• WHAT TO DO ON HOY (ORKNEY)

  • HOY

WHAT TO DO ON HOY

THE ORKNEY ISLANDS

Hoy is unique among the Orkney Islands, its rugged geography more like the mountainous Scottish Highlands than the rolling farmland found in Scotland’s northeast and the rest of Orkney. The island is famous for the ‘Old Man of Hoy’, a spectacular sea stack looking out across the Atlantic. Along with nearby Rackwick Bay, it is the scenic highlight of a trip to Hoy, and indeed a strong contender for the most beautiful spot in all of Orkney. Elsewhere on the island, you can learn about Orkney’s fascinating wartime history, explore a 5000 year old rock-cut tomb, and take a picturesque walk through Rackwick Glen.

Hoy makes for an ideal day trip from Orkney Mainland, but is also a great option for longer stays. There is a fantastic open bothy and an informal campsite at Rackwick Bay, as well as some unique island accommodation options which include a former lighthouse keeper’s cottage and a magnificent kirk. In this guide we’ll cover the best things to do on Hoy. We will also give practical travel tips to help you plan your trip, whether for just a few hours, or a few days.

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Watch the behind the scenes version of our Orkney trip on Instagram stories

Watch the behind the scenes
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HOY MAP

Use the map below to help lead you around Hoy to all the places mentioned in this guide. You can also download an offline version to Maps.me (iOS/Android). Tap the menu button at the top left for more details, to toggle layers on and off, and switch between satellite and terrain view.


To save this map to use online on desktop or mobile just tap the star symbol at the top. When you open Google Maps on your phone, navigate to ‘Saved’ at the bottom, then swipe along to ‘Maps’ at the top. You’ll find this map in your list of maps.

On desktop, click the three lines at the top left, select ‘Your Places’, then ‘Maps’. Click the map, then scroll down and select ‘Open in My Maps’ to access the interactive version.

Alternatively, just tap the rectangle symbol at the top right of the map in this blog post to view the My Maps version larger on desktop.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to view this version of the map offline, but we’ve created a similar version for offline use as per below.


To use an offline map with all the same pins and routes marked, first download Maps.Me (iOS/Android), then download our Hoy Travel Guide bookmarks, and select open with Maps.Me. 

You can easily navigate by tapping the bookmark for your start point and selecting ‘route from’, then tap your end point bookmark and select ‘route to’. If you want to plot a different route to the one suggested by Maps.me, just tap a third (or fourth, fifth, etc.) bookmark between the start and end points and select ‘add stop’.

You can use Maps.me offline or online, but note that the attached photos and links for each bookmark will only appear when you’re online.


THE OLD MAN OF HOY

No trip to Hoy is complete without setting eyes on the Old Man himself. Surrounded by dramatic cliffs and swarming with birdlife, this 137 metre sea stack makes quite the impression. It is reached by a 4.5 km walking trail from Rackwick Bay on the island’s west coast. There’s a bit of a climb initially with around 130 metres of elevation to gain, but after this it’s an easy going walk on a well maintained dirt and stone path.

A top down aerial view showing waves crash around the rocky base of the Old Man of Hoy

Waves crash around the rocky base of the Old Man of Hoy



A top down aerial view showing waves crash around the rocky base of the Old Man of Hoy

Waves crash around the Old Man of Hoy



The scenery along the way is striking, with views back down over Rackwick Bay, out towards the open Atlantic, and along the towering cliff faces ahead. Then there’s the grandeur of the Old Man of Hoy itself. Numerous vantage points allow you to take it in from a variety of angles. The trail leads directly to a viewpoint where you can look close-up at the imposing stack, but you can also veer off the path early for a side-on view from the south, or carry on towards St John’s Head for an alternative view of the Old Man’s north facing profile.

