• WHAT TO SEE AND DO ON ORKNEY MAINLAND

    An aerial view of the the cliffs along the Deerness coast on Orkney Mainland, with waves crashing into the rocks below
  • ORKNEY MAINLAND

    WHAT TO SEE & DO

    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

WHAT TO SEE AND DO ON ORKNEY MAINLAND

An archipelago located off the north-eastern tip of Scotland, the Orkney Islands have a fascinating array of natural and historical attractions to discover. Inland, these isles are characterised by villages and undulating farmland, while at the edges, wave battered cliffs and windswept sandy beaches give testament to the unrelenting power of nature. From a historical perspective, a past stretching back 5000 years waits to be explored through Neolithic, Pictish, and Viking sites that are scattered across the islands. This blend of nature and history gives Orkney a broad appeal for all kinds of visitors.

Orkney is made up of some 70 islands, around 20 of which are inhabited. In this guide we focus on what to see and do on Orkney Mainland, as well as the nearby islands connected by road. We cover various highlights, from Neolithic and wartime historical sites to scenic coastal walks and the best beaches. Ideally, you should allow three days to visit everywhere outlined, with two days in the west and one in the east. Finally, all of our practical Orkney travel tips come at the end of the guide. These include where to stay, how to get around, and how to get to the islands.

WATCH OUR FILM

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

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

WHAT TO SEE AND DO ON ORKNEY MAINLAND

ORKNEY MAP

Use the map below to help lead you around Mainland Orkney 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 Orkney 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.


NEOLITHIC ORKNEY

Mainland Orkney is home to four monuments that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the ‘Heart of Neolithic Orkney’. These monuments – Skara Brae, Maeshowe Chambered Cairn, the Stones of Stenness, and the Ring of Brodgar – give an insight into the domestic, ceremonial, and burial practices of a 5000 year old culture. UNESCO considers them among the most important Neolithic sites in Western Europe, and visiting each is a must. They are situated close to each other in western Mainland.

SKARA BRAE

Skara Brae is a Neolithic settlement of eight stone houses which was inhabited from 3180 – 2500 BC. Situated on a hillside above the windswept sandy curve of the Bay of Skaill, the site was buried for thousands of years before being uncovered by a storm in 1850.

The uncovered Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae, overlooking the windswept Bay of Skaill on Mainland Orkney, Scotland

The uncovered Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae, overlooking the windswept Bay of Skaill



The uncovered Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae, overlooking the windswept Bay of Skaill on Mainland Orkney, Scotland

The Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae,
overlooking the windswept Bay of Skaill



All but one of the houses are sunk into the ground, dug into prehistoric middens which provided insulation from the elements. These days you can peer into most of them from above, but originally they would have been covered by roofs. Narrow, low stone passageways run between the houses, with offshoots acting as the entrance to each home’s central room. Stone beds, chairs, storage boxes, dressers, and other items of furniture were discovered inside. Each house has a stone hearth in the middle of the room, where the fire would have provided light, warmth, and somewhere to cook.

A view down into one of the 5000 year old homes at Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands of Scotland

Looking down into a Neolithic home



A central room with a main entrance connecting to a low passageway at the Skara Brae Neolithic historical site on Orkney Mainland

A central room with a main entrance connecting to a low passageway



A central room with a main entrance connecting to a low passageway at the Skara Brae Neolithic historical site on Orkney Mainland

A central room with an entrance leading to a low
passageway that connected the individual homes


A view down into one of the 5000 year old homes at Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands of Scotland

Looking down into a Neolithic home



The houses are in remarkable condition, and it’s not difficult to picture what life in one of these homes would have been like 5000 years ago. But if you need a helping hand, there is an excellent reconstruction between the visitor centre and Skara Brae which really brings it to life.

VISIT SKARA BRAE

 April 1st – September 30th
09:30 – 17:30
Adult: £9

October 1st – March 31st
10:00 – 16:00
Adult: £7

Closed December 25th-26th and January 1st-2nd

Check Current Prices and Opening Times


MAESHOWE CHAMBERED CAIRN

Chambered burial cairns can be found all over Orkney, but none are as impressive or large as Maeshowe. From the outside it appears a grassy mound surrounded by a circular ditch. Inside is a large main chamber and three side chambers, connected to the outside by an 11 metre passageway. During the Winter Solstice, the last rays of the setting sun shine through this passageway and illuminate the back wall of the main chamber. This alignment is quite incredible.

