7 Reasons you Should Visit the Orkney Islands In Scotland

The Orkney Islands are located in northern Scotland, just north of mainland Britain and while you might have heard of the Sottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye, there are many reasons why you should visit the Orkney Islands in Scotland.

It’s not just for the breathtaking landscapes!

7 Reasons you Should Visit the Orkney Islands In Scotland

The Orkney Islands are located in northern Scotland, just north of mainland Britain and while you might have heard of the Sottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye, there are many reasons why you should visit the Orkney Islands in Scotland.

It’s not just for the breathtaking landscapes!

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Hi, we’re Rach & Marty!

We’ve visited every country in the world and want to help you get the most out of your travels!

Whether you need an expertly planned itinerary, some experienced hints and tips, or just craving a delicious food adventure, we’ve got you covered!

Hi, we’re Rach & Marty!

We’ve visited every country in the world and want to help you get the most out of your travels!

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Orkney Islands In Scotland - Landscapes

The Orkney Islands consist of seven main islands and over 100 smaller ones. Vikings settled them around 800 AD, and they became part of the Kingdom of Scotland in 1266.

Why should you visit the Orkney Islands? 

Well, they’re home to some of the oldest history in the world, beautiful sandy beaches, an incredible cathedral, and interesting museums. You can go hiking, golfing, kayaking and fishing.

And if you love fresh seafood, the Orkney Islands are your dream destination.  

Orkney Islands in Scotland – The best things to see and do here

Visit Kirkwall and St Magnus Cathedral 

Kirkwall is the main city of the main island in Orkney. The downtown is small and easy to walk around in less than 30 minutes or so, with cute shops and a colourful harbour. Trust me, you can’t get lost.

You shouldn’t miss the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral dating back to the 12th century. St Magnus Cathedral is the only cathedral in Scotland to still contain the bones of its patron saint and it is free to visit.

And if you need to keep warm, try some of the best whiskey at Highland Park Distillery, and on a sunny day, enjoy the local Orkney ice cream.

Orkney Islands In Scotland - Magnus Cathedral
The Orkney Islands In Scotland – Magnus Cathedral

Eat some of the freshest seafood of your life!

I love seafood and have eaten plenty of it in my lifetime, but the scallops I had when visiting the Orkney Islands were hands down the best I’ve ever had.

You will have plenty of choices on the menu for lobster, crab, and different types of fish.

The food in Scotland is something to get excited about! Don’t miss these 12 most popular foods to try in Scotland.

Orkney Islands In Scotland - Best Seafood in Scotland
The Orkney Islands In Scotland – Best Seafood in Scotland

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Visit The UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Skara Brae 

There are a few neolithic sites on the Orkney Islands, and perhaps the best way to start exploring them is with a visit to Skara Brae. 

It might sound unbelievable, but this site has been here long before the Great Wall of China or the Egyptian pyramids were built. It’s even older than Stonehenge. Skara Brae was a thriving village. 

Step back 5,000 years in time to explore this best-preserved Neolithic settlement in Western Europe that clearly shows how people lived in nine subterranean stone homes connected by tunnels and lit only by whale oil lamps.

Skara Brae has set opening times, and I recommend pre-booking your tickets online here. You can also visit Skaill House, a historic manor house located very near to Skara Brae, and it’s the largest of the Orkney Islands.

Tickets start at GBP 10.50 pp.

Orkney Islands In Scotland - Skara Brae

See the Ring of Brodgar vs Standing Stones of Stenness

The next two neolithic sites are best understood together.

The Stones of Stenness today consist of four upright stones up to 6m in height in a circle that originally held 12 stones. These amazing megaliths sit at the start of the Brodgar peninsula. 

Their function is unclear, but our best guess is that they were involved in activities and ceremonies celebrating the relationship between living, possibly for Summer Solstice celebrations.

visit orkney islands in scotland ring of brogdar
Visiting the Ring of Brodgar in the Orkney Islands in Scotland

The Ring of Brodgar is the next eyebrow-raising place to see.

One theory is that the Ring of Brodgar embodied a symbolic area for the dead, while the Standing Stones of Stenness represented life.

Therefore, the procession from Stenness to Brodgar could be seen as a symbolic journey from life to death.

The Ring of Brodgar is a massive stone circle, originally consisting of 60 stones – 36 survive today, and you can get pretty close to them.

