West Mainland West Mainland

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.

There are the famous standing stones of Ring of Brodgar and Stenness, and the Maeshowe burial chamber. In recent years the area has continued to shed light on Orkney's Neolithic past with the ongoing excavation work at the Ness of Brodgar.

The west coast from the cliffs of Black Craig near Stromness up to the tidal historic island of the Brough of Birsay is storm-lashed and stunning with sea stacks, caves, towering cliffs, the Neolithic village of Skara Brae and a gorgeous sandy beach at Skaill Bay. A ten-mile coastal walk takes in all the sites. Sunsets viewed from here are legendary. Inland there are brown trout fishing lochs, bird reserves of moorland and marsh of international importance, Orkney’s only working watermill at Barony Mills, Birsay and several village communities with shops and tearoom - serving lunches, home bakes and high teas. There are two breweries in the area, with the Orkney Brewery offering tours, food and plenty of samples! Many craftspeople have their studios in the area too.

Near the village of Orphir with its Viking church and farmstead is the ferry pier at Houton for car ferries to Lyness in Hoy. Other villages with shops and community centres are Harray, Dounby, Finstown and the more scattered communities of Evie, Rendall and Twatt. The parish of Sandwick is also spread out with farms and country houses. The two farm museums of Kirbuster and Corrigall are in the west too. Birsay has a shop, tearoom, hotel nearby and the ruins of the Earl’s Palace, once the country pile of Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney, a half brother to Mary, Queen of Scots. His son Patrick, known locally as Black Pat, added to the building. He was executed in 1615 for treason.

The Brough of Birsay can be accessed on foot via a causeway for two hours either side of low tide - tide times are posted at the site and in visitor information centres. It has traces of Pictish buildings, the remains of a Viking monastery and a lighthouse.

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.

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 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.