Orkney Islands Travel Guide
The Orkney’s are a visual time capsule of thousands of years of history stretching from the Stone Age to the frequently unwelcome bureaucracy of remote British Parliaments. The people of Orkney, or Orcadians as they prefer to be known, do not see themselves even as Scots let alone British. Invading Picts and Scandinavian forces, particularly the Norwegians, have at various times ruled the islands for hundreds of years.
Today Orkney is littered with dozens of spectacular reminders of the past. There are standing stone circles, abandoned palaces, ancient tombs and prehistoric villages acting as a visible time line of history. Not to be missed sights include the stone rings of Brodgar and Stenness, Skara Brae, the best preserved Stone Age village in Europe, and Maeshowe the finest passage grave in Britain. The Earl’s Palace’s at Birsay and Kirkwall should also be high on any visitors list of places to visit.
Anyone with a love of the ‘great outdoors’ will have difficulty in deciding what to do first, fishing in the lochs, bird watching and hiking around the remote cliffs and bays are all popular choices. Some of the best walking spots are the Bay of Skail, Waulkmill Bay, Scapa Flow and the awesome cliffs of Marwick Head.
Kirkwall, the islands main town, has a population of some 6,000 making it by far the largest place in the Orkney’s. The impressive St. Magnus Cathedral with its beautiful stained glass windows dominates the town centre. Tankerness House, two former clergy houses are now the islands main museum charting the long and complex history of the region. The Wireless Museum by the harbour houses a unique collection of wartime radios and communications relics and is strong reminder of the Orkney’s importance during the two world wars of the 20th century.
For many Kirkwall is one of the few visible reminders of being in Britain, well known stores can be found in the town centre along with a supermarket and even a couple of Chinese restaurants. Kirkwall also has plenty of local crafts and souvenir shops selling everything from Orkney knitwear to Viking jewellery.
Entertainment is limited although the town has a cinema, a small theatre and Scotland’s oldest public library. There are also two whisky distilleries in the town.
The islands are very well served by public transport, P&O Ferries run a year round service from Scrabster to Stromness and several other ferries operate during the summer months. Orkney Ferries Ltd sail to the outlying islands of Graemsay, Wyre, Papa Westray, North Ronaldsway, Sanday, Rousay, Hoy and Egilsay. British Airways Express also flies from Kirwall to a number of the islands. British Airways fly to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen. Currently there are no Sunday flights to or from the islands.
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