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Experience Orkney's coasts and waters

Celebrate Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters in Orkney.

With nearly 600 miles of coastline and 16 inhabited islands, where better to spend the Year of Coasts and Waters than Orkney?

Our archipelago has been shaped by the sea over thousands of years, and now it’s time to celebrate everything the waters around the islands have to offer.

Here are nine different ways you can experience our coasts and waters in 2020 and 2021.

Plot a course for one of Orkney’s smaller islands and you’ll quickly become captivated by our friendly and welcoming communities. Hop on a ferry or buckle up on our eight-seater airplane and explore the history and heritage of places like Westray, Papa Westray and Rousay. Walk on the golden shores of Sanday, or visit Stronsay, a craft-lover's paradise. Smaller islands like Shapinsay and Eday are perfect for day trips too. Then there’s Hoy, Orkney’s high island, with its huge hills, its famous Old Man and some of Orkney’s most special scenery.

Pack your trusty camera, a pair of binoculars and plenty of patience, and you’re certain to be rewarded with some spectacular wildlife sightings around Orkney’s coasts and waters. You’ll see seals pretty much everywhere, and if you’re lucky a pod of orca will make an appearance too. Orkney’s puffin population arrives back in the islands every summer, and thousands of seabirds make the cliffs around Orkney their home too.

A blast of fresh sea air is one of the best things about island living. Add in some stunning scenery, with sea stacks, towering cliffs and a fantastically craggy coastline, and you’ll love your trip to the outer edges of Orkney. How about a wild walk, or a visit to one of our many beautiful beaches? You’ll always find something to keep you entertained on our coast.

As you’d expect from an archipelago like Orkney, there are several lighthouses dotted around the islands, helping mariners navigate away from the shore. You can climb to the top of the UK’s tallest land-based lighthouse in North Ronaldsay, or visit Start Point in Sanday, with the lighthouse only accessible only at low tide. Westray’s Noup Head lighthouse is perched on the edge of spectacular cliffs, and you can even spend the night in the lighthouse cottages at Cantick Head in South Walls – perfect for experiencing life on the edge.

Head below the surface of Scapa Flow in Orkney and you’ll find one of the world’s finest wreck-diving sites. The remains of the German High Seas Fleet rest on the seabed here, attracting divers from around the globe every year. There are other wartime wrecks in shallower water too, like the blockships at the Churchill Barriers, that are perfect for exploring.

Orkney is a foodie’s heaven, especially if it’s seafood you’re after. The cool, clean waters surrounding these islands provide some of the best shellfish you’ll find anywhere, with crab, scallops, lobster and prawns all popular dishes on local menus. Even seaweed is foraged and included in one of Orkney Craft Vinegar’s products.

You’ll find plenty of amazing archaeology along Orkney’s coastline. Ancient Orcadians built the Neolithic village of Skara Brae on the shore of the Bay of Skaill, and during the Iron Age, brochs sprung up at places like Gurness and Midhowe. All these sites are fascinating places to visit today. Climate change and rising sea levels are having an impact though, especially on the excavation work at Swandro in Rousay. Make sure you visit this incredible location before it’s too late.

Our creative community has always been inspired by the waters surrounding us. Local jewellery-makers see shapes and special designs in the waves, and artists paint stunning seascapes after coastline walks. The sea also provides material for our furniture makers, providing driftwood for chairs and tables and collected by beachcombers just like generations of Orcadians that have come before. You can see some of these talented people at work on our Creative Trail.

The waters around Orkney don’t only provide food, inspiration and relaxation – they’re also home to one of the most innovative industries in the world. Thanks to the power of our tides and waves, Orkney is at the centre of renewable energy developments, with more marine energy devices tested here than anywhere else in the world. You’ll often see tidal turbines, barges and vessels at piers around the islands, which are all just a sign of the energy expertise at home here.


We hope you can find plenty of ideas on how to celebrate the Year of Coasts and Waters in Orkney during 2020 and 2021. Plan your trip and search for accommodation, or sign up to our monthly newsletter for regular updates from the islands.

The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020

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