An impressive view of the Old Man of Hoy from the south, showing the towering stack detatched from the rugged red cliffs of the island's west coast

Veer off the trail before reaching the Old Man of Hoy to get this impressive view from the south



An impressive view of the Old Man of Hoy from the south, showing the towering stack detatched from the rugged red cliffs of the island's west coast

Veer off the trail before reaching the Old Man of
Hoy to get this impressive view from the south



On a fine day look closely and you may even spot climbers ascending or descending the Old Man of Hoy. It’s an incredible feat and one that is fascinating (if a little nerve-wracking!) to watch.

A climber pulls his friend to the top of the Old Man of Hoy, a 137 metre tall sea stack on the coast of Hoy in the Orkney Islands

A climber pulls his mate to the top



Two climbers celebrate and take pictures on top of the Old Man of Hoy

Time for the celebratory pictures



A climber descending down the side of the Old Man of Hoy

Descending the Old Man of Hoy



A climber pulls his friend to the top of the Old Man of Hoy, a 137 metre tall sea stack on the coast of Hoy in the Orkney Islands

A climber pulls his mate up to the top


Two climbers celebrate and take pictures on top of the Old Man of Hoy

Time for the celebratory pictures



HOW TO GET TO THE OLD MAN OF HOY

The walk to The Old Man of Hoy starts at Rackwick Bay, a remote settlement on the west coast of Hoy. There is a car park and public toilet, otherwise, no facilities to speak of.

You can get to Rackwick by car, bike, or on foot via Rackwick Glen. There is no public bus service. However, there is a private taxi and minibus service which should be arranged in advance (call Mr Clark on 01856 791315).

Rackwick is 9.3 km by road from Moaness passenger ferry pier, and 22 km from Lyness car ferry pier. If you bring your own car from Mainland Orkney, you’ll arrive at Lyness. If you travel as a foot or bicycle passenger, you’ll arrive at Moaness. See the How To Get To Hoy section below for more transport details.

A white bird swoops below towering cliffs on the west coast of Hoy in the Orkney Islands

Cliffs alongside the Old Man of Hoy



Birds make their nest along the rugged red cliffs on the west coast of Hoy in the Orkney Islands

The coastline is swarmimg with birds and they make their nests on the rugged cliffs



Birds make their nest along the rugged red cliffs on the west coast of Hoy in the Orkney Islands

The coastline is swarmimg with birds and
they make their nests on the rugged cliffs


A white bird swoops below towering cliffs on the west coast of Hoy in the Orkney Islands

Cliffs alongside the Old Man of Hoy



Allow up to 3 hours for the return 9 km walk from Rackwick to the Old Man of Hoy. The route is easy to follow, and we’ve also marked it on our map, which you can download and view offline. Come prepared with water, food, and all-weather gear. There is nowhere to buy supplies in Rackwick. Finally, take great care and do not get close to cliff edges when walking here, or anywhere in Orkney for that matter. Fatal accidents are sadly all too common.

See More From Scotland

An impressive view of the Old Man of Hoy from the south, showing the towering stack detatched from the rugged red cliffs of the island's west coast
Standing stones set in a large circle, known as the Ring of Brodgar, one of Orkney's most iconic sites and Scotland's largest stone circle
A person walks along the unspoiled beach of the Tresness Peninsula on Sanday
Two surfers walk across the sand in the afternoon sun at Ceannabeinne Beach, not far from Durness on the North Coast 500 route.
An abandoned boat wreck on the Isle of Mull.
Peanmeanach Bothy on the Ardnish Peninsula in February
Culross: Scotland's Best Preserved 17th century town
An impressive view of the Old Man of Hoy from the south, showing the towering stack detatched from the rugged red cliffs of the island's west coast
Standing stones set in a large circle, known as the Ring of Brodgar, one of Orkney's most iconic sites and Scotland's largest stone circle
A person walks along the unspoiled beach of the Tresness Peninsula on Sanday
Two surfers walk across the sand in the afternoon sun at Ceannabeinne Beach, not far from Durness on the North Coast 500 route.
An abandoned boat wreck on the Isle of Mull.
Peanmeanach Bothy on the Ardnish Peninsula in February
Culross: Scotland's Best Preserved 17th century town

RACKWICK BAY

It is definitely worth planning enough time to wander around scenic Rackwick Bay, either before or after your walk to the Old Man of Hoy. The curved bay sits between towering cliffs, with Ward Hill rising to the east and a lovely burn snaking its way into the distance behind. The beach is sandy at its southern end and strewn with beautiful boulders and pebbles at its northern end. On a wild day, the waves crash in from the Atlantic and make for a dramatic sight.