 Maeshowe is also known for its Viking runes, one of the largest collections of runes in Europe. Vikings broke into the cairn about 1000 years ago, carving enlightening graffiti such as ‘Tryggr carved these runes’ and ‘Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women’. You can read more of the translations on the Orkneyjar website.

VISIT MAESHOWE CHAMBERED CAIRN

By guided tour only. Limited daily visitors. Check in 15 minutes before the tour starts at the visitor centre in Stenness. It is recommended to book online well in advance during peak season.

 April 1st – September 30th
10:00 – 17:00 (last tour 16:00)

October 1st – March 31st
10:00 – 16:00 (last tour 15:00)

Adult: £9

Closed December 25th-26th and January 1st-2nd

Check Current Prices and Opening Times


RING OF BRODGAR

The Ring of Brodgar is a huge stone circle likely dating from 2500-2000 BC. Its purpose is unclear, but it’s thought to have been an important ceremonial site, a place where rituals were performed.

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

The Ring of Brodgar is one of Orkney’s most iconic sites and Scotland’s largest stone circle



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

The Ring of Brodgar is one of Orkney’s most
iconic sites and Scotland’s largest stone circle



It sits on the Ness of Brodgar, a scenic strip of land between two lochs. The megaliths are smaller than those just down the road at Stenness, but more numerous. Today, 27 of the original 60 remain, forming a circle over 100 metres in diameter. It’s one of Orkney’s most iconic sites and the largest stone circle in Scotland.

VISIT THE RING OF BRODGAR

Visit at any time

The site is free to visit

A car park is located nearby


STANDING STONES OF STENNESS

Less than 2 km from the Ring of Brodgar stand the giant megaliths of Stenness. This is likely the oldest stone circle in Britain, dating from at least 3100 BC. Today just four remain, but standing up to 6 metres tall, their height is impressive. Originally, there would have been twelve stones surrounded by a circular ditch, with a large hearth placed in the centre.

A person inspects one of the four remaining Standing Stones of Stenness on Orkney Mainland in Scotland

One of the four remaining Standing Stones of Stenness



A person inspects one of the four remaining Standing Stones of Stenness on Orkney Mainland in Scotland

One of the remaining Standing Stones of Stenness



VISIT THE STANDING STONES OF STENNESS

Visit at any time

The site is free to visit

There is a layby for parking next to the fenced area


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BEST ORKNEY COASTAL WALKS

Orkney Mainland’s dramatic coastline is pretty special, a place of towering cliffs, jagged geos, and distinctive sea stacks. Taking in the views and salty sea air on an often wild and windy coastal walk is one of the best things to do in Orkney – the perfect antidote to a bit of ‘history fatigue’. Three particularly scenic spots can be found at Yesnaby, the Brough of Birsay, and Deerness.

YESNABY COASTAL WALK

A little south of Skara Brae and the Bay of Skaill in Western Mainland lies the Yesnaby coastline. This stunning stretch of cliffs is home to one of Orkney’s most impressive sea stacks, Yesnaby Castle. From the carpark walk south along the coast and you’ll come to a viewpoint of the arched sea stack after around 1.5 km.

Yesnaby Castle, an impressive and dsitinctive sea stack standing just off the West Mainland Orkney coastline

Yesnaby Castle, an impressive and distinctive sea stack standing just off the West Mainland Orkney coastline



Yesnaby Castle, an impressive and dsitinctive sea stack standing just off the West Mainland Orkney coastline

Yesnaby Castle sea stack stands just off the
jagged West Mainland Orkney coastline


Yesnaby Castle, an impressive and dsitinctive sea stack standing just off the West Mainland Orkney coastline

The Castle is an impressive and singular sea stack



It’s possible to carry on south, even all the way to Stromness if you feel like it, but the hour or so walk to the sea stack and back is satisfying enough for many. As with any coastal walk, be careful with your footing around here and don’t get too close to the edge. Deaths from falling off the cliffs here are sadly too common.

YESNABY COASTAL WALK

Park at Yesnaby Car Park to start your walk (59.0248, -3.3587)


BROUGH OF BIRSAY, SKIBA GEO AND THE WHALE BONE

The Brough of Birsay is a tidal island, only accessible for a couple of hours before and after low tide. A man made concrete causeway is revealed as the water retreats, allowing you to walk across to the island from the sandy beach on Orkney Mainland. Upon reaching the brough, you first encounter the remains of a Pictish settlement looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.

