With its unique landscapes, culture and history, Orkney is a dream destination in the Scottish Isles. Here are some of my favourite things to do in Orkney to experience this northern archipelago to the fullest. You’ll love this travel guide for Orkney, whether it’s your first visit and you’re interested in the highlights, or you’re a return visit on the lookout for hidden gems.

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Orkney – you can also say Orkney Isles or Orkney Islands (but never “the Orkneys”!) – lies just 10 miles off the north coast of Scotland, but with its distinct history, culture and landscapes it feels like you’ve travelled much further to a new destination.

There are about 70 islands in Orkney, although many are inhabited. 22,000 people live on just 20 islands – and they are well outnumbered by sheep and seabirds.

The islands offer stunning landscapes ranging from beaches to seacliffs. Nature thrives here, including rare flowers like the Scottish primrose and nesting seabirds like puffins. But what Orkney is probably best known for is its people, history and culture.

Before Orkney became part of the Kingdom of Scotland, it was colonised by Norwegians during the Viking period. As such, there was never really a Gaelic culture on the islands and the Norse influence shows until today in Orkney placenames, local dialects and traditions.

Looking further back, Orkney has been settled for 8,000 years and many traces remain from these pre-historic, Neolithic and Iron Age Orcadians. The most famous sites are the village Skara Brae, the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the chambered tomb of Maeshowe, which form the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But Orkney won’t just charm you with its historic sites. Expect to find bustling seaside towns and meet lots of welcoming locals, whether it’s on a coastal walk or at a trad music session down the pub. Orkney has a lot to offer. This post covers:

  • Over 32 things to do in Orkney, especially on Orkney Mainland and the southern isles
  • Day trip ideas to other Orkney islands, including Hoy
  • A practical travel guide for Orkney: how much time to spend there, how to get to the islands, how to get around, where to stay & recommended places to eat, and
  • Useful travel tips for Orkney sprinkled throughout

Without further ado, let’s dive into my Orkney travel guide.

The Stones of Stenness in Orkney

A Map of Orkney Highlights

Orkney Practical Travel Guide

How much time to spend in Orkney

I recommend spending at least 2 nights in Orkney, even if you’re planning to visit Orkney as a detour from the North Coast 500.

However, there is so much to do, you could easily fill a week or two with historic sites, fun activities and interesting events.

On my first trip to Orkney, we spent a week there, and for our upcoming second trip, we even added an additional night to have more time on the islands.

Can you do a day trip to Orkney?

Theoretically, you can – the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness only takes 1 hour and 15 minutes, so you’d have plenty of time to tour some of Orkney’s highlights on a day trip before taking the ferry back in the evening (from Stromness or St Margaret’s Hope – see below for travel info). However, you’d have to be very picky and make some tough decisions about which of the many interesting sites to visit.

Personally, I find the price of the ferry too high for a day trip. The crossing can easily cost £200 for two adults and one car (return ticket), which is a lot for a day trip.

How to get to Orkney

If you’re short on time, you can fly to Orkney. Loganair operates flights to Kirkwall from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Shetland and Birmingham.

If you’re visiting Orkney as part of a wider Scotland trip, you are more likely to take the ferry.

Join a guided tour to Orkney! Rabbie’s runs a 5-day tour to Orkney and the north coast from Edinburgh and a 3-day Orkney tour from Inverness. Both include 2 nights in Kirkwall.

There are three ferries from the Scottish mainland to Orkney Mainland – that’s what the main island is called. Whenever I refer to this island I’ll capitalise “Mainland” in this blog post.

Northlink Ferries operates a car ferry from Scrabster near Thurso to Stromness on Mainland. The crossing takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. During the summer there are 3 crossings per day, in off-season this is reduced to 2 sailings. Northlink Ferries also runs overnight connections from Kirkwall to Aberdeen and from Kirkwall to Lerwick on Shetland.

Scrabster is about 2.5 miles from Thurso train station, with trains arriving from Inverness up to four times a day. Stagecoach buses 80 and X99 run to the ferry pier in Scrabster three to four times a day – but you may want to pre-book a taxi for more flexibility.