The sandy beach at Rackwick Bay on Hoy, bordered by large rounded stones and backed by towering and rugged cliffs

The sandy beach at Rackwick Bay, backed by those towering cliffs to the south



The sandy beach at Rackwick Bay on Hoy, bordered by large rounded stones and backed by towering and rugged cliffs

The sandy beach and cliffs at Rackwick Bay



Only a handful of people live in this remote community, with the majority of Hoy’s population centred around Longhope and Lyness in the southeastern part of the island. The scattered township features a few old houses in ruin, a holiday cottage here and there, and the residents’ homes.

There are no shops or services, but there is a hostel, an open bothy, and a wonderful croft house museum, the Cra’as Nest. This museum is a faithful restoration of an 18th century croft house and steading, the stone buildings complete with turfed roofs. There are old photos and information boards inside, along with traditional furniture in the croft and a kiln for drying oats in the barn. The cluster of buildings are located just up the hillside from Rackwick Hostel, where they occupy a commanding position with an expansive view over the bay.

BURNMOUTH BOTHY AND CAMPING ON HOY

Hoy is one of the best places in Orkney to camp, with an informal beachside campsite and open bothy at beautiful Rackwick Bay. Spending a night or two here allows you to really soak up the scenery. Plus, you can get an early start and beat the crowds on the trail to the Old Man of Hoy.

BURNMOUTH BOTHY (RACKWICK BOTHY)

Burnmouth Bothy is a listed building dating from the early 19th century. It is a traditional stone croft house and is one of the few remaining in Scotland with a thatched heather roof. Maintained by the Hoy Trust, it is generously made available for use as an open bothy. Not sure what this means? We’ve written a dedicated guide to bothies which covers everything you need to know, but in a nutshell, it’s a shelter open to everyone where you can show up unannounced and stay free of charge. Even if you aren’t staying over, you can satisfy your curiosity by popping in and taking a look around – the door is always left unlocked.

The traditional stone cottage that is now free to use as Burnmouth Bothy at Rackwick Bay on Hoy

Burnmouth Bothy, set back from the beach at Rackwick Bay



The traditional stone cottage that is now free to use as Burnmouth Bothy at Rackwick Bay on Hoy

Burnmouth Bothy at Rackwick Bay



Burnmouth Bothy is very basic, with bare flagstone flooring and raised stone platforms along the edge of the room that are used for sleeping. There is a wood burning stove, plus a table and a few chairs. There is no electricity and you must bring all of your own heating, cooking, and sleeping equipment. Essentially, staying in a bothy is similar to camping, but inside a wind and waterproofed shelter instead of a tent. It’s also a bit like staying in a hostel dorm, in that you never know if you’ll have the room to yourself, or be sharing with complete strangers. One little luxury that Burnmouth does have though, in the adjoining byre, is a flushing toilet and a sink with running (stream) water  – quite the rarity for a bothy!

A person sits at the table while writing an entry in the bothy book inside the spacious Burnmouth Bothy on Hoy in the Orkney Islands

The spacious interior of Burnmouth Bothy, complete with tables, chairs and long stone sleeping platforms



A person sits at the table while writing an entry in the bothy book inside the spacious Burnmouth Bothy on Hoy in the Orkney Islands

The interior of Burnmouth Bothy, complete with
tables, chairs and long stone sleeping platforms



The custodian lives nearby and will likely come down to say hello and check up on the place. Please make sure you leave the bothy clean and tidy, remove all of your rubbish, and treat the bothy and any others staying there with respect. You can leave a message in the visitors book, which also makes for interesting reading.

