Scotland is well-known for its incredible natural beauty, and one of the best places to visit in Scotland for this is the Orkney Islands. Orkney is an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland. It is rich in history and has incredible natural beauty. The islands also offer great cuisine and fun activities such as whisky tasting. If you are looking for more information on what to do on the Orkney Islands, the top things to do in Orkney, and unusual things to do in Orkney then you have come to the right place! In this blog post, I will be going over the best things to do in Orkney Scotland. This includes the best historical sites, the best natural attractions, and more.
I recently spent a weekend in the Orkney Islands, and I fell completely in love. This place is perfect for people looking for serene outdoor island experiences. All the while learning about the history of the islands and immersing in Scottish culture. From the museums and 1000s of years old Neolithic settlements to the breathtaking rock formations and cute, little puffins, you will be sure to fall in love with the Orkney Islands too. At the end of this blog post, I can promise you that you will know exactly where to start, and what to do in Orkney.
Whether you’re looking for some of the best things to do in Scotland, embarking on a Scotland road trip itinerary and or looking for the best places to visit in Scotland or the best hikes in Scotland, you’ve come to the right place. Scotland is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in the UK, and well worth a visit if you ever get a chance!
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- A weekend on the Orkney Islands, Scotland
- The best things to do on the Isle of Skye
- A 10-day West Scotland road trip itinerary
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- Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park: my guide and the best things to do
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How to get to the Orkney Islands…
The best way to get to the Orkney Islands is to take the ferry from either Scrabster or Aberdeen. If you are going to Orkney through Scrabster, the best way to reach the ferry port will be by car. The quickest way to drive to Scrabster is driving along the east coast of Scotland. However, if you want to explore more of the natural beauty, going along the west coast is also a good option. This option does mean you will need double the time to reach the port. It also means you might need an overnight stay if you want to explore the west coast!
If you do not have a car, the best way to reach Orkney will be through Aberdeen. Aberdeen is much easier to reach without a car. You can fly into Aberdeen from most big cities, or you can take the train. Find more information on train tickets here.
How to get around the Orkney Islands…
If you have a vehicle, this will give you much more freedom when exploring the island. However, there are also good options for people who come without a car. There are many tour guides that take you around the island and to most of the attractions listed below, if not all! You can find more information on the many different tours here.
The best things to do on the Orkney Islands...
1. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site Skara Brae
If you want to know what to do on the Orkney Islands for first-time visitors, then you should know that Skara Brae is a must! Skara Brae is one of the best things to do in Orkney if you want to learn about the history of the islands. It is a Neolithic settlement dating back over 5000 years ago. It is said that people were living in Skara Brae between 3180 B.C.E and 2500 B.C.E. This makes it older than the Great Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge!
At the site, you will learn more about life at Skara Brae. You will even get to go outside and see it up close for yourself. Skara Brae’s incredible history makes it part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of the reasons why it is considered one of the best places to visit in Scotland. You can find more information on tickets here.
2. Go and see the Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic henge and stone circle that dates back to the 3rd millennium BC. The Ring of Brodgar is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site, which makes it one of the best things to do in Scotland. You will be sure to find the Ring of Brodgar on every list of what to do on the Orkney Islands, and for good reason!
The Ring of Brodgar is especially magical when the weather is a bit moody. Hugh Miller, a Scottish geologist, wrote that the stones “look like an assemblage of ancient druids, mysteriously stern and invincibly silent and shaggy”, and I think that it describes it perfectly on a moody weather day. If you want to know more about what to do in Orkney near the Ring of Brodgar then you should also visit Standing Stones of Stenness. It is located just a short drive away and is another World Heritage site you should not miss!
3. Admire the Old Man of Hoy
If you are wondering what to do in Orkney for first-time visitors, this is it! Seeing the Old Man of Hoy is one of the best things to do on the Orkney Islands and it’s an iconic spot. It is the one you see in all the pictures when researching what to do on the Orkney Islands.
When you see the Old Man of Hoy you will understand why it’s so popular. It is one of the most breathtaking sights in Orkney. The Old Man of Hoy is a 137-meter (449-foot) tall sea stack. It has been formed from old red sandstone, and it is the tallest stack in the United Kingdom. It is immensely popular with not only tourists but climbers as well. As one of the best things to do in Scotland, this is a must-see on your trip!
