11 Best Things to Do in the Orkney Islands
The Orkney Islands
The Orkney Isles are situated off the North coast of Scotland, 10 miles from Caithness and comprises 70 islands! 20 of these are inhabited and make for great island-hopping adventures. With a geography that attracts explorers of old, there are plenty of points of interest on Orkney. Given its long 6000 year history and proximity to Scandanavia, it is abundant in ancient sites, Nordic settlements and culture which is still prevalent today. Its rugged coastlines, beaches and wild seas inspire artists and its rich landscape yields botany that allows production of the finest beef, cheese and gin along with fish, seafood and other delights.
Getting to Orkney
Getting to Orkney is easy as there are regular ferries and flights from multiple airports.
Once on the islands you will be spoilt for choice on where to start your exploration. We have rounded up 11 points of interest to keep you entertained on Orkney, no matter what your interests or hobbies.
Sulphur free vegan friendly wine produced using 100% natural ingredients
Highlights include; Cask aged bottles and limited edition special bottles, cheese and wine or sweet gift sets and a range of liquers.
The Italian Chapel
During the Second World War, Italian soldiers had been captured in Africa and became prisoners of war. After an attack on Scapa Flow, it was decided a fort would be built to protect it against future sabotage. As a result the Italian prisoners of war were transported to Lamb Holm on Orkney to help with its construction. Whilst there one of the men, Domenico Chiocchetti a gifted artist, was given the task to convert two nissen huts into a chapel for the prisoners of war. The result is the beautiful Italian Chapel that stands proud today.
Read their amazing story here.
Orkney Cheddar has a unique taste as it made from the milk from Orkney cows that graze on the high quality pasture grown in the rich fertile Orkney soil. This has afforded the prestigious recognition of the European Union in awarding PGI (protected geographical indication) status which is a protection only awarded to produce where a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.
Orkney cheese is appreciated by Michelin star chefs and wine lovers as an accompaniment.
The cheese lends itself wonderfully to cooking and a number of recipes are available to try out.
Orkney Arts and Crafts
Evolving from the Orkney Craftmen’s Guild in 1967, Orkney Arts and Crafts is now a collective of 70 artists and makers. These local men and women ensure that the traditional skills of woodwork, straw work and yarn crafts are kept alive and current, together with more modern artistry of photography, print, art, jewellery, ceramics and glass making.
Check out their itinerary as there are regular fairs held throughout the year where you are able to view and purchase some wonderful creations. There are also two larger events held, one during summer and another in November. Also remember to support the community once you return home by regularly checking their website for gift ideas, things for the home and items to wear.
Aurora Jewellery Orkney
Aurora Jewellery uses traditional practices to craft Celtic jewellery, brooches, kilt pins and other silverware. Quality craftmanship is key and is quality controlled by master craftsman Steven Cooper.
Aurora has been involved in an exciting collaboration with Sony Pictures Consumer Products to produce a range based on the Outlander series that has been extremely popular on TV, and are based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon.
Their range is broad and includes pieces for men and women; brooches, necklaces, rings, earrings, cuff links. Aurora specialises in Kilt Hire too for those indulging in special occasions.
Orkney has a dazzling schedule of festivals spanning the whole year, brimming with creativity and inspiration. Highlights include:
May – Nature Festival and Folk Festival
June – St Magnus Festival
July – Ronaldsay Sheep Festival, Stromness Shopping Week
September – International Science Festival, Rock and Blues Festival
October – Storytelling Festival
Creative Orkney Trail
The creative Orkney Trail was formed in 1996 to provide a link to workshops, studios and shops of local artists across the islands.
Many visitors like to seek out artwork and hand-crafted trinkets but if you do not know an area well it can be difficult. A brochure is produced every year to allow locals and tourists to visit various outlets. The guide also features food and drink stops so you can make a day out of it, as well as featuring other creative Orkney members who are not part of the trail.
Download the brochure here.
There are some rare beauties for nature lovers who are always on the lookout for rarer sightings on the UK mainland. Cameras at the ready and see if you can spot; puffins, white dolphins, guillemots, kittiwakes, mink whales, basking sharks, barnacle geese, owls, hen harriers, orcas, Slavonian grebes or porpoises. There are RSPB reserves on some of the islands.
If you want to try your hand at water-based exercise or are a regular surfer looking for an unusual location, Orkney will not disappoint. There are also opportunities to pursue other outdoor leisure activities, there is something for everyone. Sea kayaking, windsurfing, surfing. Sailing, diving ancient wrecks, loch and sea fishing, climbing, and golf in Kirkwall and Stromness.
Orkney Distillery produces award winning gin made with a blend of botanicals that include Ramanas Rose fused with traditional Orkney bere barley. Kirkjuvagr Gin is named after the Norse heritage of the capital Kirkwall. You can take a tour around the distillery or book a gin making experience, a must for gin enthusiasts.
With 70 islands the Orkney Islands make for great island hopping adventures.
Here are some highlights:
Vat of Kirbisteron Stronsay the Vat of Kirbister was formed when the roof of a large sea cave collapsed. The remaining arch spans approximately 35 feet (10.6 meteres) and is approximately 66 feet (20 meters) high.
Sanday – famous for its lovely beaches Sanday and is the largest of Orkney’s North Isles with coastline that is simply stunning.
Hoy, Graemsay – the famous sea monolith the Old Man Of Hoy made this island famous, particularly as it is popular with climbers. Graemsay is more mountainous than the mainland and boasts glacial valleys and is not typical of the other Orkney landscapes.
Shapinsay – hosts Mill Dam RSPB reserve. It has one village, Balfour that also has a castle and heritage centre selling locally produced arts, crafts, textiles, jewellery and artwork.
Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre
A small cluster of islands that has over 150 archaeological sites due to it’s 5000 year history and the famous Midhowe Broch tomb. These islands are popular with cyclists due to the circular road. These islands are also popular with ornithologists as there is an RSPB reserve on Egilsay and the clifftops also attract many species of birds.
Westray and Papa Westray
Westray is popular with ramblers as it has stunning walks along the coast and inland walks carpeted with flowers in spring and summer.
An abundance of wildlife and an RSPB reserve, make it the perfect place to get away from it all. There is accommodation should you wish to stay longer than a day trip.
Papa Westray is more remote and is smaller than most of the other islands. This is a more rugged rock which is a mecca for many seabirds. The Knap of Hower boasts the oldest lighthouse in North Europe dating around 6000 years old.
Other Orkney Points of Interest
- St Magnus Cathedral
- Tankerness House Museum
- Orkney Fossil and Vintage Centre
- North Hoy Nature Reserve
- Pier Arts Centre
- Orkney Wireless Museum
- Marwick Head Nature Reserve
Orkney is one of the UKs oldest settlements and is a must if you love history and archaeology. With an abundance of nature and quiet roads it also make a great destination for outdoor leisure. Use this Orkney Points of Interest guide to plan and book your stay.