of historic interest.
Amazon US - Amazon UK (commission links)
Written by well-known archaeologist, Anna Ritchie, this 163-page book is part of the excellent Exploring Scotland's Heritage series and is well worth having if you want all the details on the ancient monuments here.
Amazon UK (commission link)
The Islands of Orkney
Lovely hardcover book containing over 300 pages written by Liv Kjorsvik Schei with photographs by Gunnie Moberg.
Amazon UK (commission link)
Stone Age Farmers Beside the Sea:
Scotland's Prehistoric Village of Skara Brae

Lots of colour photos and a well-written text explaining what is known about this most unique archaeological site on mainland Orkney and the people who lived there. Makes history come alive!
Amazon US - Amazon UK - Kindle edition - UK
A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany
Comprehensive guide produced by famous expert Aubrey Burl. With maps, photos, descriptions, practical information on how to find them and what condition they are in, this is a very useful handbook for visiting prehistoric sites.
Amazon US - Amazon UK (commission links)
Historic Environment Scotland: Ancient Shetland
128-page paperback book written by Val Turner.
Amazon US - Amazon UK (commission links)


The Internet Guide to Scotland
Kirkwall - Orkney archaeology

The official Orkney Tourist Board web site

Orkneyjar - excellent online guide and photos by local man Sigurd Towrie
Orknet (another interesting site)
Orkney Business Directory (includes disabled access information)
Spirit of Orkney

Orkney Genealogy and Orkney Family Names
Ancestral Orkney and Orkney Family History Society

Photos of Orkney by Colin Palmer - purchase prints and posters online
Charles Tait - local professional photographer - books, calendars & photos
Stones of Scotland by Paola Arosio and Diego Meozzi
Guide to climbing the sea stacks of Orkney by Iain Miller
Orkney Islands Sea Angling Association
Land up in the Hills of Orkney
Orkney Chairs