A couple taking photos of Hoy aboard the Ferry to Orkney

Pentland Ferry operates a car ferry from Gills Bay in Caithness to St Margaret’s Hope in South Ronaldsay, one of the southern Orkney Islands. South Ronaldsay is connected to Orkney Mainland by a series of causeways, making this an easy alternative port of arrival. There are three crossings per day and they tend to be a little cheaper than Northlink Ferries.

Stagecoach bus 80 also runs from Thurso to Gill’s Bay a few times a day.

There is also a passenger ferry to Orkney which is the most popular option for organised day trips by bus. The John o’Groats Ferry sails from John o’Groats to Burwick on the southern edge of South Ronaldsay. There, you board a bus and explore the highlights of Orkney before returning in the evening. Please note that this ferry and the associated day tours are not operating in 2024!

If you plan to travel to any of the other Orkney Isles, you can do so aboard an Orkey Ferries crossing (see more info below) or a Loganair flight.

How to get around Orkney

By Car

As anywhere in Scotland, travelling by car gives you the greatest flexibility when you’re exploring Orkney. Driving allows you to explore off the beaten path and reach rural destinations away from the main sites.

By Bike

Travelling by bike is a great alternative which gives you just as much flexibility. Just remember that Orkney has a lot of wind, so you’ll need strong legs. Bicycles travel for free with Northlink Ferries and Pentland Ferries. On Orkney, bike hire is available in Stromness and Kirkwall, and many of the smaller islands too.

By Public Transport

If you travel to Orkney without a car, you can explore much of the island’s main attractions and towns by bus. All bus routes on Orkney are operated by Stagecoach.

  • The T11 hop-on, hop-off service runs from the end of April until late September. It is a special bus for visitors and stops in Kirkwall, St Margaret’s Hope, Stromness, the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness.
  • The X1 runs from St Margaret’s Hope to Kirkwall and on to Stromness. It stops at the Italian Chapel, the Churchill Barriers, Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall, Maeshowe and near the Stones of Stenness (10 minutes walk along a small road).

Other routes run from Kirkwall to Skara Brae (past the Ring of Brodgar), from Kirkwall to Evie Sands and the Tingwall ferry for Rousay, to Houton for the car ferry to Hoy, to Deerness in East Mainland, and from Stromness to Birsay.

You can get single tickets or Day Rider passes that are valid on all regular buses. Note that the T11 requires its own ticket.

You might also like: My full guide to travelling Scotland by Public Transport

By Ferry or Plane

If you want to visit other Orkney Isles besides Mainland Orkney, you can reach them by ferry or plane.

Orkney Ferries operates crossings to all the inhabited islands that aren’t connected by causeways, including Hoy, Rousay, Shapinsay, Stronsay, Sanday, Westray, Papa Westray and North Ronaldsay.

Tickets should generally be booked in advance, especially if you plan to travel with a vehicle. As a foot passenger, you can be more flexible. Bikes travel for free.

Inter-island flights from Kirkwall (Mainland) to Eday, Stronsay, Westray, Sanday and North Ronaldsay are operated by Loganair.

View from the ferry from Kirkwall to Westray

Where to stay in Orkney

If you travel by public transport, I recommend staying in one of Orkney’s two main towns – Kirkwall or Stromness. This gives you easier access to public transport (especially Kirkwall), inter-island ferries for day trips, shops, pubs and restaurants.

If you have a car, you have more flexibility and can book accommodation in rural Orkney.

On our first and second trips, we booked a self-catering apartment at Summerdale near Orphir, approx. 7 miles from Kirkwall. The accommodation contains the upper floor of the cottage – the hosts live right underneath and they are the sweetest couple. The apartment sleeps up to 4 adults in two bedrooms and there is a spacious lounge, a separate dining area and a fully-equipped kitchen.

From the windows facing out front, you can see the golden sands of Waulkmill Bay. The house is surrounded by fields with sheep in a tranquil setting. I can’t recommend it enough for your home base in Orkney.

