places of interest

Things to see and do in Orkney

Whether you are here to relax or feel energetic, Orkney has many things to offer. You may relax in the secluded patio area at Buchanhaven and enjoy a BBQ and glass of wine, or you can visit many of the lovely beaches that Orkney mainland has to offer. Orkney is rich in wildlife and steeped in history, with many archaelogical sites and places of historic interest to visit. There are many lovely walks you may take and wild bird life rerserves you can visit. Kirkwall and Stromness both offer golf courses which are open for visitors to use. Many of the lochs offer trout fishing, and sea fishing can be done by boat charter if you wish. Diving is also a popular pastime in Orkney amongst the wrecks in Scapa Flow. Boat trips to the neighbouring smaller islands are on offer. Horse riding is also available.

There are many hotels and restaurants that offer a variety of different meals and if night life is for you, the local night club 'Fusion' is within walking distance from Buchanhaven, and it is open most weekends.

There is a drop in centre at the Blide Trust, which is situated in Victoria Street, Kirkwall which offers tea, coffee, lunch or a chat, and support if you feel you need help. 

Age Scotland, Orkney, Victoria Street, Kirkwall offers a range of information on Dementia.

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St Magnus Cathedral

St Magnus Cathedral sits in the heart of Kirkwall, which is the main town in the Orkney Islands. Its spire dominates the skyline of Kirkwall and it is the most northerly cathedral in the British Isles. More

It was built for the bishops of Orkney and is owned by the Royal Burgh of Kirkwall and not by the church. Its construction commenced in 1137 and it was added to over the following three hundred years. At the present time, the Cathedral is used as a parish church by the Church of Scotland.

The Romanesque Cathedral has fine examples of Norman architecture. The red sandstone used to build the cathedral was quarried near Kirkwall, and the yellow sandstone came from the island of Eday. The building of the original cathedral was completed in the 12th century. When the cathedral was ready for consecration the relics of St Magnus were enshrined in it.

St Magnus Cathedral is worth a visit. Its great age shows smaller windows than found in modern churches and the tall narrow nave gives the impression of a greater size than it actually is. The cathedral contains memorials to many prominent Orcadians including Dr John Rae (explorer), writers Eric Linklater and George Mackay Brown, and artist Stanley Cursiter.

Skara Brae

Skara Brae sits on the southern shore of the Bay of Skaill in Sandwick. It is a Neolithic village, and is one of Orkney's most visited ancient sites. It is now regarded by many as one of Europe’s most remarkable monuments. More

Skara Brae was first discovered when the combination of strong winds and high tides stripped the grass from the high mounds in the winter of 1850.

The outline of a number of stone buildings was revealed, and excavation on the site was begun locally. In 1868 work was abandoned after the remains of 4 houses were unearthed. It wasn't until 1925, when due to another storm damaging some of the unearthed structures, further excavations began and the buildings we see today were unearthed. At this time the village was thought to have been an Iron Age settlement dating from around 500 BC but after radiocarbon dating it was confirmed that the settlement did indeed date from the late Neolithic between 3200 BC and 2200 BC It is under constant threat from coastal erosion and the Orkney weather, so is indeed worth a visit.

Standing Stones

The most well known of the standing stones in Orkney is the Ring of Brodgar, in the parish of Stenness in the West Mainland. Orkney's standing stones have withstood rain, wind and sun for over 3000 years, erected before the Egyptians even began the pyramids. More

The reason for these stones is still unclear, but Orcadians must have gone to considerable effort to raise these stones. There are many theories as to the reason for the stones, and especially for the circle of stones in Stenness – astronomical observatories, territorial markers or calendars being a few.

Whatever the reason for construction, they are awe inspiring and worth a visit. You may come up with an idea that has not been thought of before as to why they were constructed!

As well as these in Stenness, a number of the smaller outer islands of Orkney have some standing stones.

Tankerness House Museum and Gardens

This museum is on the main street in Kirkwall just across the road from St Magnus Cathedral. It is a 16thcentury town house which exhibits memorabilia reflecting Orkney's history. More

Tankerness House Gardens lie directly behind the Museum. Both the museum and gardens offer free entrance to the public. In the gardens there is the ‘Groatie Hoose’, which warrants a visit.

Highland Park Distillery

This is a working distillery which makes the famous ‘Highland Park Malt Whisky’. The 200-year-old distillery is situated on the outskirts of Kirkwall, and daily tours are offered.


Stromness is the second-largest town on mainland Orkney. It is the main seaport for NorthLink Ferries, and has a population of approximately 2100 people. More

Stromness is full of character as the flagstone paved streets twist and turn along the houses and shops on the one side, which reach down to the sea, and on the other side into the hill. There are lots of lovely walks up the small alleyways that are interspersed along the main street, and a visit to the Pier Arts Centre is a must if you visit Stromness. Stromness also sports a golf course on which visitors are welcome, and as an added bonus you can enjoy the views of Hoy Sound at the same time. Each year in late May, Stromness holds its famous “Orkney Folk Festival” with its many concerts, ceilidhs and impromptu sessions in the local pubs. Stromness also holds a ‘Blues Festival’ and ‘Beer Festival’ each year.

Churchill Barriers

The Churchill Barriers are the causeways which link the smaller islands on the south side of Orkney between the village of St Marys, Holm, and St Margaret’s Hope. More

The barriers were built by Italian prisoners of war on orders from Winston Churchill after the Germans torpeodoed HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow in 1939. There are opportunities to scuba dive in and around the wrecks left from WW2, that lie in and around the barriers.

Italian Chapel

Also near the village of Holm, across the first Barrier on the tiny island of Lamb Holm, is the Italian Chapel. This chapel was built by the Italian prisoners of war when they were interned in Orkney during the 1940s. More

This chapel is a beautiful legacy that was left in Orkney by the Italians. It was converted originally from corrugated iron nissan huts, and the exquisite paintings inside the chapel are well worth a look. Entry to the chapel is free during daylight hours.

Fossil and Heritage Museum and Tea Room

This also lies across the Churchill Barriers on the third island, Burray. The museum houses a collection of fossils and crystals, and also some mementoes of both world wars. There is a tea room and small shop at the museum.