4. See the WW2 wrecks at Scapa Flow
If you are visiting Orkney for its history and you are wondering what to do in Orkney, then going to see the WW2 wrecks at Scapa Flow is a must for anyone interested in history. Scapa Flow is one of the world’s top diving destinations because of the incredible history that lies below. Under the Orkney waters, you will find vast battleships resting at the heart of Scapa Flow.
On the coastline, you will see some of the smaller blockships. This is one of the best things to do in Orkney Scotland for those with an interest in maritime history. The astonishing diversity of the wrecks and the fascinating history behind them is what makes it one of the best things to do in Scotland. You can go see one of the wrecks sitting in the water on Churchill Barrier No. 3 (KW17 2SY).
5. Visit the Italian Chapel
If you are looking for unusual things to do in Orkney, visiting an Italian Chapel is probably at the top of the list. While researching what to do on the Orkney Islands you will most likely stumble upon this chapel a few times. You would not expect to find an Italian Chapel on a Scottish Island, but here we are!
This Italian Chapel is not only gorgeous inside and out, and filled with stunning architectural details, but it also has a very interesting history behind it. The chapel was first built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war. The chapel was completed at the end of the war and has ever since then stood where it still stands today. It was restored in the 60s and again in the 90s. Today it is one of the most popular attractions in Orkney and one of the best things to do in Orkney, Scotland.
6. Look for puffins
Getting to see puffins up close is one of the fun things to do in Orkney. If you are wondering what to do in Orkney if you love the outdoors, then you must go and spot wildlife! Puffins are surprisingly quite easy to spot. You just need to know the right places to go! You will usually find them along cliffs, as this is where they live and nest. I have listed a few of the best spots to go see puffins in Orkney below.
- Brough of Birsay
- Marwick Head
- Noup Head
- Castle of Burrian
- Sumburgh Head
- Hermaness in Unst.
7. Go for a whisky tour and tasting at Highland Park Distillery
You might be wondering what to do on the Orkney Islands that does not include lots of reading or walking… you should go to a distillery for whisky tasting! Going to whisky tastings is one of the best things to do in Scotland, you simply cannot go to Scotland without going to at least one whisky distillery.
Highland Park Distillery is one of the best places to visit in Scotland for whisky! When you visit Highland Park Distillery make sure you go for the full experience and get the tour as well as the tastings. You will learn all about the process of whisky making and end it with a delicious tasting. You can find more information on the Distillery and its tours here.
8. Crawl inside the Chambered Cairn on Cuween Hill
If you loved the historic UNESCO sites previously mentioned, and you want to know similar things about what to do on the Orkney Islands, then Cuween Hill is the place for you. The Chambered Cairn on Cuween Hill is another 5,000-year-old Neolithic sight that you must visit! This cairn was used as a tomb for the bones of men, dogs, and oxen. If you dare, you can crawl inside this tomb and experience the inside of the cairn yourself. It is a small, tight entrance and you will need clothes that can handle crawling on stone and dirt, but it is so worth it. I have never experienced anything like this, and I would 100% recommend going inside.
9. Be amazed at the natural beauty of Windwick Bay
If you want to know what to do in Orkney and you love amazing viewpoints and natural beauty, then this is the perfect place to go. The beauty of Windwick Bay is stunning, and something you will not soon forget. If you take the east-coast route, it will bring you onto the cliffs overlooking Windwick Bay. This is the best spot to get the perfect view of the sea stacks, and makes for a beautiful photo spot!
Not only do you get to see the incredible huge rocks crashing with the sea, you also will have the chance to see seals. Windwick Bay is one of the best places to visit in Scotland for seal watching. The autumn is the best time to go spotting seals as it is the season for seal pups and this brings them to the shore.
10. Explore the town of Kirkwall
After all that exploring in the outdoors, you might need a bit of a break. You might be looking for what to do in Orkney when you want to relax. The best way to do that will be by exploring the town of Kirkwall. Go to the St. Magnus Cathedral, have a gin tasting session at Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin, and treat yourself to a delicious dinner in the center of town. Kirkwall has some of the best things to do in Orkney, Scotland, for when you want to relax and holiday away!
What do you think are the best things to do in Orkney, Scotland?
Have you been to the Orkney Islands? Anything you’d add to this list of what to do in Orkney?
Love as always and happy adventuring…
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