Other options I’d consider, in no particular order:

  • Kirkwall Youth Hostel run by Hostelling Scotland: I’ve enjoyed all their hostels and I’m sure this one is no different
  • Murray Arms Hotel in St Margaret’s Hope: The food there is delicious and I’m sure the rooms are lovely too
  • The Ferry Inn in Stromness, which is also a popular live music venue for trad players
  • Lindisfarne B&B in Stromness: I’ve often recommended this to my itinerary clients
  • Orkney Lux Lodges in Stromness: These come with a private hot tub!

My favourite restaurants in Orkney

We had a lot of fantastic food in Orkney. To be honest, finding vegan options was a little tricky, so from time to time I had to make do with veggie options containing dairy, or freshly landed seafood from local fishing boats. If you’re now willing (or able) to make such exceptions, it helps to book accommodation where you can prepare your own meals.

Here are some of my favourite eateries from our trips:

  • The Polly Kettle in Burray serves finger-licking Orcadian-Egyptian fare like homemade falafel, fresh butter bean stew with tahini dip, irresistible desserts and cakes. This was one of my favourite places to eat on our trip and a great vegan-friendly find.
  • The Murray Arms Hotel in St Margaret’s Hope is a seafood restaurant through and through – although they also have one meat option on the menu. They get their fish and shellfish from local fishing boats and make many of the condiments in-house, including their butter. We had the seafood platter and the furthest ingredient was monkfish caught near John o’Groats, a mere 15 miles away. What a great way to minimise your food miles!
  • The Ferry Inn in Stromness is a gastro pub with rooms and lots of atmosphere. Since it’s one of the main venues at the Orkney Folk Festival we didn’t have a chance to eat in the formal restaurant, but we enjoyed the storm they cooked up at their food truck during the festival. Think burgers and lobster mac & cheese.
  • Another nice option in Stromness is Adam’s Place which serves seafood, meat and vegetarian options. I had a chowder here and it was delicious.
  • Most days we picked up cakes from Argos Bakery in Kirkwall or Stromness.
  • Harbour Fry in Kirkwall is a traditional fish & chip shop. This is where Thomas tried the famous Orkney Pattie – a local delicacy: mince, potaties and onion mixed together, battered and deep-fried.
  • We enjoyed another seafood platter at Kirkwall Hotel – it wasn’t as amazing as the one in St Margaret’s Hope, but still really good.
  • St Ola’s Hotel in Kirkwall is a good option for no-frills pub food.
  • We were quite keen on trying Helgi’s in Kirkwall, but couldn’t get a table.
  • We also tried our luck at Birsay Tearoom but it was closed on the day we visited the area – next time!

No matter where you plan to eat, I highly recommend booking a table for dinner – or at least calling ahead to avoid disappointment.

32+ Things to do in Orkney

In this section I focus on things to do on the Mainland of Orkney – that’s the main island where Kirkwall and Stromness are located. Scroll down for things to do on the southern islands, and day trip ideas to other islands. It would be impossible to write one blog post about things to do on all the Orkney islands – you’d be reading for weeks.

Now, that’s out the way – let’s go.

Explore Kirkwall

Kirkwall is the capital of Orkney and with about 10,000 people it’s largest town. The town was founded by the Vikings and its name comes from the Norse word for “Church Bay”.

Start by visiting the Orkney Museum at Tankerness House to learn more about these islands. During the summer, the gardens are a treat for the senses.

Cross the street to beautiful St Magnus Cathedral It. was founded in 1137 and took around 300 years to complete. It’s still used as a church, but there are also regular events, concerts and exhibitions.

Explore the bustling streets of the town centre – which are even more bustling when a large cruise ship is anchored nearby. Judith Glue is a great shop to pick up locally-made knitwear, crafts and souvenirs. There are many other little shops and cafes along Albert Street.

Top Tip: Check the cruise schedule to see when the biggest cruise ships dock in Kirkwall or Stromness (3,000+ passengers). Avoid the most popular sites on Mainland Orkney on those days – they will be busy! Day-tripping to another Orkney island on cruise shop days is a great way to escape the crowds.