People make their way to and from the Brough of Birsay, a tidal island accessible at low tide via the man made causeway connecting it to Orkney Mainland

The Brough of Birsay is accessible at low tide via the man made causeway connecting it to Orkney Mainland



People make their way to and from the Brough of Birsay, a tidal island accessible at low tide via the man made causeway connecting it to Orkney Mainland

The Brough of Birsay is accessible at low tide via
the causeway connecting it to Orkney Mainland



Be sure to continue walking around or across the middle of the island to the opposite side. Here you’ll find a picturesque Stevenson Lighthouse, sitting atop impressive cliffs with huge slabs of rock sloping into the sea below. In summer, the cliffs here a great spot for puffin watching.

The white and yellow Stevenson lighthouse on top of the Brough of Birsay in the Orkney Islands

The unmanned Brough of Birsay Lighthouse, built by David Alan Stevenson in 1925



The white and yellow Stevenson lighthouse on top of the Brough of Birsay in the Orkney Islands

The unmanned Brough of Birsay Lighthouse,
built by David Alan Stevenson in 1925



Back on the mainland, it’s well worth walking east around the coast for a short while. The trail passes fishermen’s huts and Skiba Geo, before reaching The Whale Bone. This monument is made from the remains of a whale which washed up on the beach below around 150 years ago. Its decaying form is covered in bright orange yellow lichen and resembles a huge bird in flight at first glance. The views back towards the Brough of Birsay show an interesting perspective, with the wedge shape of the island and its tall western cliffs more noticeable than when looking at it straight on.

A lichen covered whale bone mounted as a monument near the Brough of Birsay on Orkney Mainland

The Whale Bone is a singular piece of artwork, a monument made from the 150 year old remains of a washed up whale



A lichen covered whale bone mounted as a monument near the Brough of Birsay on Orkney Mainland

The Whale Bone is a unique monument made from
the 150 year old remains of a washed up whale




THE GLOUP AND BROUGH OF DEERNESS

On the opposite side of Mainland is our favourite of these Orkney coastal walks. The Gloup is a collapsed sea cave, with a land bridge separating it from the sea itself. You can walk around it, peering down into the 80 foot chasm where the sea crashes in through a blowhole, and a small waterfall spills over the edge.

Looking towards a collapsed sea cave called The Gloup from the inland side, the light from the coast shining through beneath

Looking towards the Gloup from the inland side, the light from the coast shining through beneath



Looking towards a collapsed sea cave called The Gloup from the inland side, the light from the coast shining through beneath

Looking towards the Gloup from the inland side,
the light from the coast shining through beneath



Continuing north along the coast leads to the spectacular Brough of Deerness. The brough juts out into the sea, connected to the clifftops by a narrow sliver of land. To get to it, follow the path down to the rocky bay and curve around to the narrow stone staircase carved into the cliffside. Metal chains are fixed to the rock to help you climb up the somewhat precarious steps. To the right is a sheltered geo, encircled by dramatic cliffs with a narrow opening out to sea.

A person climbing stone steps through a narrow rocky gap to get onto the Brough of Deerness in the Orkney Islands

Brough of Deerness stone steps



The sheltered geo next to the Brough of Deerness with the path climbing up onto the brough seen on the left

The sheltered geo, with the path climbing up onto the brough seen on the left



The sheltered geo next to the Brough of Deerness with the path climbing up onto the brough seen on the left

The sheltered geo, with the narrow path
climbing up onto the brough seen on the left


A person climbing stone steps through a narrow rocky gap to get onto the Brough of Deerness in the Orkney Islands

The stone steps to the Brough of Deerness



After climbing the steps you’ll emerge onto the Brough of Deerness, where you can explore an 11th century Norse chapel and various older remains. It’s also a peaceful spot to watch the birdlife and admire Orkney’s incredible coastline.

