We know that you might be looking for the latest information on visiting Orkney as you begin to plan any potential holidays in 2020.
We’ve tried to answer some of the most frequently asked questions we’re receiving below, but announcements are being made almost daily, and developments depend on the prevalence of COVID-19 nationally.
We’ll do our best to keep this information as up-to-date as possible, but do please remember to check travel, accommodation and touring provider websites and social media for more information.
Can I visit Orkney?
Yes, you can travel to Orkney. According to the Scottish Government’s Route Map, self-catering properties without shared facilities can open from 3rd July, and all holiday accommodation can open from 15th July – subject to following relevant guidance.
It’s expected that many accommodation providers in Orkney will open for business, but it is inevitable that some will remain closed. Others may open after 15th July, so please check with individual providers to confirm. You can search for accommodation options via Orkney.com.
Capacity on flights and ferries to Orkney is still restricted due to physical distancing. Please don’t travel to Orkney without confirmed travel and accommodation bookings.
What should I do if I start to suffer symptoms of Coronavirus/COVID-19 when I’m in Orkney?
If you or a family member feel unwell with a new continuous cough OR fever OR loss of/change in sense of smell or taste which started within the last 7 days, you should self-isolate immediately, notify your accommodation provider and book a test via NHS Inform. Find out more information on what to do next from our health advice page. If you are unsure or your symptoms worsen please call NHS24 on 111 for advice or guidance or visit the NHS Inform website.
If you have a medical emergency call 999 and tell them you have COVID-19 symptoms.
What should I do if I develop COVID-19 symptoms, or arrive with them, in Orkney?
You should immediately book a test through the NHS Inform website and, in line with Test and Protect, self-isolate for ten days. Everyone in your household should isolate for 14 days. If the test is negative, everyone can end isolation. If it’s positive, everyone should continue to isolate and NHS Test and Protect will be in touch to begin contact tracing. Those contacted via Test and Protect will have to self-isolate for 14 days.
If guests who are isolating can travel home safely, avoiding the use of public transport, then they should do this. If this is not possible, guests are expected to remain in their accommodation or make alternative arrangements and are expected to be able to cover any additional costs. In the event that this is not possible, the guest should discuss this with the NHS Test and Protect team. The guest may be signposted to the National Assistance Helpline on 0800 111 4000 if they need help to isolate and cannot arrange it themselves or through friends and family.
After the required period of self-isolation, guests and anyone else in their party who has been affected can then return to their main place of residence.
Where can I find information about transport options for visiting Orkney?
NORTHLINK UPDATE - 5th AUGUST - local restrictions have been put in place in Aberdeen following new COVID-19 cases identified in the community. NorthLink Ferries are providing lifeline connections as they have done throughout previous lockdown phases to maintain connectivity and will inform all those travelling (both northbound and southbound) of the issued Scottish Government guidance on local Aberdeen restrictions. These are:
- People should not travel more than five miles for leisure purposes.
- Travelling for work or education is permitted, but other travel is not advised.
- Do not travel to Aberdeen.
- Do not go into each others’ houses (with the exception of extended household groups).
- All indoor and outdoor hospitality in the city to close tonight, which will be enforced if necessary.
As such it will be for those travelling to decide if they wish to do so given issued guidance.
Capacity on flights and ferries to Orkney is still restricted due to physical distancing - please don’t travel to Orkney without confirmed travel and accommodation bookings.
Can I bring a campervan or caravan to Orkney?
Orkney Islands Council opened its Point of Ness Campsite in Stromness, the Hoy Outdoor Centre and the Rackwick Hostel on 20th July. The Birsay Campsite will reopen on 12th August until 30th September, although the hostel beside the campsite will remain closed until further notice. Bookings and payments for all these sites must be made in advance online, by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 01856 873 535. Visit the Orkney Islands Council website for more information on all these facilities and how to book.
The Orkney Caravan Park will remain closed for the 2020 season. Staff are currently working through all refunds and cancellations, however due to reduced staffing numbers refunds may take slightly longer than normal to process. Any queries should be directed to email@example.com.
In line with recent guidance from the Scottish Government., motorhomes or caravans will be able to dispose of chemical waste and fill up with fresh water at the Point of Ness Campsite and the Orkney Caravan Park in Kirkwall from 3rd July.
People visiting either site to do this will be asked to observe hand hygiene and physical distancing requirements.
All developments will be dependent on public health advice at the time and a decision by the Scottish Government to move to Phase 3 of the route-map out of lockdown.
Can I travel within Orkney?
At the moment, Orkney Ferries services are operating on a revised timetable. There is no restriction on travel but there are capacity issues due to physical distancing guidelines, so please consider whether your journey is necessary and avoid travelling at busy times. All passengers must book in advance. You can book by phoning 01856 872 044. Visit the Orkney Ferries website for updated information.
Loganair’s inter-isles flights are operating.
