Visiting Orkney in autumn - our top tips!

Autumn in Orkney is a special time of year.

It's a season full of dramatic light, stunning sunsets, wild weather and so much more.

Things settle into a calmer way of life too after the whirlwind of summer activity, giving you the perfect chance to visit some of our sites in solitude.

Read all about our favourite things to see and do during autumn in Orkney.


Scara Brae in Orkney - image in Colin Keldie
Scara Brae in Orkney - image in Colin Keldie

After the summer season, the autumn months take on a completely different feel. Visitors can truly indulge in some peace and quiet across a range of stunning sites; why not take in a September sunset at the Ring of Brodgar or brave the beach at Skaill after visiting Skara Brae? There is still time to visit places like Tomb of the Eagles and Skaill House before they close for the winter too.

The weather in Orkney during autumn can be changeable to say the least. Come prepared for anything, but also be ready to retreat indoors if you need to! Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of historical delights to be found with a roof over your head.

The Orkney Museum in Kirkwall is open throughout the year, with the Stromness Museum open until the end of October, and both are full of fantastic collections, exploring more than 5000 years of history. You can visit heritage centres in Eday, Flotta, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Rousay, Sanday, Shapinsay and Westray. All are full of information and artefacts exploring island life. Don’t forget places like Ness Battery and St Magnus Cathedral too, where guided tours are available to engage and inspire you.


The Orkney Storytelling Festival returns in October
The Orkney Storytelling Festival returns in October

Orcadians have always enjoyed a good story. Tall tales told by the fireside in old crofts have been passed down through the generations, and now that oral tradition is celebrated every year at the Orkney Storytelling Festival.

The rich folklore of Orkney, with mystical selkie folk, mischievous trows and malevolent stoor-worms, provides a captivating basis for the festival, which also welcomes visiting storytellers from around the world. Listen in as legends are brought to life at venues across the islands with a packed programme of events at the end of October. There’s nothing better than stepping inside, wrapping up warm and listening to good stories told well.

Orcadians are proud of our food and drink heritage too. A dram by the fire is an essential part of island life for many – explore where those drams come from with a tour of Highland Park Distillery and Scapa Distillery. You’ll learn all about the heritage of these world-famous whiskies, and you’ll get a sample or two as well.

You can also see beer from the Orkney Brewery being made on a tour of its headquarters in Quoyloo, and enjoy a pint or two in the café. Both the Deerness Distillery and the Orkney Distillery offer tours and tasters now as well.


Autumn brings the return of the grey seal pupping season - image by Adam Hough
Autumn brings the return of the grey seal pupping season - image by Adam Hough

The different seasons bring their own natural highlights, and autumn is such a perfect time to experience wild Orkney. September brings the grey seal pupping season, which can last until mid-December. These tiny animals have a harsh introduction to life, surviving on rocky island shores until they’re old and strong enough to find their way into the sea.

Some of the best seal-watching sites can be found in the north isles, where hundreds of seals gather onshore. Windwick in South Ronaldsay is one of the best sites on the mainland, with an elevated view over the beach – a word of caution though, getting too close to the pups and their mothers is not a good idea, these animals are best observed from a very respectful distance.

Remember to look to the skies as well as the seas during the autumn months – you never know what you’ll find. Migrating birds pass over the islands on a constant basis and you could see the likes of redwings, siskins and bramblings, as well as barnacle and pink-footed geese. There will be waders in the fields and on the shore, plus a whole host of other possibilities. Take a trip to the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory for the chance to see some rare and beautiful visitors, or travel to one of our 13 RSPB reserves.


Head into the Hoy hills for a hike this autumn
Head into the Hoy hills for a hike this autumn

Autumn may very well be the best time of year to embrace the elements in Orkney. There are often beautiful sunsets as the days get shorter, with the sun setting behind the Hoy hills, illuminating the sandstone cliffs with a soft pink glow.

Then, the next day, you could be out and about in the face of a gale as waves crash against the coast and cliffs at Yesnaby, Marwick, Mull Head and Costa. The aftermath of these storms can make beachcombing a fascinating pursuit too, as items from as far afield as Canada, the United States and the Caribbean can be found washed up on the shore.

You could also catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis in the autumn, with flashes of green, red and purple light dancing across the night sky.

Island hopping is one of the great Orkney adventures too. These communities all hold a magical quality and with the autumn light and dramatic skies, days spent exploring them are well worth it. You could blow away the cobwebs with a walk to Orkney’s highest point on Ward Hill in Hoy. How about a day-trip to Papa Westray, and the chance to experience the eclectic Oy Festival, or a walk on Flotta’s wartime trail? The possibilities are endless.

There is always somewhere to explore in Orkney, so why not come and take a closer look during autumn, whatever the weather.

To find out more check out the rest of our website for travel and accommodation options, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube for all the latest updates, news and stunning videos and photography from Orkney. Newsletter

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