Things To See & Do
The main island (Mainland) hosts a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE which includes the breath-taking Standing Stones of Stenness, some up to six metres high. Remaining remarkably intact, the 5,000 year old houses at Skara Brae offer a real insight into pre-historic village life. For more local insights take a look at the Viking runes at Maeshowe which prove that graffiti isn’t a 20th-century invention!
As well as Skara Brae, Maeshowe and Stenness, the nearby Neolithic Ring of Brodgar is particularly magical in the evening light (and gained contemporary notoriety when Billy Connolly danced naked through the stones on his “World Tour of Scotland”!) Evocative Scapa Flow contains the melancholy relics and wrecks of two world wars. On its banks the beautifully ornate Italian Chapel, constructed by Italian Prisoners of War over 50 years ago, is well worth a visit.
Wildlife flourishes here. Birdwatching is popular and there are plenty of fabulous seal-watching spots. If you are lucky Minke whales, dolphins, porpoise and occasionally the odd Orca whale are seen playing in the island waters. On dry ground you will be tempted by the deliciously fresh food, (do try the squid), and the local crafts including fabulous silversmiths and highly covetable knitwear.
The islands were under Norse rule for centuries and have a distinctive history and culture, fiddle music rather than bagpipes, knitwear rather than tartan. The local Orcadian people are justly proud of the 70-or-so islands in their archipelago, which are home to some of the most fascinating archaeological remains in Europe.
Travelling To & Around
We offer self-drive holidays based on ferry routes from the north coast of Scotland, with the crossing taking around 90 minutes. If you prefer a shorter drive you can also choose to travel in either or both directions by the longer evening and overnight service from Aberdeen. A self-drive trip to Orkney combines well with a tour around Scotland’s North Coast, a 500-mile stretch of wild scenery, captivating mountains and glistening seascapes. Or if you are heading this far north, take the opportunity to enjoy Complete Orkney and Shetland, a fortnight-long journey of discovery which can be tailor-made to suit your preferences.
There are daily flights to Orkney from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness, useful especially when time is short. As a fully-bonded tour operator, we can arrange fly-drive holidays, including flights, car hire and our hand-picked range of accommodation, adding connecting flights from regional airports in England if required.
Based off flights from central Scotland, our week-long small group guided tour is a brilliant way to experience the highlights and hidden gems of Orkney & Shetland in the company of expert local guides plus McKinlay Kidd’s professional and knowledgeable tour leader.
And McKinlay Kidd can even whisk you to Orkney by train – well, nearly! The meandering Far North Line will carry you from Inverness to the North Coast from where it’s a short ferry hop to Orkney. If you like to travel independently, we can arrange your transfers, ferry trip and time with local guides on a six-day Far North Line to Orkney holiday. Prefer a fully escorted tour in a small group? Take a look at the week-long North Highlands & Orkney Guided Rail Tour. Limited to just 15 places, you will be accompanied throughout by a knowledge tour leader, ensuring you get really under the skin of the destination.
The open landscape and good roads make Orkney easy to explore, and a number of the islands are joined by causeways. Others are accessible by small plane or ferry and include the tiny island of Papa Westray which has the oldest stone houses in northern Europe, its larger neighbour Westray, which offers beautiful coastal scenery and its fair share of historical sites, Shapinsay with its wonderful castle and Rousay with its tremendous archaeological diversity