An aerial view of the the cliffs along the Deerness coast on Orkney Mainland, with waves crashing into the rocks below

The dramatic Orkney coastline, with the Brough of Deerness jutting out to the right



An aerial view of the the cliffs along the Deerness coast on Orkney Mainland, with waves crashing into the rocks below

The dramatic Orkney coastline, with the
Brough of Deerness jutting out to the right



THE GLOUP AND BROUGH OF DEERNESS WALK

Park at Mull Head Car Park (58.9562, -2.7147). From here it’s a short stroll to The Gloup, and about 1 km further to the Brough. Allow 2-3 hours to enjoy the area.


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
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

WARTIME ORKNEY

The Orkney Isles played a significant role in both World Wars. Scapa Flow, a great natural harbour sheltered by a number of islands including Mainland and Hoy, was the UK’s chief naval base during both wars, and many thousands of service men and women were stationed in Orkney during WWII. Scapa Flow is also where the German High Seas Fleet was interned after the Armistice in 1918. In 1919, fearful that the ships would be turned over to the British, the German admiral in command decided to scuttle the fleet. Most of these ships have been salvaged over the years, but of the 52 that sank, 7 still remain on the seabed and are now popular dive spots.

Above water, wartime remnants are visible across the Orkney Islands to this day. Two of the most notable places to visit are the Churchill Barriers and the Italian Chapel.

CHURCHILL BARRIERS

To protect the British Grand Fleet during WWI, obstacles were put in place in the many entrance channels to Scapa Flow. These included mines, block ships (old ships sunk in shallow sounds), and submarine booms and nets. By the outbreak of WWII, these naval defences had fallen into disrepair, and six weeks into the war, a German U-boat slipped into Scapa Flow and sank the HMS Royal Oak, with the loss of 833 lives.

This prompted the construction of more permanent defences to block the eastern access to Scapa Flow, causeways linking the islands of South Ronaldsay, Burray, and Orkney Mainland. Ordered by then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, these causeways became known as the Churchill Barriers. They remain in use to this day and provide vital road links between the islands.

Churchill Barrier 3 stretching across East Weddell Sound in the Orkney Islands, blocking access to Scapa Flow beyond

Churchill Barrier 3 crosses East Weddell Sound, blocking access to Scapa Flow beyond



Churchill Barrier 3 stretching across East Weddell Sound in the Orkney Islands, blocking access to Scapa Flow beyond

Churchill Barrier 3 crosses East Weddell
Sound, blocking access to Scapa Flow beyond



There are four Churchill Barriers linking Mainland, Lamb Holm, Glimps Holm, Burray, and South Ronaldsay. Churchill Barrier Number 3 at East Weddell Sound is perhaps the most interesting and scenic spot, with sandy beaches at either end, and the rusting hull of a sunken block ship rising from the water. The shallow wrecks around here are often used for introductory or training dives, as they are more accessible and less technical than the High Seas Fleet wrecks deep in Scapa Flow. Also of interest is the nice beach on the eastern side of Barrier Number 4. It is separated from the causeway by grassy dunes and features a very fine wood carved Viking statue.

The head of a carved wooden viking statue on a beach in the Orkney Islands

Viking statue near Churchill Barrier 4



The remains of the Reginald rise above the water line in East Weddell Sound, next to Churchill Barrier 3 in the Orkney Islands

The remains of the Reginald in East Weddell Sound, next to Churchill Barrier 3



The remains of the Reginald rise above the water line in East Weddell Sound, next to Churchill Barrier 3 in the Orkney Islands

Remains of the Reginald next to Churchill Barrier 3


The head of a carved wooden viking statue on a beach in the Orkney Islands

Viking statue near Churchill Barrier 4



VISIT THE CHURCHILL BARRIERS

There are free car parking spaces nearby most of the causeways, perfect for stopping to take in the views. There are some info boards located along the driving route, too.


THE ITALIAN CHAPEL

A lot of manpower was required to build the Churchill Barriers, so in order to fulfill this role, the decision was made to transport 550 Italian POWs captured in North Africa. Camps were established on the small island of Burray and even smaller Lamb Holm. At first the men objected to the work, which they considered ‘war work’, but they were soon convinced of the causeways’ long term positive impact on the local community and set to it. The barriers took four years to build, were completed in May 1945, and do indeed serve a valuable purpose to this day.