RACKWICK CAMPING

There is a large stone-walled grassy enclosure next to Burnmouth Bothy which is perfect for camping. There is plenty of space and you can make use of the bothy and toilet, while having your own private sleeping space. This area is free to use and there are no facilities beyond what we have mentioned above.

A tent in a large grassy space enclosed by an old stone wall, next to Burnmouth Bothy at Rackwick Bay on Hoy

This large grassy space next to Burnmouth Bothy is free to use and ideal for camping



A tent in a large grassy space enclosed by an old stone wall, next to Burnmouth Bothy at Rackwick Bay on Hoy

This large grassy space next to Burnmouth
Bothy is free to use and ideal for camping



If you’re travelling in a campervan, you are allowed to stay in the car park at Rackwick for up to one week. There are public toilets nearby which are open and free to use.

THE DWARFIE STANE

The Dwarfie Stane (‘stane’ is Scots for stone) is a huge glacial erratic, likely deposited by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age. It sits in desolate peatland, a few hundred metres away from the road to Rackwick. While such megaliths are always impressive, what makes this extra special is the fact that two bed-like chambers were cut out of it by hand around 3000 years ago, using simple rock or antler tools.

The slab of red sandstone is about 8.5 metres long and 2.5 metres high, and is thought to be the only rock-cut chambered tomb in Britain. Originally, the opening was sealed by the huge stone which now sits just in front. You can crawl inside to see the two small chambers, one complete with a rock ‘pillow’. It’s thought that the chambers may once have contained human remains, although legends also have it that this was the home of a dwarf named Trollid, or (bizarrely, given the size) two giants, imprisoned by a third in his attempt to become master of Hoy.

A two chambered megalith on Hoy called the Dwarfie Stane, thought to have been carved out by hand around 3000 years ago

The impressive chambered ‘Dwarfie Stane’ has inspired numerous stories and legends



A two chambered megalith on Hoy called the Dwarfie Stane, thought to have been carved out by hand around 3000 years ago

The impressive chambered ‘Dwarfie Stane’
has inspired numerous stories and legends



Inside the right-hand chamber is some graffiti carved by geologist Hugh Miller in 1848, and on the outer right-hand wall is graffiti left by British spy William Mounsey in 1850. He carved an inscription in Persian translating to “I have sat two nights and so learnt patience”, along with his name backwards in Latin script.

An inscription carved on the 'rock pillow' of the right-hand chamber inside the Dwarfie Stane

An inscription carved on the ‘rock pillow’ of the right-hand chamber inside the Dwarfie Stane



An inscription carved on the 'rock pillow' of the right-hand chamber inside the Dwarfie Stane

An inscription carved on the ‘rock pillow’ of the
right-hand chamber inside the Dwarfie Stane



There is a car park next to the road and a boardwalk leading 500 metres across peatland to the Dwarfie Stane.

HOY’S WHITE TAILED EAGLES

The crags above the Dwarfie Stane have become the nesting site for two white-tailed eagles in recent years. In the spring and summer months, RSPB Eaglewatch volunteers are based at the Dwarfie Stane car park (usually between 11am – 4pm) to aid visitors in spotting the eagles, as well as other local wildlife.

RACKWICK GLEN WALK

On the southern side of Ward Hill (the highest in Orkney at 481 m) a road connects Moaness and Rackwick, commonly used for car and bike traffic to visit the Old Man of Hoy or the township itself. For those keen to walk from Moaness Pier, take the 7.5 km trail through scenic Rackwick Glen, sandwiched between Ward Hill to the south and Cuilags to the north.

