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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 hundreds of miles of rugged coastline, Orkney is synonymous with the sea. There's no better way 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 islands.

NorthLink Ferries operates a 90-minute crossing operated 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 berthing in Orkney’s second largest town.

NorthLink's 'Hamnavoe', sailing past the cliffs of Hoy


You will be in fine company too as Stromness has a rich maritime past and has been welcoming vessels for centuries. A gateway to Orkney’s west mainland, Stromness is close to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, our UNESCO world heritage site which includes Skara Brae, Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar.

Another option is NorthLink's route between Aberdeen and Kirkwall. A six-hour cruise, this is the perfect opportunity to relax and unwind in preparation for your visit. You can enjoy some fabulous local 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 daily one-hour-long crossings beween Gills Bay on the north coast of Scotland (close to John O’Groats) and St Margaret’s Hope in 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 our mainland, your journey will take in the Churchill Barriers and the Italian Chapel.

Pentland Ferries' 'Alfred' arriving 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 could prove very appealing. Operated by John O’Groats Ferries exclusively for foot passengers, it is the quickest ferry journey at just 40 minutes. Arriving 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 also begin with the linked bus service from Inverness.

If you’re very lucky, whatever journey you choose, you may even spot some of sealife that regularly visits 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 in Orkney, just a short ferry trip away.

Visit our Plan Your Trip page to find out more about visiting Orkney. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

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