Orkney can be a beautiful, wild and invigorating place to be at this time of year. But, sometimes, the weather does get the best of us here at 59 degrees north.
Visitors shouldn’t let that impact on their autumn and winter holidays, though – there is still so much to see and do, all with a roof over your head. Here are some of our favourite indoor activities in Orkney.
St Magnus Cathedral is a beautiful place to visit at any time of year. Found in the heart of Kirkwall, ‘the light of the north’ is a stunning sandstone building more than 800 years old. Its doors open at 9am every Monday to Saturday, and there are fantastic tours of the upper levels every Thursday and Saturday at 11am and 2pm too (admittedly, you might need a hat and coat for the views from the cathedral spire!). The Italian Chapel and Maeshowe are well worth visiting too, and offer glimpses into Orkney’s wartime, Neolithic and Norse past.
History is all around you in Orkney. Our excellent array of museums and heritage centres offer incredible displays and exhibitions, giving you the perfect chance to explore the story of our islands. Both the Orkney Museum and the Stromness Museum have extensive collections, from the Neolithic right up to the recent past. The Orkney Fossil & Heritage Centre in Burray goes back even further, featuring fossils millions of years old. Our island heritage centres are treasure troves of information about life in our smaller communities too. Most islands have their own, and plenty of other attractions to see during your visit.
Orkney has a fantastic collection of artists, and there are so many galleries and exhibitions that should definitely be on your island itineraries. Start at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, which offers its stunning permanent collection as well as an ever-changing series of temporary exhibitions. Just before Christmas there is an open exhibition too, bringing together work by artists from around Orkney.
Stromness also has the Waterfront Gallery, the Northlight Gallery and ArtWorks of the Earth. In Birsay you and visit the Yellowbird Gallery, and over the Churchill Barriers you can see The Workshop and Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope. Kirkwall offers the For Arts Sake gallery, and in the isles it’s well worth a visit to Sanday’s Gallery in the Nortwa’, and Westray’s Wheeling Steen Gallery. Visit the Creative Orkney website to find out more about our creative community.
The Pickaquoy Centre is a one-stop-shop of activities for all ages. For young ones there is the leisure pool, soft play area, climbing wall, bouldering room and the main arena, with options for badminton, football and much more. Add in the main pool, spa and sauna, squash courts, gym, cinema and a café, and you won’t be short of options. Visit the official website for more information.
Get up close with wildlife
One of Orkney’s newest attractions is the Fernvalley Wildlife Centre in the west mainland. The centre is home to a wide range of exotic rescue animals, including meerkats, lizards, terrapins, snakes and beautiful African pygmy hedgehogs. There are regular animal talks, meet and greet sessions – where you get the chance to handle some of the wildlife residents – and private tours all available, as well as an excellent coffee shop too. Find out how you can visit with the official website.
If the weather turns bad then there are worse places to be than inside, sampling a drop or two of the finest whiskies, gins and vodka to be found anywhere in Scotland. Many of our producers offer tours and tastings, including Highland Park Distillery and Scapa Distillery for whisky fans, the Orkney Distillery and the Deerness Distillery for gin lovers, and the Orkney Brewery for beer drinkers. Of course, you can visit them all, no matter your choice of tipple!
The Creative Orkney trail is the best way to see some of our incredibly talented craftspeople in their workshops. You can drop in past furniture makers, jewellers, artists, potters and knitwear designers to watch them in action, and discover some of their products too. The trail is also a great way to see parts of the islands that otherwise might pass you by. Take a look at our creative trail website to find out who you can visit.
On the stormiest days of autumn and winter, perhaps all you need is a good cup of coffee (and maybe a peedie bit of cake to go with it). If that’s the case, then Orkney has you well covered. There are fantastic coffee shops all around the islands, including Robertson’s Coffee Hoose in St Margaret’s Hope, Sheila Fleet’s Kirk Gallery and Cafe in the east mainland, Archive Coffee in Kirkwall, The Tearoom in Stromness, the Birsay Bay Tearoom in Birsay and much more. Many of our hotels will offer warming hot drinks and bites to eat, too. You’ll never go hungry – or cold – in Orkney!
The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.