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  • NorthLink Ferries vessel 'Hamnavoe' heading out into Hoy Sound, Orkney - image courtesy NorthLink Ferries

Getting to Orkney by ferry

With a number of options and departure points ferry travel to Orkney is flexible and lets you enjoy some of the sights before you even arrive.

With over 70 islands and mile upon mile of rugged coastline, Orkney is synonymous with the sea. What better way then, to begin your Orkney adventure than by arriving in true seafaring fashion on the ferry.

With four separate but equally picturesque routes you’ll be spoilt for choice when deciding how best to reach our shores.

A popular option is the 90-minute crossing operated by NorthLink Ferries between Scrabster (near Thurso) on the north coast of Scotland, and Stromness. You’ll sail past the Old Man of Hoy and the UK’s highest vertical sea cliffs at St John’s Head before landing in Orkney’s second most-populous town.

Get a glimpse of the Old Man of Hoy from NorthLink Ferries - image by Colin Keldie

You will be in fine company too as Stromness has been welcoming boats for centuries, thanks in no small part to its fine anchoring points and strategic location. A gateway to Orkney’s west mainland, Stromness is close to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a UNESCO world heritage site which includes Skara Brae, Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar.

Stromness is steeped in maritime history

Another option is the Aberdeen to Kirkwall route also operated by Northlink. A six-hour leisurely trip, this is the perfect opportunity to relax and unwind in preparation for your visit, perhaps peruse the guidebooks and plan how to make the most of your time in Orkney, enjoy some great food and drink, or pick the perfect spot to grab a photo of the stunning landscape as it comes into view on the horizon.

Pentland Ferries offers a regular one hour catamaran crossing beween Gill’s Bay on the north coast of Scotland (close to John O’Groats) and the village of St Margaret’s Hope on the island of South Ronaldsay. This is a gateway to Orkney’s linked south isles and the east mainland of Orkney, and is less than half an hour from our main town, Kirkwall. If you’re heading straight to the main island, your journey will take in the Churchill barriers and the Italian Chapel.

Pentland Ferries arriving at berth in St Margaret's Hope

For those who can’t wait for their holiday to begin, the short hop from John O’Groats to Burwick should prove very appealing. Operated by John O’Groats Ferries exclusively for foot passengers, it is the quickest ferry journey at just 40 minutes. Landing in Burwick, one of the most southerly points in Orkney, this journey is only available between May and September and connects with sightseeing bus tours. It’s popular with day and short-stay visitors and your journey can begin with the linked bus service from Inverness.

The John O'Groats ferry off South Ronaldsay - image by Fiona Annal

If you’re very lucky, whatever journey you choose, you may even spot some of the bigger mammals which regularly enjoy the waters near Orkney, including porpoises, dolphins and orcas.

From culture to history, nature and a rich and ever-expanding heritage, there really is something to suit every taste and interest on Orkney, just a short ferry trip away.

To find out more about visiting Orkney, view our travel page and we look forward to welcoming you soon.

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