Do a whisky tour

There are two whisky distilleries in Orkney open for tours. Both of them are located in or near Kirkwall.

  • Highland Park Distillery – The distillery is in Kirkwall. They also have a whisky shop in town if you want to pick up a bottle of whisky or some whisky-themed gifts.
  • Scapa Distillery – unlike Highland Park, this is an unpeated whisky. The distillery is just outside Kirkwall.

Do a gin tour

Whisky isn’t your thing? Try Scottish gin made in Orkney! There are a handful of gin distilleries in Orkney that are open for tours and tastings:

  • Deerness Distillery on East Mainland: They also make whisky, but it’s not ready yet!
  • The Orkney Distillery produce Kirkjuvagr Gin but they are also working on establishing a whisky distillery in the future
  • There is also the Orkney Gin Company, but they don’t have a visitor centre.

Explore Stromness

Stromness is Kirkwall’s quaint little sister. The town is much smaller (about 2,500 inhabitants) and the centre is clustered around the picturesque main street that runs parallel to the waterfront.

You can learn more about this little town at the Stromness Museum. The Piers Arts Centre is another nice place to visit, especially if you’re interested in art from Orkney.

A great local hike is the short but steep ascent of Brinkie’s Brae, a wee hill above Stromness. It offers fantastic views of the town, the coastline and nearby islands like Hoy and Graemsay.

Skara Brae Neolithic Settlement

The stone settlement Skara Brae on the west coast of Mainland Orkney is Europe’s best preserved Neolithic village. It is older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Giza. People lived here from 3,180 BC to about 2,500 BC.

It then lay silent beneath layers of soil for thousands of years until a storm started uncovering it in 1850. It was excavated by a local man, later plundered and finally properly excavated and recorded in 1927.

The main site of the village contains around 10 houses which are connected by once-covered walkways. Each house has a primitive sewer system with flushing toilets. Due to its fragile nature, visitors must remain on the paths and walkways above the structures, but there is also a replica to get a sense of what these buildings once looked like from the inside.

Skara Brae in Orkney

Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar is one of the most spectacular stone circles in the UK. It contains 36 standing stones, although there were nearly twice as many when it was built 5,000 years ago. The site also includes burial mounds and a large ditch around the stone circle.

It is believed that the site was used for ceremonial purposes and to observe the moon – but there is little evidence that tells us for sure why this stone circle was erected.

It’s free to visit the Ring of Brodgar and from mid-May to mid-September, local rangers lead free guided walks every day at 1 pm. Meet them at the car park.

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

Stones of Stenness

The Stones of Stenness were once a great stone circle, built approx. 5,400 years ago. Only four of the 12 stones remain today – but they are good ones! The tallest stone is nearly 6 metres (19 ft) tall.

It’s free to visit the Stones of Stenness and from mid-May to mid-September, local rangers lead free guided walks every day at 10 am. Meet them at the gate to the stones.

Maeshowe Chambered Cairn

Maeshowe Chambered Cairn is an incredibly well-preserved Neolithic chambered tomb which was built 5,000 years ago. It’s one of those places where it’s hard to imagine how people managed to lift such huge stones into place.

Maeshowe Chambered Cairn can only be accessed with a guided tour and capacity is very limited – you must book this attraction well in advance to avoid disappointment.

There are many other chambered cairns in Orkney – for example, the Unstan Chambered Cairn – but none of them are as spectacular.

Top Tip for Maeshowe Chambered Cairn: Roughly from the end of November through to the middle of January (weather dependent) the setting sun aligns with the central chamber of the cairn. Visitors wishing to see the setting sun should book for the 2 pm tour.

A walk to the Brough of Birsay

The tidal island Brough of Birsay is linked to Mainland Orkney by a causeway. Twice a day, you can walk across to explore the island and its many historic sites.

Highlights on the Brough of Birsay include the replica of a Pictish stone (the original was found here), remains of a Norse settlement and a medieval monastery. Walk to the lighthouse at the other end of the island to see seabirds and breathtaking cliffs.

