Stromness is a place shaped by the sea. A safe haven in Viking times, a whaling and herring fishing port, a base for divers and a ferry gateway to Scotland, the town’s maritime heritage is unparalleled.
For visitors, arriving in Stromness with NorthLink Ferries is a special experience; for Orcadians, the twinkling lights of the harbour and the houses are a welcoming sign of home.
Enclosed by the steep Brinkies Brae to the west and the sea to the east, Stromness is a tumbling network of flagstone streets, lanes, piers and slipways. There’s a timeless feel to the town, but its vibrant population ensures that it’s always looking forward. It’s the heart of Orkney’s diving industry, with easy access to the WW1 wrecks in Scapa Flow, and it’s also home to the pioneering renewable energy industry in the islands.
It has always been a centre for the arts, providing plenty of inspiration for its creative community. The world-renowned Pier Arts Centre takes pride of place on the street alongside other galleries and artist studios. Some of Orkney’s finest crafts, textiles and jewellery can be found in independent shops, as well as delicious local food and drink.
Stromness is the base for the Orkney Folk Festival every May, and the Orkney Blues Festival takes over later in the year. These events, and the annual Stromness Shopping Week gala, ensure that life here is never dull.
It’s the kind of place where just a gentle stroll exploring the many nooks and crannies can take up most of the day. Make sure you don’t miss the fascinating Stromness Museum which tells the tale of the town and much more. Blue plaques can be found throughout the street highlighting buildings and stories of interest too. You can even take an audio tour of the town thanks to the Stromness Hometown project, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2022. You can listen to all episodes online.
More recent history can be explored at Ness Battery on the outskirts of the town. A former WW2 camp, the battery’s guns defended the western approaches to Scapa Flow during the conflict. The old gun emplacements are still standing, but so too are some of the original wooden huts.
The battery can be found on part of an excellent walk from the town along the coast to Warebeth. With beautiful views across to Hoy and the Pentland Firth, it’s well work stretching your legs on this route. For the more adventurous visitor, a walk up the steep granite bank of Brinkies Brae is rewarded with stunning scenery towards Scapa Flow – perfect for a summer sunrise.
With an excellent selection of cafes, bars and restaurants, Stromness is a fabulous base for exploring Orkney. There are also all the amenities you’d expect for a town with a population of around 2000 people; there’s a local swimming pool, gym and squash courts, a well-stocked library and a golf course with some of the finest views in the country too.
Orkney’s main X1 bus service connects Stromness, Kirkwall and St Margaret’s Hope, offering a full east/west route, passing close to many of Orkney’s most important archaeological sites.