Things to do in Orkney
Orkney is an archipelago of islands, situated off the northern tip of Scotland where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Orkney can trace its history back through 6 millennia. There are more than 1,000 listed sites of interest and stone circles which were created some 5,000 years ago. Orkney's landscape is dramatic: in midsummer the sun hardly drops below the horizon; in autumn you can see the spectacle of the Northern Lights (aurora borealis). Striking features like the Old Man of Hoy abound. The Orkney isles are warmed by the Gulf Stream, creating a temperate climate, with a variety of flora and fauna throughout the islands.
Kirkwall and East Mainland.Orkney Tourist Information is available at Kirkwall on the East Mainland. The City and Royal Burgh of Kirkwall is the capital and administrative centre of Orkney. The original town is one of the best preserved examples of an ancient Norse town. Attractions include St. Magnus Cathedral. Founded in 1137, this is a magnificent architectural achievement. There are also ruins of Bishop's Palace and the later Earl's Palace, itself acclaimed as the most accomplished piece of domestic Renaissance architecture. The Orkney Museum, contains a vivid introduction to Orkney's rich archaeology.
There are two Scotch whisky distilleries on the outskirts of Kirkwall - Highland Park and Skapa. Highland Park is the older, dating from 1798, and is the most northerly distillery in the world. It has a visitor centre and regular conducted tours throughout the year. Scapa distillery has limited access, but is open to visitors by arrangement.
Places of interest on the East Mainland
The Gloup is a dramatic, collapsed sea cave separated from the sea by a land bridge. Brough of Deerness is accessible by a narrow cliff track which runs northwards from the Gloup. Mull Head Nature Reserve comprises over 200 acres of maritime grassland and heath. It's home to many thousands of sea birds and contains ruins of a Norse chapel and village. It also has an extensive footpath network.
Winston Churchill was responsible for the construction of the causeways which link the islands of Burray and South Ronaldsay to the mainland. The Italian Prisoners of War who built the Churchill Barriers also created the famous Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm. They did this using two nissen huts, created a remarkable decorated interior in the process.
Orkney Fossil and Vintage Centre, Burray is a visitor attraction with displays of fossil fish over 3000 million years old. It also has vintage exhibits.
Stromness and the West Mainland.Orkney Tourist Information can be found in Stromness - Orkney's major seaport. Stromness first attracted sailors with the fine anchorage provided by Hamnavoe. It quickly became the last port of call before transatlantic voyages. Attractions include the Pier Arts Centre - a modern gallery with permanent and changing exhibitions, Stromness Museum - exhibits including displays of the German fleet in Scapa Flow plus there's the Hudson's Bay Company and Arctic whaling.
Places of interest on the West
Skara Brae is a Stone Age village of ten one-roomed houses. It dates from 3,000 BC and is in remarkable state of preservation. It is the best preserved Neolithic village in Europe. The Visitor Centre details the history of this world famous monument.
Brough of Birsay offers the chance to see the remains of early Christian and Norse settlements. This is a tidal island and entry is by pedestrian causeway. As such, access is subject to local tides. Earl's Palace, Birsay, overlooks Birsay Bay. This palace was used in the late 16th century by the Earls of Orkney. St Magnus Church, Birsay, was built in 1064 then rebuilt first in 1664 and again in 1760.
Corrigall Farm Museum at Harray is a late 19th century farmstead with a grain drying kiln, native livestock and a Victorian garden.
Ring of Brodgar is a magnificent circle of upright stones dating from Neolithic times. Close by are the Standing Stones of Stenness. These make up a small circle and date from the third millennium BC. The circle originally consisted of 12 stones.
Maes Howe Chambered Cairn is considered to be the finest chambered tomb in Western Europe. Built before 2,700 BC, Maeshowe was raided by Vikings in mid-12th century. It houses the largest collection of runic inscriptions to be found in any one place in the world.
Many smaller islands surround the Mainland of Orkney, where you can discover history, enjoy nature, and relax in the unique atmosphere of the Orkney Islands.
Days out in Orkney
Balfour Castle was completed in 1848 to the order of the then owner, David Balfour, 4th Laird of Balfour and Trenabie. The Castle is said to incorporate 7 turrets, 12 exterior doors, 52 rooms and 365 panes of glass.
Corrigall Farm Museum
Experience Orkney Farm and Folk life at the Kirkbuster and Corrigall farm museums. Buildings and grounds include a working barn with grain kiln; traditional crafts and livestock; horse drawn implements and machines.
Maeshowe Chambered Cairn
Maes Howe is the finest megalithic tomb in north-west Europe, with a large mound covering a stone-built passage and a large burial chamber with cells in the walls.
Orkney Museum features Pre-historic and Viking Orkney in one of Scotland's finest displays, in the town house and gardens of an Orkney Laird.
Orkney Wireless Museum
This museum specialises in Orkney wartime and domestic radio memorabilia.
Ring of Brodgar Stone Circle & Henge
The ancient Ring of Brodgar is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site which focuses on various neolithic sites on the Mainland of Orkney.
Skara Brae Prehistoric Village
Skara Brae contains the best preserved group of Stone Age houses in Western Europe.
Stromness Museum was instituted in 1837 and holds Orkney's principal Maritime, Ethnographic and Natural History Collections.