Timing is of the essence to visit the Brough of Birsay. Check the tide tables at Skara Brae or call them on 01856 841 815. The tide times can also be found on the Met Office website. You get a few hours on either side of low tide to walk there and back. Allow 2-3 hours to visit the island.

The causeway to the Brough of Birsay in Orkney

Marwick Head

The headland of Marwick Head is a favourite among bird watchers. You might have already spotted it from the Brough of Birsay – the Kitchener Memorial (commemorating WWI Minister for War, Lord Kitchener) is hard to overlook.

During the summer, seabirds nest in the majestic cliffs of Marwick Head. You can spot fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, cormorants and kittiwakes – just take care of the edge!

Cliffs of Yesnaby

Looking for a coastal walk on the West Mainland? Look no further than the cliffs of Yesnaby! Spot sea birds, walk through flower meadows (including that rare Scottish primrose) and marvel at the stunning sea views.

One of the highlights here is the sea stac Yesnaby Castle – castle often refers to natural sea stacs in Orkney – with its natural stone arch. On your way from the car park, you’ll pass the headland Brough of Bigging. Allow 1-2 hours for this walk.

yesnaby castle, orkney

Visit Barony Mill

Barony Mill is Orkney’s only water mill, but what’s even more special is the kind of grain that is milled here. Bere is an ancient type of barley which was found in Neolithic tombs. It is only grown in Orkney and while it isn’t as productive as modern types of grain, it is incredibly well-adapted to the rough climate here.

You can join a tour at the mill and taste traditional bread, bannocks and biscuits made from beremeal milled here.

Visit the Woolshed

Here’s another uniquely Orcadian product: wool from the seaweed-eating sheep on North Ronaldsay! At the Woolshed near Evie, you can learn about this rare variety of Orkney sheep and shop hand-knitted items like jumpers, cardigans and more. You can also pick up balls or skeins of yarn to take home for your own knitting projects.

Top Tip for Knitters: Read Jane Cooper’s The Lost Flock about her efforts to raise the profile of the rare sheep breed Orkney Borerary.

Orkney Folklore & Storytelling Centre

If you’re looking for something different to do, visit the Orkney Folklore & Storytelling Centre. They offer events for all ages including family-friendly afternoon sessions and storytelling evenings by a peatfire.

Sands of Evie & Brouch of Gurness

Located on the northeast of Orkney’s Mainland and therefore sheltered from the sheer force of the Atlantic, the Sands of Evie are a beautiful, sandy beach with shallow, turquoise waters.

The water here can still be wild, but on a calm day, this is a popular spot for swimmers. There are often seals in the bay and lots of birds.

On the far eastern side of the bay, find the Broch of Gurness, the remains of an Iron Age settlement. It features what’s left of a large broch tower and several stone buildings scattered around it.

Sands of Evie, Orkney

Waulkmill Bay

Waulkmill Bay is a brilliant sandy beach, especially at low tide when a huge expanse of sand is revealed.

At the back of the beach, there is a salt marsh with trails and the nearby Hobbister Nature Reserve is a great spot to see moorland birds like short-eared owls and hen harriers. Even from the road, you can hear the characteristic songs of curlews.

Even though we stayed so close to this beach, I have yet to visit. It’s on my list of things to do in Orkney on my next trip.

Dingieshowe & Newark Beach, East Mainland

The East Mainland lies southeast of Kirkwall and is a little more off the beaten path than the West Mainland. The beaches at Dingishowe and Newark are just some of the highlights of this area.

Both bays offer sandy beaches, beautiful views, coastal walks, dunes and wildlife.

The Gloup & Mull Head, East Mainland

The Mull Head Nature Reserve offers large stretches of coastal grassland, sea cliffs and heath moorland. There is a network of trails and you can spend a few hours exploring the area.

If you only have a short amount of time, visit the Gloup – a collapsed sea cave near the car park. It’s a dramatic site to see the ocean roar into the cave some 80 ft below.

