Kirkwall, Orkney

The capital of Orkney, the small city of Kirkwall is home to the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral and has an excellent shopping street, restaurants, pubs and evening entertainment available.

Kirkwall is the busy heart of Orkney – inside the town, there are places where you can escape the bustle and rush. Tankerness House, with its marvellous little museum, and behind, a wide garden, rich in summer blossom and bees, where you can sit and linger. Across the street, in the roseate gloom of St Magnus Cathedral, you step into history.

George Mackay Brown, Portrait of Orkney
Kirkwall waterfront, Orkney

Kirkwall harbour is busy with boats to the North Isles of Orkney, and 2 miles from the town centre is the Hatston Ferry Terminal, where the Hrossey and Hjaltland will transport passengers to Aberdeen or Lerwick.

Kirkwall from Wideford Hill, Orkney

Sites of interest include:

  1. Hatston Ferry Terminal – where the MV Hrossey and MV Hjaltland dock. These NorthLink Ferries travel to and from Aberdeen and Lerwick. Tickets can be purchased from Hatston – though as these sailings are popular, pre-booking is advised.
  2. NorthLink Kiln Corner Office – NorthLink Ferries tickets can be booked and amended by our friendly staff based here between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.
St Magnus Cathedral at night in Kirkwall, Orkney
  1. St Magnus Cathedral – this red sandstone cathedral was built in 1137 by Rognvald Kolson as a dedication to the martyred Orkney Earl Magnus. St Magnus’s remains were placed in a shrine in the east end of the building.
    A beautiful centerpiece to Kirkwall, St Magnus Cathedral plays a strong part of Orcadian life, with church services throughout the year, and wedding ceremonies taking place throughout the summer. Tours of the Cathedral are available.
The Earls Palace in Kirkwall, Orkney
  1. The Bishop’s and Earl’s Palace – the Bishops palace dates from the building of the Cathedral, and the Earls Palace was created in the 17th Century by the notorious Earl Patrick Stewart – these are both wonderful buildings to explore.
  2. Highland Park Distillery – the most Northerly Distillery in the Scotland, Highland Park can be found on the outskirts of Kirkwall and is well worth a visit. The unique flavour of the whisky is created from barley dried with peat smoke, and spring water from the hill behind the distillery.
  3. Orkney Golf Course – Kirkwall’s large 18 hole golf course offers stunning views of the North Isles and Kirkwall.
  4. Pickaquoy Centre and Camp Site – The Pickaquoy Centre offers facilities for campers and is also a sports and leisure centre, including a cinema showing the latest releases.
Tankerness house and gardens in Kirkwall, Orkney
  1. The Orkney Museum – home to many of Orkney’s archaeological and historical treasures, the Orkney Museum (in Tankerness House) can be found directly opposite the St Magnus Cathedral. The Tankerness House Gardens behind the museum are a peaceful place to sit on a nice day.
  2. Orkney Library and Archive – the Library in Kirkwall contains a wide range of Orkney books and other titles, but also has internet access and an archive, which would be the first stop for anyone researching Orkney Family History.
Ayre Road, Kirkwall in Orkney

Top tips

  • Visitors to Kirkwall over Christmas and New Year will be surprised to see shop windows being boarded up. This is to protect them from damage during the Ba game – a rugby scrum where two halves of the town fight over a ball, held on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  • Visitors can explore the upper areas of the Cathedral in small group tours. Stunning views of the Cathedral and the Orkney Mainland can be seen from the tower for a small fee.