Sanday 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.

Sanday is sixteen miles long and has a population of around 550. It is a low-lying island which led to problems in the past, as ships foundered on the reefs and rocks, unable to see the shore. The first Start Point lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson and completed in 1807. It was rebuilt in 1870 and painted with distinctive stripes and is now a magnet for lighthouse baggers.

History lovers are drawn to Sanday too as the island has a high density of ancient and Viking structures and tombs. One of the most stunning discoveries was a Viking boat burial which contained the skeletons of an elderly woman, a younger man and a child. A rich find of grave goods included weapons, a Celtic brooch, a sickle and an elaborate and well preserved carved whalebone plaque which is on display now in the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall.

At Quoyness you can explore a Neolithic tomb and there is much else on the island. Leaflets about the archaeology are available and about wildlife, flora and shells. Seabirds, terns and wading birds are in abundance as are seals. Sanday is well known for its shells. The Sanday Ranger hosts many guided walks of special interest too. There is a new heritage centre and croft and other leisure facilities include a swimming pool, nine hole golf course and many social and special interest clubs which meet regularly. The island also has Heilsa Fjold - a youth and community centre.

A major date in the calendar is the Sanday Show in August when animals raised on the fertile land are shown and prizes awarded. The community has also organised a series of weekend events in recent years to celebrate life in the island called the Sanday Soulka.

Sanday’s main settlements are Kettletoft and Lady. There are hotels, guest houses, shops, a hostel, camping, self-catering cottages and a good range of eateries. There are flights from Kirkwall six days a week or you can take the car ferry. Car and bike hire and taxis are all available, and the island also has an on-demand bus service.

Inside Explore Orkney

Tankerness House Gardens at the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall


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

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.

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 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.