Mist hangs over the top of Rackwick Glen on Hoy while sunlight tries to shine through

Mist hangs over the top of Rackwick Glen



Mist hangs over the top of Rackwick Glen on Hoy while sunlight tries to shine through

Mist hangs over the top of Rackwick Glen



The initial 2.4 km of the walk follows the road west from Moaness Pier before reaching Sandy Loch, home to red throated divers and skuas. An undulating path leads through the glen, passing the most northerly native woodland in the UK before joining the road just before Rackwick. The path is straightforward to follow and is marked on OSM mapping apps such as Maps.me, and on our Hoy map in this guide. Allow about 2 hours one way to complete the walk.

SCAPA FLOW MUSEUM

At the southeastern end of Hoy are the populated areas of Lyness and Longhope. The landscape here is less mountainous and is much better suited to agricultural and community development. There are only around 400 people living on Hoy today, but during World War Two, over 12,000 people were stationed at Lyness. That’s more than half of the entire population of the Orkney Islands as it stands today.

The naval base was known as HMS Proserpine, and the huge influx of people necessitated the building of living quarters, workshops, offices, and of course entertainment facilities such as a cinema and bar. The base was primarily tasked with the repair and provisioning of ships, and it housed an oil depot complete with above and below ground tanks, and a pumping station.

Today, the history of the naval base and Orkney’s wartime heritage in general is documented at the excellent Scapa Flow Museum. For years the museum was housed in the former naval base grounds, including exhibitions in the pump house and one of the huge oil tanks. It is currently undergoing extensive renovation however, and a smaller temporary exhibit is housed at the nearby Hoy Hotel instead. This exhibit is full of fascinating photographs, contemporary accounts, and a detailed timeline of events which highlight Orkney’s significant role in both World Wars.

 It is free to enter and well worth a visit.

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WHERE TO STAY ON HOY

Besides the bothy and camping options detailed above, there are a couple of hostels and some wonderfully unique accommodation options on Hoy, as well as a few hotels and self-catering cottages.

HOY HOSTELS

Hoy Outdoor Centre is located near Moaness Pier and sleeps up to 32 people in 8 ensuite rooms. Smaller Rackwick Hostel at Rackwick Bay sleeps up to 8 people in two rooms. Each of these hostels is well located for exploring the northern part of the island. They are also ideal budget options for those arriving on foot or by bike on the Stromness to Moaness ferry.

UNIQUE ACCOMMODATION ON HOY

UNIQUE ACCOMMODATION

A couple of unique stays on Hoy that we love the look of can be booked through Airbnb. If you’re new to Airbnb, be sure to sign up through our referral link and you’ll get up to £50 off your first booking.

Our top pick is North Walls Kirk, a beautiful home in a renovated kirk (church) just south of Lyness. It’s located close to Lyness ferry terminal, ideal for those bringing a car over to Hoy. The spacious high ceilinged interior is bathed in spectacular light thanks to numerous arched church windows, and the decor is in keeping with the building’s heritage. A truly special place to stay!

A quirky option that we love is Cantick Head Lighthouse Cottage at the very southern tip of the island. This former lighthouse keeper’s cottage sits next to a magnificent Stevenson lighthouse, built in 1856 and still active today (although now remotely operated, hence why you can stay in the cottage). The location is quite spectacular, looking out over the Pentland Firth to South Ronaldsay. There is a sandy beach and the Hill of White Hamers nature reserve nearby.

MORE HOY ACCOMMODATION

Another couple of great accommodation options include The Noddle, an eco-friendly bungalow with lovely sea views and a rocky beach on its doorstep, and this cosy cottage in the small hamlet of Brims, near Longhope. If you prefer to stay in a hotel on Hoy, we suggest the Stromabank Hotel at Longhope, which also has a restaurant.

WHERE TO EAT ON HOY

Two great options for food on Hoy are the Beneth’ill Cafe near Moaness Pier, and Emily’s Tea Room and Ice Cream Parlour, just north of Lyness on the road to Moaness.