Local bus services for the Orkney mainland, South Ronaldsay and Burray are operating as normal. Changes made for Bus Routes 2 (Kirkwall – Houton) and 6 (Kirkwall - Tingwall) remain in place to fit in with revised ferry timetables. Information on how to stay safe when travelling by bus is available on the Stagecoach website.
Passengers are reminded that face coverings should be worn when boarding and during their journey by bus. One-metre physical distancing measures are in place on buses and this reduces the number of passengers that can be carried.
Are there things to see and do in Orkney at the moment?
At the moment, in line with Scottish Government guidelines, many of Orkney’s visitor attractions and sites are closed. This includes all staffed Historic Environment Scotland locations, local museums and visitor centres. As restrictions are loosened it is expected that some sites will begin to reopen. We are regularly updating a list of attractions that are currently open. Please check with dedicated websites and social media profiles before planning a visit once travel restrictions are removed. Please understand too that some attractions may not open with the same offering as before.
Our natural environment - including beaches, coastal trails and viewpoints – is always open and provides the ideal opportunity to see the best of Orkney, with plenty of scope for physical distancing.
Are public toilets open?
Orkney Islands Council has re-opened a number of public toilets; at the Travel Centre and St Magnus Lane in Kirkwall, at the Pier Head and Ferry Road in Stromness, and in Finstown, Stenness, St Mary's and the Cromarty Square in St Margaret's Hope. More will follow over the weeks ahead. Take a look at our map for exact locations (we will continue to update this map as more toilets are opened). Each of these sites has one ladies’ toilet, one gents’ toilet and an accessible toilet available for use. It's hope all public toilets will be open during August. More information is available on the Orkney Islands Council website.
Are local shops and restaurants open?
A number of local shops are beginning to open, following appropriate guidance from the Scottish Government. Indoor hospitality can reopen from 15th July subject to physical distancing rules and public health advice, but that doesn’t mean that all local businesses will be able to open. Please check in advance before planning your visit.
We’re taking our car – are town centre parking areas open and is there a charge?
Car parks are open in Orkney. Charges will be reintroduced from 15th July. Local car parking charges are very low though – 60p for an hour and £2.70 for three hours. We also have many town-centre electric vehicle charging points available for use by the public too. More details are available on the Orkney Islands Council website.
We’ve visited Orkney for many years and one of the things we enjoy most is meeting local people. Should we avoid local residents as much as possible this year?
It doesn't come naturally, but we are all having to keep our distance at the moment. You will still be coming into contact with local people, at ferry terminals or the airport, buying a meal or doing your shopping. Conversations will still be struck and friendships made. But we would ask that you avoid unnecessary contact with other people during your stay, and follow all the guidelines, including wearing face coverings where physical distancing is not possible and washing your hands regularly.
We have self-catering accommodation booked and will be preparing most of our own food. Should we avoid small, local shops to buy our provisions from the larger outlets?
Many local grocers and other retailers have played a vital role in keeping us all supplied with essentials during lockdown. They take the threat of Coronavirus/COVID-19 extremely seriously and have put in place measures to protect customers and staff. The choice of where to shop is entirely yours, and we do have a good range of large supermarket chains. But smaller outlets tend to stock a wider range of our fantastic local produce, and now more than ever need your support. Most also offer a home delivery service. Please make sure to read any information posted outside shops before entering, and follow guidelines carefully. Supporting local retailers, responsibly, will help ensure your visit to the islands gives the maximum benefit to the local community.
The roads where we live have become much quieter over the past few months and we are using our bikes to get around much more. Is it a similar situation in Orkney?
Local roads have been much quieter during lockdown, but are starting to get busier again as restrictions are slowly eased. Most roads here are fairly cycle-friendly, though the main route between Kirkwall and Stromness is comparatively fast, and can get busy at times. As more people are cycling hopefully vehicle drivers everywhere are becoming more bike-aware, but do take all standard precautions such as wearing a helmet and high-vis clothing. Also be aware that some routine work such as verge-trimming may have been suspended in some areas - meaning that drivers may not have clear lines of sight at junctions and bends in the road.
I don’t think I’m ready to visit just yet, should I wait until later in the year?
We want you to enjoy your visit to the islands. Local businesses and services are putting in a lot of work to make sure things are as safe as possible, so you shouldn’t feel daunted by the prospect of a holiday here at the moment. However, it’s completely understandable if you’d prefer to wait. Depending on developments with the COVID-19 pandemic and any potential restrictions to travel and movement in the future, we’d be delighted to welcome you here in the autumn or winter. The weather can be wild sometimes, but that only adds to the island experience. Our natural attractions, and many of our main sites, fantastic shops, cafes, bars and restaurants are open all year round. It might be colder outside, but you’ll certainly receive a warm Orcadian welcome whenever you decide to visit us.
If there is anything else you'd like to know then get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll do our best to help. If you have an accommodation-related query, contact Destination Orkney via email@example.com. Questions about transport should be directed to the relevant provider.