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.
Those who arrive in Orkney on the ferry from Scrabster near Thurso are treated to the best view of the stone town with its piers, nousts, stores and terraces of houses, watched over by the hill of Brinkie’s Brae.
Like Kirkwall, Stromness has one ‘street’ that meanders through the town, changing its name along the route. From the north it runs through Ferry Road, Victoria Street, Graham Place, Dundas Street, Alfred Street, Southend and Ness Road. Look out for Khyber Pass, Hellihole and Rae’s Close, named after Arctic explorer Dr John Rae, on your way. You can also take an audio trip through the street, along with local voices from the past and present, with the Stromness Hometown project - download the files to begin your journey.
It may be a haven for the arty crowd and festival goers but Stromness is also a working town with useful and interesting shops and all the facilities needed to live, work and play. It is a busy diving destination with several companies offering dive charters. And increasingly Stromness is at the forefront of Orkney’s pioneering renewable energy industry with the not only the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), but many supply chain companies and university students all based in the town; Stromness is home to Heriot Watt's Orkney campus. Stromness is where you'll find Orkney Fishermen's Society, the UK's largest crab processor, Stockan's Oatcakes and Argo's Bakery, which produces our famous Orkney Fudge.
The town has plenty of attractions, from the superb Stromness Museum to the world renowned Pier Arts Centre, and plenty of independent shops, restaurants and pubs inbetween. Stromness also plays host to the annual Orkney Folk Festival every May, when pubs and and venues are full of music and performances all weekend long. And every July the town comes alive during Stromness Shopping Week, with music, performances, charity events and lots more attracting thousands of folk every year.
Stromness maintains its maritime heritage through being the gateway to Orkney on the ferry from Scrabster, and it also has its own marina with 72 berths.
According to George Mackay Brown, the first house in the town was a hostelry on the Cairston shore which was granted a charter in 1580. The safe harbour of Hamnavoe grew as a port and merchant town during the European wars in the 17th to 19th centuries which made the English Channel dangerous. Ships including Captain Cook’s Discovery and Resolution called in 1780 and Sir John Franklin called in before his fatal journey to the Arctic. Hudson’s Bay Company ships took on men, provisions and water at Login’s Well in the town in the 18th and 19th centuries and Arctic whalers from East Coast ports also took on men for the whale fishery in Greenland and Iceland. Famous inhabitants of Stromness included the painter Sir Stanley Cursiter, Isabel Gunn who joined the HBC disguised as a man and Eliza Fraser who was shipwrecked in Australia. Sir Walter Scott based several of his colourful fictional characters on Stromnessians.
Inside Explore Orkney
Orkney's capital dates back to Norse times, in the 11th century, when it was called Kirkjuvagr (Church of the bay).More
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.More
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.More
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.More
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.More
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.More
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.More
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.More
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.More
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.More
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.More
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.More
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.More
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.More
Westray is known as the Queen o’ the Isles and is a vibrant place to live, work and visit.More