The Churchill Barriers however, weren’t the only construction project the Italian prisoners-of-war worked on during their time in Orkney. Some of those from Camp 60 on Lamb Holm set about transforming two Nissen Huts (commonly used for barracks) into a chapel. They used leftover concrete from the barriers to build a facade, and collected scraps and recycled materials to construct the rest. Inside, skilled artist Domenico Chiocchetti transformed the huts into an ornate work of art, complete with hand painted ‘bricks’, and a painting of the Madonna and Child above the altar. He based this painting on a small prayer card that his mother had given to him when he left for war.

The distinctive white and red Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm in the Orkney Islands

The distinctive Italian Chapel on the small island of Lamb Holm



The distinctive white and red Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm in the Orkney Islands

The distinctive Italian Chapel



The Italian Chapel is celebrated for its historical importance and operates as a place of worship to this day. Restoration work has been carried out over the years, and a friendship has formed with Chiocchetti’s hometown of Moena in Italy. Alongside the Churchill Barriers, the Italian Chapel is one of the most prominent reminders of Orkney’s wartime history.

Looking towards the altar inside the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm in the Orkney Islands

Inside the uniquely designed Italian Chapel



The hand painted ceiling of the Italian Chapel

The hand painted ceiling



Looking towards the altar inside the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm in the Orkney Islands

Inside the uniquely designed Italian Chapel


The hand painted ceiling of the Italian Chapel

The hand painted ceiling



VISIT THE ITALIAN CHAPEL

The Italian Chapel is on Lamb Holm,
between the first and second barriers.

Opening hours:

June to August: 09:00 – 18:30
May and September: 09:00 – 17:00
April and October: 10:00 – 16:00
November to March: 10:00 – 13:00
(closed December 25th and January 1st)

Entrance fee: £3


VISIT THE ITALIAN CHAPEL

The Italian Chapel is on Lamb Holm, between the first and second barriers.

Opening hours:

June to August
09:00 – 18:30

May and September
09:00 – 17:00

April and October
10:00 – 16:00

November to March
10:00 – 13:00

(closed December 25th and January 1st)

Entrance fee: £3


THE BEST ORKNEY MAINLAND BEACHES

With nearly 600 miles of coastline, it’s safe to say that Orkney has some beautiful stretches of sand. While our absolute favourites are found on the aptly named island of Sanday, there are plenty of great beaches on Orkney Mainland, too. A windswept walk along the shore is a perfect addition to any Orkney itinerary, offering an alternative perspective to that of a cliff top coastal walk, and giving you a chance to mull over all that history you’ve been devouring.

DINGIESHOWE BEACH

Dingieshowe is a lovely double crescent beach tucked in beneath tall grassy dunes. It forms part of a narrow isthmus separating Deerness and the rest of Mainland. It’s the perfect place for a stroll before or after visiting The Gloup and Brough of Deerness.

Golden hour at Dingieshowe Beach on Orkney Mainland in Scotland

Golden hour at Dingieshowe Bay, looking out towards the uninhabited isle of Copinsay



Golden hour at Dingieshowe Beach on Orkney Mainland in Scotland

Golden hour at Dingieshowe Bay, looking
out towards the uninhabited isle of Copinsay



WAULKMILL BAY

This huge expanse of beach is best appreciated at low tide, when its golden sand stretches far into the bay. It’s one of Orkney’s biggest beaches, bordered by low hills and backed by a salt marsh. It’s prime birdwatching territory too, part of the Hobbister RSPB Reserve. The beach’s name comes from the process of waulking woven cloth. The soaking, beating and sun bleaching of cloth once took place here on a large scale.

BAY OF SKAILL

This long, curved bay faces the Atlantic Ocean and is the perfect place for a walk before or after a visit to Skara Brae.

The windswept Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Orkney Mainland in Scotland

The long curved beach at the Bay of Skaill



The windswept Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Orkney Mainland in Scotland

The long curved beach at the Bay of Skaill



SANDS OF EVIE

This narrow stretch of sand backed by green plant life and farming land is a peaceful little spot on the north coast of the mainland, near Evie village. The shallow turquoise bay looks across to the uninhabited island of Eynhallow and larger Rousay. Nearby is the historic Broch of Gurness.

ORKNEY MAINLAND BEACHES

There are free car parks and public toilets at each of these Orkney Mainland beaches


WHERE TO STAY IN ORKNEY

Orkney has accommodation options to suit all budgets. These options include hotels, B&Bs, airbnbs, hostels, and glamping and camping sites. Where you chose to stay may depend on your sightseeing plans, mode of transport, or budget. Below are a few recommended locations, plus our top picks for accommodation, glamping and camping.