A small and cute wooden building (Emily's Tea Room) among the rust coloured grasses and heather, close to the shore on the east coast of Hoy

Emily’s Tea Room and Ice Cream Parlour on the grassy shores of Mill Bay, near Lyness



A small and cute wooden building (Emily's Tea Room) among the rust coloured grasses and heather, close to the shore on the east coast of Hoy

Emily’s Tea Room and Ice Cream Parlour
on the shores of Mill Bay, near Lyness



HOW TO GET TO HOY

First, you need to get to Orkney Mainland, then you can take a ferry over to Hoy. We’ve outlined some different transport options for both of these stages below.

HOW TO GET TO ORKNEY MAINLAND

HOW TO GET TO ORKNEY

BY FERRY

You can get to Orkney by car ferry from Aberdeen, Gills Bay, and Scrabster on the Scottish mainland, as well as from Lerwick in Shetland. There is also a summer passenger ferry from John O’Groats.


BY AIR

You can fly direct to Kirkwall (KOI) from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, and Sumburgh (Shetland). All of these flights are operated by Loganair.


HOW TO GET TO HOY

There are two ferry services from Orkney Mainland to Hoy. One is a car ferry from Houton to Lyness, the other a foot and bicycle passenger ferry from Stromness to Moaness.

HOUTON (MAINLAND) – LYNESS (HOY)
Car Ferry | 35+ min | Orkney Ferries

STROMNESS (MAINLAND) – MOANESS (NORTH HOY)
Foot & Bicycle Passengers | 25+ min | Orkney Ferries

HOUTON (MAINLAND)
→ LYNESS (HOY)
Car Ferry
35+ minutes
Orkney Ferries

STROMNESS (MAINLAND)
→ MOANESS (NORTH HOY)
Foot and Bicycle Passengers
25+ minutes
Orkney Ferries


It’s advisable to book in advance during peak season, especially if travelling by car from Houton to Lyness. Call the Houton office to book the car ferry on 01856 811701, or the Kirkwall office to book the passenger ferry on 01856 872044.

Note that the Stromness to Moaness ferry sometimes stops at Graemsay enroute.  When searching for the timetable on the Orkney Ferries website, you should select the route ‘Graemsay’ and select sailing ‘Stromness to North Hoy’ to find the timetable you need.

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HOW TO GET AROUND

TRANSPORT ON HOY

The quickest and most convenient way to get around Hoy is with your own car, brought from Mainland via the Houton to Lyness car ferry. There is no car rental service on Hoy itself.

Public transport is limited to the community bus routes serving Moaness, Lyness, and Longhope. There is no public transport to Rackwick. Mr Clark operates a private minibus and taxi service which should be booked in advance by calling 01856 791315.

HOW TO VISIT HOY WITHOUT A CAR

VISIT HOY WITHOUT A CAR

Moaness is the closest ferry port to the Old Man of Hoy and Rackwick Bay, albeit still 9+ km away. If you plan to visit these places without a car you have three options: bring a bike from the mainland (hire available in Stromness or Kirkwall) and cycle to Rackwick; walk there via Rackwick Glen; or pre-arrange a taxi or minibus to pick you up at the port and drive you to Rackwick. Of course, you could always take a taxi in one direction and walk the other to save time and avoid retracing your footsteps.

Lyness is the closest ferry port to Scapa Flow Museum. If this is your main reason to visit Hoy, opt for the Houton to Lyness ferry and you’ll arrive within walking distance of the temporary exhibition at the Hoy Hotel, 1 km away. If you also want to visit the Old Man of Hoy from here, you can take the community bus to Moaness and walk from there, or arrange a taxi to take you all the way to Rackwick (22 km away).

HOY TOURS

It’s also possible to book a tour with Island Tours Hoy, but note that these don’t include the Old Man of Hoy.

WHAT TO DO ON HOY

That’s it for our guide on what to do on Hoy. We hope you found it useful. If you have any questions, just drop them in the comments below. And if you’ve been to Hoy before, we’d love to hear all about your thoughts and experiences.

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