Kirkwall Kirkwall


Orkney's capital dates back to Norse times, in the 11th century, when it was called Kirkjuvagr (Church of the bay).

At that time the sea lapped at the steps of the cathedral, but now much land has been reclaimed. In 1486 Kirkwall was granted Royal Burgh status by King James III of Scotland.

The capital of Orkney has vibrant, independent shops and a lively night life in its many hotels and bars. It's also a transport hub for bus routes across mainland Orkney and the port for ferries to Aberdeen, Shetland and the North Isles. Kirkwall Airport - with links to Scotland, Shetland and, in the summer, Norway - is less than three miles from the town centre.

A Mecca for lovers of chain-free shopping, Kirkwall has everything you need, from boutique fashions, designer brands and locally designed clothing, to CDs and DVDs, jewellery, outdoor clothing, bread and cakes, linen, musical instruments, household goods and shoes. Privately owned grocery stores offer the kind of personal service that's largely disappeared elsewhere in Britain and stock local produce and international favourites. Artisan bakeries, butchers, chemists, banks and several cafes add to the exciting retail mix. The long and picturesque flagstone paved main street snakes down from the harbour, changing its name from Bridge Street to Albert Street and then to Broad Street as it goes.

At the heart of Kirkwall stands the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral, while nearby are the Earl's and Bishop's palaces and the Orkney Museum in Tankerness House with its splendid gardens. Carrying on down narrow Victoria Street there are more shops and cafes.

On the edge of the ancient burgh there are three supermarkets and the Pickaquoy Centre with its multi-purpose arena, swimming and leisure pools, fitness and health suites, outdoor sports pitches, a café, the New Phoenix Cinema and meeting rooms. Orkney Islands Council is based in central Kirkwall at School Place. There are several venues in the town for performance including a theatre in the fantastic new Kirkwall Grammar School, community and church halls, hotel function rooms and of course, the Pickaquoy Centre. Industrial activity takes place at Hatston Industrial Estate on the edge of town and this is where you'll also find our auction mart.

Visiting sailors can take advantage of the Kirkwall Marina, which has 95 berths.

Inside Explore Orkney

A view of Stromness from Brinkies Brae - image by Fionn McArthur


Stromness poet and author George Mackay Brown once wrote that the town's 'streets uncoiled like a sailor's rope from North to South'. Quaint closes and narrow old streets huddled between stone buildings of historical interest is the delight that is Stromness. Orkney’s second largest town is an architectural gem that inspires artists and writers and is a favourite with visitors.

Sunrise over Mull Head in Orkney - image by Rick Fleet

East Mainland

The area east and south east of Kirkwall is cattle country, with low lying and fertile farmland. Although the East Mainland doesn't have a World Heritage Site, it does have its own nature reserve, sea caves, beaches, historical sites and attractive villages to explore.

Sunrise over a west mainland loch in Orkney

West Mainland

Orkney's West Mainland hosts a collection of some of the finest archaeological sites to be found anywhere in Europe. It's home to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site, and welcomes thousands of visitors every year.

This wind turbine was one of the first installed in the east mainland


Burray is a small island linked to the east mainland of Orkney and South Ronaldsay by the Churchill Barriers. Once only accessible by boat, the farming and fishing community is now linked forever by the causeways.

Hoxa in South Ronaldsay has spectacular views over Scapa Flow

South Ronaldsay

After you cross the fourth and final Churchill Barrier, you'll arrive in the largest settlement outside Kirkwall in the east, the attractive harbour village of St Margaret’s Hope in South Ronaldsay.

A view of Red Head and the Calf of Eday


Eday is at the centre of Orkney’s North Isles and has a rich heritage and history to explore, as well as being at the forefront of research for the modern renewable energy industry.

Wartime defences at Stanger Head in Flotta


Flotta is an island that has changed much over the years. From its role at the very heart of Orkney's military history to the building of the Flotta Oil Terminal in the 1970s, it has always played an important part in our economy and heritage.

Looking across to the Kame in Hoy

Hoy and Graemsay

Hoy is Orkney’s second largest island and dramatically rises from the sea with mountainous moorland and glacial valleys, appearing more like a highland landscape than a typical Orkney low-lying island.

North Ronaldsay's new lighthouse at Dennis Head

North Ronaldsay

The island's unique seaweed eating sheep, an Old Beacon featured on prime time television and the flight path for thousands of migratory birds have all helped put North Ronaldsay on the map.

At the pier in Papa Westray

Papa Westray

Take the world’s shortest scheduled flight and see northern Europe’s oldest house on one of Orkney’s smallest inhabited islands with a big community heart.

Rousay boasts a spectacular coastline - image by Max Fletcher

Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre

Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre host some of Orkney's most magical archaeological and historical sites - with ancient brochs, cairns and tales of Vikings.

An aerial view of the Holms of Ayre in Sanday


Sanday by name and sandy by nature, the largest island of Orkney’s North Isles has beautiful sandy bays and dunes, turquoise seas and a gentle, fertile landscape.

A view of Balfour Castle in Shapinsay


Shapinsay is only a 25-minute ferry ride from Kirkwall but the atmosphere of this small Orkney island can be soaked up even before you step ashore.

A view across to Whitehall pier in Stronsay


Stronsay is a beautiful island to visit and to live on with magical sandy beaches backed by dunes, a stunning coastline and a main settlement with grand houses dating back to the herring fishery days.

A view of the Rapness ferry terminal at the south end of Westray


Westray is known as the Queen o’ the Isles and is a vibrant place to live, work and visit.