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STROMNESS

The characterful harbour town of Stromness is a great option for accommodation in Orkney. It’s very conveniently located for exploring the West Mainland, where many of the best things to see and do in Orkney are found.

Boats line the quayside under grey skies at Stromness Harbour in the Orkney Islands

A variety of boats line the quayside in Stromness Harbour



A lone person walks down a deserted flagstoned street at dusk in Stromness on Orkney Mainland

Quiet Sunday streets at dusk



Boats line the quayside under grey skies at Stromness Harbour in the Orkney Islands

Boats line the quayside in Stromness Harbour


A lone person walks down a deserted flagstoned street at dusk in Stromness on Orkney Mainland

Quiet Sunday streets at dusk



There are also shops, bars, and restaurants on your doorstep. What’s more, the NorthLink Ferries car ferry from Scrabster arrives here. We highly recommend a stroll around town, even if you don’t plan on staying here!


KIRKWALL

Kirkwall, the Orkney Islands’ capital, is a more central option. It’s close to the airport, and inter-island ferries heading to the northern islands depart from here. There are also plenty of bars and restaurants, various amenities, and a number of shops and supermarkets in town. Oh, and there are two whisky distilleries to keep you busy as well.


ST. MARGARET’S HOPE

A third option is St. Margaret’s Hope. It’s a lovely harbour village with traditional houses, cafes, craft shops, and a number of different accommodation options.

A view of St. Margaret’s Hope from the ferry to Gills Bay



A view of St. Margaret’s Hope from the ferry



St. Margaret’s Hope is situated on the island of South Ronaldsay and is connected to Orkney Mainland by the Churchill Barriers. The village is the arrival point for the Pentland Ferries catamaran from Gills Bay.


CAMPING, GLAMPING & UNIQUE STAYS

Our top pick for a camping or glamping experience is Wheems Organic Farm, 3 miles from St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay. You can pitch your own tent, or opt for one of their glamping pods or bell tents, or their yurt. Wheems also offer a cottage and loft on the site of their farm.

A tent, yurt, and camping pods in the long grass at Wheems Organic Farm in the Orkney Islands

Some of the accommodation options on offer at Wheems Organic Farm



A tent, yurt, and camping pods in the long grass at Wheems Organic Farm in the Orkney Islands

Some of the accommodation options
on offer at Wheems Organic Farm



Another great camping or glamping option close to the Sands of Evie is the Eviedale Campsite (also known for their excellent sourdough woodfired pizza!). You can pitch your tent, or book a stay in their glamping bell tent.

A couple of unique stays nearby are the lovely Howe Bothy and Cart House Howe.

Fancy staying in a tiny home? The Puffin Pod is a great option, and very close to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney sites.

Fancy lording it up? Book a stay at the unique Graemeshall House B&B, a historic home dating from 1626, located halfway between Kirkwall and St Margaret’s Hope.

HOW TO GET AROUND THE ORKNEY ISLANDS

CAR

The easiest way to get around Orkney and explore at your own pace is by car. You can bring your own on a car ferry from the Scottish mainland, or hire a car in Orkney when you arrive. Orkney Car Hire and W R Tullock are two car rental options.

BUS

Exploring Orkney by public bus is less convenient than with your own car, but still possible. Check bus timetables and bus routes to plan your trip in advance. 

CYCLE

You can hire bikes from Cycle Orkney in Kirkwall and Orkney Cycle Hire in Stromness.

ORKNEY DAY TOURS

Want to see the best of Orkney, but limited on time? This small group Orkney day trip covers many of the places highlighted in this guide, starting and ending in Kirkwall. Alternatively, this full day Orkney tour starts and ends in John O’Groats on the Scottish mainland, a perfect addition to an NC500 trip. Or, check out more Orkney day tours on Viator.

MULTI-DAY ORKNEY TOURS

Various multi-day Orkney tours operate from the Scottish mainland, commonly from Inverness. Some have a specific focus on walking, others combine highlights of Orkney Mainland with one or two of the other islands. Orkney is also a common stop on Arctic cruise expeditions, if you’re looking for a bigger adventure.

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.


WHAT TO SEE AND DO ON ORKNEY MAINLAND

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

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What To See And Do On Orkney MainlandWhat To See And Do On Orkney Mainland
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