Winter in Orkney can be a wild place to be, but you can still get the most out of a visit to the islands.
If you are happy to brave the weather then there are plenty of guided tours available all-year-round at some of our most fascinating sites.
You can see ancient stone circles, explore our wartime heritage and visit the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral, all accompanied by knowledgeable guides. Don't fear, though, there are some indoor options, too.
We've picked out some of the guided tours you can join across Orkney over the winter months, before the days start to get longer once again.
Orkney’s UNESCO World Heritage Site is a major draw for visitors during the summer months, but it can be a different story during autumn and winter. The change in season brings a change in atmosphere, with low light transforming places like the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. The fantastic Historic Environment Scotland Ranger Service continues to run free guided walks at both sites throughout the winter – strike it lucky and you might have your own personal tour guide.
Join them at the Standing Stones of Stenness and Barnhouse Village on Wednesdays at 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar on Thursdays at 1pm until 14th December 2023, starting again on 10th January 2024 until 30th March 2024.
You can also get a guided tour inside the incredible chambered cairn at Maeshowe, complete with its Viking runic graffiti. Booking is essential - find out more via the Historic Environment Scotland website.
If Orkney's wartime history is up your street then a visit to Ness Battery, perched on the south west tip of the Orkney mainland, should definitely be on your list. The gun battery at Ness helped guard the Royal Navy anchorage of Scapa Flow during WWII and a guided tour will let you experience the looming battery buildings first hand. You’ll also see inside the wooden mess huts, some of the last remaining of their type in the UK. One of the huts features a beautiful mural, hand-painted by a soldier stationed there more than seventy years ago. It’s a fascinating trip back in time.
This beautiful sandstone cathedral sits in the heart of Kirkwall and looks stunning when lit up during the dark winter nights. The building has played a central role in nearly 900 years of Orcadian history and thousands of people step inside every year to find out more. Only a handful get a behind-the-scenes look though. Guided tours of the upper levels of the cathedral are held every Thursday and Saturday, giving visitors the chance to see historical artefacts, the clock mechanism, the cathedral bells and the stunning view over the town from the base of the spire. The passageways are small and the steps are steep, but if you are up for the challenge a trip upstairs is well worth it. Read our blog and watch our video about the St Magnus Cathedral tours.
Tours are held at 11am and 2pm on Thursdays and Saturdays until the beginning of April. Find out how you can book your spot.
If you're still after some food and drink delights following the festive period then there are always plenty of choices in Orkney. You can tour whisky and gin distilleries during a visit to the islands. Highland Park Distillery and Scapa Distillery have a range of guided tours and tastings available over the winter. Contact the distilleries directly to book in advance.
Meanwhile, gin is definitely 'in', and Orkney currently has three award-winning producers. You can visit the home of Kirkjuvagr Gin for tours and tastings over the winter, and the Deerness Distillery welcomes folk in for visits and tastings too.
J. Gow Rum is also open for tastings and tours if that's your preferred tipple, and even though the Orkney Brewery Visitor Centre is closed until spring, the new Peedie Bottle Shop on Albert Street in Kirkwall has a wide selection of beers, with tastings available too.