Brough of Deerness, East Mainland

Continue on your coastal walk from the Gloup until you reach the Brough of Deerness, a rocky outcrop detached from the mainland. There are steps leading down to the base of the outcrop and more steps back up to the Brough. You’ll need a head for heights!

Note that the Brough of Deerness is currently inaccessible due to a landslip. Hopefully, it will reopen soon.

Follow the Creative Orkney Trail

Orcadians are a creative people! The Creative Orkney Trail lists artists, designers and makers all over the islands who open their workshops and studios to visitors. These include jewellery, homewares, clothing & textiles and art & photography.

Orkney Folk Festival

Established in 1982, the Orkney Folk Festival has long celebrated the best of traditional music from Orkney, Scotland and further afield.

The festival takes place over four days at the end of May in Stromness, although there are also events at venues in Kirkwall, other towns on the Mainland and a few other islands. You can buy tickets for individual events, each with a line-up of 4-5 bands, and/or attend free pub sessions across venues in Stromness.

My first trip to Orkney was for the 40th Orkney Folk Festival, and we’re returning for another visit this year. Here are my top tips for the Orkney Folk Festival and how to make the most of it!

The next Orkney Folk Festival takes place from 23-26 May 2024.

Orkney Nature Festival

The Orkney Nature Festival happens just before the folk festival in the middle of May. It features a diverse programme including boat trips to see the cliffs, nature photography classes with local experts, guided walks and much more.

The next Orkney Nature Festival takes from from 13-19 May 2024.

Things to do in Orkney’s South Isles

The South Isles of Lambholm, Glimps Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay are connected to Orkney’s Mainland by causeways, making them an easy place to visit without having to worry about ferry schedules. You can just drive there. The bus goes as far as St Margaret’s Hope.

Visit the Italian Chapel

The Italian Chapel was built by Italian Prisoners of War held in Orkney from 1942 to 1945. They were brought to the islands to construct the Churchill Barriers (see below).

The chapel is small and unassuming from the outside. It was constructed from two simple Nissen huts upon the request of camp priest, Fr Giacobazzi. It’s on the inside where this chapel shines. Domenico Chiocchetti, an artist among the prisoners, along with other tradesmen transformed the simple interior into a stunning place of worship.

I have to admit I was quite surprised by how beautiful the interior of the chapel is! It’s well worth a visit.

Drive across the Churchill Barriers

The causeways between the southern Orkney Isles are known as the Churchill Barriers. They were constructed during WWII to block German U-boats and protect the British naval anchorage at Scapa Flow.

Additionally, block ships were sunk in these shallow bays and you can still see the wrecks sticking out of the sea, especially at low tide. Beaches have formed along the barriers too, making for a fascinating road trip to see them all.

The Churchill Barriers in Orkney

Snorkelling at the Churchill Barriers or diving at Scapa Flow

There are countless shipwrecks in the waters of Scapa Flow and surrounding the Churchill Barriers. There are sunken British ships, scuttled German ships (both from WWI) and some blockade ships sunken on purpose during WWII.

Since these ships sunk, they’ve transformed into artificial reefs offering shelter and habitat to countless marine species. Exploring these underwater worlds is an incredible bucket list item.

Local company Kraken Diving offers diving excursions to see the wrecks and more gentle snorkelling sessions at the Churchill Barriers. Of course, you can also go snorkelling without a guide – just make sure you take the necessary precautions to stay safe. You can find my top snorkelling tips here.

Forest Bathing at Olav’s Wood

Orkney isn’t known for its trees – the near-constant wind makes it hard for large plants to grow high and much of the original woodlands that existed here were destroyed a long time ago. There is however one place to go forest bathing in Orkney.

Olav’s Wood is a tranquil mixed woodland in a gorge on the east coast of South Ronaldsay. Here the trees can grow relatively sheltered from the storms. It’s a tranquil spot with a bubbling burn running through the middle. There are several trails through the woodland and its surrounding grass- and wetlands.