Orkney Islands In Scotland - Ring of Brodgar
The Orkney Islands In Scotland – Ring of Brodgar

See Viking carvings inside Maeshowe 

Maeshowe is the finest chambered tomb north of the Alps and a must-see on your visit to the Orkney Islands. It was built around 3500 BC and the entrance includes a guided tour here. 

From the outside, it looks like a giant mound covered in grass, but once you enter, you find a chamber built by someone super skilled.

At the winter solstice, the sun shines through the entry tunnel, illuminating the entrance of the main cell. How prehistoric people managed to build this still amazes present-day engineers.

Of course, the highlight for many visitors is the carvings on the walls from Vikings who broke into the tomb, probably searching for treasures. They left many messages carved into the stones inside. 

Orkney Islands In Scotland - Maeshowe
The Orkney Islands In Scotland – Maeshowe
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The Orkney Museum

The Orkney Museum was founded in 1814 by Sir Robert Gordon, who wanted to preserve the islands’ history. Today, the museum has more than 30,000 objects and displays them in three main galleries, and it is the perfect place to pop in if you get a rainy day while visiting.

The Orkney Islands feel different from other parts of Scotland, and there seems to be a lot of connection to the Viking times here.

The museum tells the story of Orkney, from the Stone Age to the Picts and Vikings, right through to the present day.

Italian Chapel & Churchill Barriers

For something different, drive to the Italian Chapel and learn more interesting facts about WW2 at the Orkney Islands.

The Italian prisoners of war were allowed to create a Catholic chapel to remind them of their motherland. The Neo-Baroque facade on the background of the greenery is stunning, but for £3.50, you can also enter and see the colourful decoration inside the chapel.

Orkney Islands In Scotland - Italian Chapel
The Orkney Islands In Scotland – Italian Chapel

Facing the chapel, you’ll be able to see one of the Churchill Barriers. 

The barriers were constructed during World War II as a defensive measure to prevent enemy ships and submarines from entering Scapa Flow, which housed the bulk of Britain’s fleet at the time.

Today, there are four causeways built here on the Orkney Islands.

And that’s it! Our seven reasons to visit the beautiful Orkney Islands in Scotland.

How to Get to the Orkney Islands

You can fly here (the best flight deals are on Skyscanner) or take a ferry, but I recommend joining a tour to see all the main highlights of the Orkney Islands.

I did a 5 Day Northern Coast & Orkney Tour with Rabbies in July 2022, and it was a fantastic way to see not only the Orkney Islands in Scotland but also the Scottish Highlands, lowlands, and the stunning NC500 scenic driving route.

Rabbie’s offers mini-coach tours all over the UK and Ireland. Click here to browse Rabbie’s Tours. Use promo code NOMAD5 at checkout for a 5% discount on any UK/Ireland trip with Rabbie’s.

Our trip with Rabbie’s started and ended in Edinburgh. If you need more information on how to spend a few days in this exciting city, check out our blog on 10 Best Things to Do in Edinburgh

Travel Tips for Europe

We have many travel guides and tips for Europe— an incredible continent!

Are you travelling on a budget? These ten cheapest European countries will help you plan an itinerary that lets you see as much as possible while there.

Furthermore, if you plan to travel long-term (or at least until the money runs out), these 21 cheapest countries to visit will help you make your hard-earned dollars stretch a bit further.

Delicious cuisine can be enjoyed across Europe, and our food map of Europe will inspire your culinary journey.

For food lovers, don’t miss our top 10 best countries for foodies, a couple of them are located in Europe.

Here are 8 things to know about travelling to Eastern Europe and it’s good to know these 7 misconceptions about Eastern Europe too.

These top 6 travel hacks to save money are great to read when planning your travels.

You’ll need to stay connected while travelling in Europe. We recommend eSIM. It’s easy, reliable and affordable. View eSIMs for individual European countries, or consider a regional eSIM for Europe (which covers 39 countries).

If your travels in Europe are part of a much larger global adventure, then a Global eSIM may be the answer. It connects you in 124 countries, offering data-only eSIM and data/call/text eSIM. The Global eSIM has been a game-changer; we couldn’t imagine travelling without it now.

If you want to travel with like-minded travellers, consider joining a group tour. View the best deals on group tours in Europe.

Check out our best-ever travel tips compiled from more than twenty years of experience.

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