If you’re planning a trip to Orkney in 2023 then you might be looking at the calendar, trying to decide when the best time to visit might be.
We’re often asked about the ideal month to travel to the islands for a holiday. Most folk think the summer is best, but the truth is there is something to see and do in Orkney all year round (if you don’t mind a bit of wild weather now and again!)
Take a look at our quick guide to Orkney’s monthly calendar and let us know when you'd most like to come and visit us.
Hibernation might be the only thing on your mind after a hectic festive period. But if you want to blow away the cobwebs and really kickstart your year, a trip to Orkney might be just the thing for you. Think wild walks on our coastline, maybe some beachcombing after a westerly breeze, and then warming up by sipping some local beer, whisky, gin or rum in the corner of a quiet pub.
Wrap up warm and get yourself out to some of Orkney’s incredible archaeological sites in February, when you will quite often have them all to yourself. Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe are always fascinating places to visit, and we’d definitely recommend heading to the Brough of Birsay and the Broch of Gurness too. Don’t forget some of the ‘off the beaten track’ sites, like Rousay’s rich archaeology, and the chambered cairns at Unstan and Cuween, which also offer a bit of shelter from the late-winter weather...
As spring approaches and the days begin to get longer, there’s a sense of new beginnings across the islands. Doors that have been closed over the winter months open once again, including at the fabulous Scapa Flow Museum at Lyness in Hoy. Here you can explore Orkney’s wartime stories through a series of interactive exhibits. Don’t miss our other museums too – places like the Stromness Museum, the Orkney Museum, and the Kirbuster Museum offer fascinating insights into Orcadian history, and heritage centres across the islands give a glimpse into local life during days gone by.
April sees our talented creative community opening their workshops and studios to showcase beautiful handcrafted products. The Creative Orkney Trail is the perfect way to visit them and see some stunning scenery at the same time. The trail takes in 26 stops across six islands, and gives you the chance to meet jewellers, artists, textile designers, traditional furniture makers and more. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled when you’re travelling between stops – hen harriers will be sky dancing and there are plenty of beaches and archaeological attractions to visit en-route.
This is when the islands explode with life, thanks mainly to the welcome return of the first festivals of a packed local calendar. The Orkney Nature Festival gets things underway in mid-May with some fascinating events aimed at exploring the best of our nature and wildlife highlights. Then, over the final weekend at the end of the month, the Orkney Folk Festival brings the sounds of fiddles, guitars and accordions to venues across the islands, although Stromness remains the event’s spiritual home. There is a packed programme once again this year – it’s simply a festival not to be missed.
The month of midsummer and long, lingering days of light. It’s a beautiful time to be in Orkney, with the fields and verges full of colour and our seabird cities on the coast a cacophony of sound (and smells!) You’ll be able to spot puffins in June – places like the Brough of Birsay and the Castle of Burrian in Westray are amongst the best locations to see these colourful characters. June is also the month of the St Magnus International Festival, Orkney’s summer celebration of the arts.
July is all about getting outside and exploring the islands. Archaeologists will be back on site at digs across Orkney, including the fascinating Ness of Brodgar excavation in our UNESCO World Heritage Site. Island hopping is definitely recommended too. Head to Papa Westray for a guided tour with the local ranger, or visit Sanday or Stronsay for a walk on some of the best beaches in Orkney. If you’re feeling fit then head to Hoy and visit the island’s famous Old Man, one of the most spectacular sea stacks you’ll see anywhere.
Orkney’s agricultural heritage is the focus for August. The County Show in Kirkwall on the second Saturday of the month is the culmination of show season, with events held across the islands. Show days are fun-filled and action-packed with plenty to see and do. The County Show offers a wide range of attractions and some excellent local food and drink options too. Activity-wise, the sea temperature is about as warm as it will get in August so it's the perfect time to get out on the ocean wave in a sea kayak. You could also go underwater and explore some of the wartime blockships at the Churchill Barriers with a Discover Scuba Diving session.
With summer sliding into autumn, September is your last chance to visit some of Orkney’s Historic Environment Scotland sites, including the Earl’s and Bishop’s Palaces in Kirkwall, and the fascinating Hackness Martello Tower and Battery in South Walls. And if wild weather arrives early then you can retreat indoors and take in some of the Orkney International Science Festival events. The programme is always packed with interesting speakers and activities for all ages.
As autumn takes hold there are still plenty of events and attractions to tempt you here. What better way to spend part of the month than in the company of international storytellers who gather here every year for the Orkney Storytelling Festival? Sit back and soak up some tall tales and Orcadian folklore at venues across the islands.
Orkney’s wildlife is a year-round attraction, but a real highlight takes place during November. Grey seals begin pupping season during the month, with beaches and bays throughout the islands full of tiny grey pups and their mothers. It’s a fascinating sight, not least when boisterous bull seals arrive on the scene. Take one of our coastal trails and find a quiet spot to watch through binoculars from a distance. Warm up on the way home with a stop at a local café, pub or restaurant.
Celebrating Christmas and New Year in Orkney is a social occasion with a busy calendar of events throughout the month. The St Lucy Procession in early December sees our Scandinavian heritage celebrated at St Magnus Cathedral. Then the Kirkwall Ba games take centre stage on Christmas and New Year’s Day. This incredible spectacle sees the Uppies and Doonies battling through the streets of the town to carry a handcrafted leather ball to their respective goals. Not to be outdone, Stromness hosts its annual Yule Log event on Hogmanay, with Northenders and Southenders taking part in a huge tug-o-war to end the year with bragging rights.
This is just a snapshot of our island calendar and most of the sites and activities mentioned above can be enjoyed all year round too. Explore our Things to Do section for more information, and check out our Inspiration page for more Orkney visit ideas. Visit our Events page for the latest information on what's happening across the islands.