A path in Olav's Wood in Orkney

A coastal walk in Burwick

I love coastal wildflowers like sea pinks (also called sea thrift) and the southern tip of South Ronaldsay is the perfect place to see them. During the summer, the coastline around Burwick is carpeted in a sea of pink. Add to that the magnificent views across to the mainland of Scotland and the towering seacliffs with nesting cormorants, and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.

Burwick is a wonderful location for a coastal walk in Orkney’s south isles – our walk here is among my favourite things to do in Orkney.

Seafood in St Margaret’s Hope

Finish your day with a delicious meal at the Murray Arms Hotel in St Margaret’s Hope. They specialise in locally sourced seafood and make much of the condiments in-house, including their butter.

Since this is a small restaurant, book ahead to make sure get a table.

Other Orkney Islands

There are many other islands to visit in Orkney and they all warrant a few nights to explore in depth. Some are also easy to reach for day trips – here’s a selection of Orkney day trip ideas. Hopefully, I’ll be able to add more after visiting them in the future.

Day trip to Hoy

Hoy is Orkney’s second largest island (after Mainland) and lies just south of Stromness. Most people travel to Hoy to visit the beautiful beach at Rackwick Bay, take on the 3-hour hike to the sea stac Old Man of Hoy, and visit the Scapa Flow Museum in Lyness.

This island is on my list of things to do in Orkney.

Getting to Hoy

There are two ferries to Hoy. A passenger ferry runs from Stromness to Moaness in north Hoy. A car ferry runs from Houton near Orphir to Lyness in south Hoy. Note that there is no bus connection between Moaness and Rackwick – if you want to hike to the Old Man of Hoy, you have to travel by car or pre-book taxi transfers with a local company.

The Old Man of Hoy, Orkney

Day trip to Westray

Westray is one of Orkney’s North Isles. We did a day trip here on our first trip to Orkney and brought our bikes – it was challenging, but it was one of my favourite things to do in Orkney.

Most of the highlights are in the north of the island – only 7 miles from the ferry port. But with strong headwinds, the journey was quite the challenge. We didn’t manage to see everything on our wish list.

Highlights on Westray include the puffin colony at Castle o’Burrian (another one of these sea stacs called castle), Noltland Castle in Pierowall, the beach at Links of Noltland, and the lighthouse and seacliffs at Loup Head Lighthouse. Local company Westraak offer guided tours. If you stay overnight, their evening tours sound delightful.

Getting to Westray

Orkney Ferries runs regular ferries from Kirkwall to Rapness in south Westray. Note that there are no buses on Westray – you need your own transport (car or bike) or book a guided tour to reach the highlights in the north of the island.

Take the shortest scheduled flight in the world

The Scottish airline Loganair operates the shortest scheduled passenger flight in the world. The flight from Westray to Papa Westray lasts only 90 seconds, with about one minute spent in the air. The flight primarily serves the local community (students, researchers, medical visits), but as a tourist, it’s a fun activity to add to your bucket list.

It makes sense to spend a few days on Westray and Papa Westray to make time for the flight in addition to other sites and activities on these islands.

Day trip to Rousay

Rousay is an island for history buffs. There are more than 150 ancient sites, including several brochs and chambered cairns. I first came across the island because some of my itinerary clients were raving about their guided day tour with Patrick from Rousay Tours.

Highlights include the Iron Age Midhowe Broch, the 5,000-year-old Midhowe Chambered Cairn, the excavations at Swandro and the chambered cairn Taversoe Tuick.

Getting to Rousay

The ferry from Tingwall on Mainland Orkney to Rousay runs several times a day, sometimes with routes stopping in Egilsay and/or Wyre along the way. You can bring your car on this ferry or hire bikes from Trumland Farm near the ferry port on Rousay. Here’s a suggested bike route around the island.


Phew, you’ve made it to the end of my detailed Orkney travel guide. Packed with things to do in Orkney, day trip ideas and practical travel info, you know have what it takes to plan a wonderful trip to these northern Scottish Isles.

I’m sure I will have many places to add after my second trip to Orkney. Stay tuned!

Add your favourite things to do in Orkney in the comments!

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