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.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney
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 (no walks on 25 and 26 December or 1 and 2 January). Find out more about the Ranger walks with our video.
Only in Orkney could you stand in the middle of a 5000-year-old stone circle one minute, then find yourself walking along the runway of a former WWII airfield the next. Launched in 2017, guided tours of the HMS Tern base include a look at the remains of some of the buildings at the site, as well as access to the unique control tower. Stories about the airfield and the men stationed there form a major part of the tour, giving visitors a real insight into Orkney’s rich wartime heritage. Tours are available by arrangement - email firstname.lastname@example.org or text 07342 202 530. Keep your eye on Facebook, Twitter and the official HMS Tern website for tour information too.
St Magnus Cathedral
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. Please note the cathedral will be closed on 25th, 26th December and 1st, 2nd January.
If a tour of HMS Tern 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. Tours are available by arrangement - email email@example.com or text 07759 857 298. Keep your eye on Facebook, Twitter and the official Ness Battery website for tour information too.
Food and Drink fun
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 two whisky distilleries and two gin distilleries during a visit to the islands! Highland Park Distillery has a range of guided tours and tastings available over the winter, as does the Scapa Distillery, on the banks of Scapa Flow. Gin is definitely 'in', and Orkney currently has three award-winning producers. You can visit the home of Kirkjuvagr Gin for a tour over the winter, and the Deerness Distillery welcomes folk in for visits and tastings too.
There are always other tours, talks and events available across Orkney throughout the autumn and winter months - take a look at our events page for more details.
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