Guide to Orkney

The mysteries of the Orkney Islands never fail to attract young and old from far and near. The long-gone voices from the ancient sites dotted around these islands could tell us many tales of ancient civilisations, religious customs, and much more at which we can only guess. The voices may be quiet now, but they have left extraordinary remains of villages, howes, stone circles, and tombs which fire the imagination of all who visit them.

Of Orkney’s incredible allure and huge range of attractions, though, there is perhaps less mystery. Green, rolling fields bordered by huge seascapes, the festivals and shows, stacks and crashing seas, the sunken fleet at Scapa Flow, wonderful food and drink, island-hopping, golf at midnight in mid-summer, Orcadian music and crafts and of course spectacular wildlife.

In Orkney you can even feel the air and the pace of life doing you good.

Our day on Rousay

Our day on Rousay

We spent a fantastic day in the Orkney island of Rousay in the late summer. Rousay is often described as the Egypt of the North because there are over 140 archaeological sites to be found within its 19 square miles! We saw chambered cairns, Iron Age brochs, amazing art and beautiful beaches!

Seals in Sanday with Emma Neave-Webb

Seals in Sanday with Emma Neave-Webb

Emma Neave-Webb is the Sanday Ranger and in the winter months she has been remotely operating the Sanday Seal Cam, which is proudly sponsored by NorthLink Ferries. Broadcasting from a remote beach on the island, the Sanday seal cam shows two pupping beaches in the months when grey seals haul ashore to give birth. We spoke to Emma and she offered a fascinating insight into seal behaviour!

A fantastic day out at Fern Valley Wildlife Centre

A fantastic day out at Fern Valley Wildlife Centre

If you're looking for a great place to go in Orkney, then we'd heartily recommend Fern Valley. Based in Rendall, Fern Valley is a fabulous animal centre and tearoom under the one roof which opened in the summer of 2017. All of the animals that live there are exotic rescue animals; visit for a chance to get up close to African Pygmy Hedgehogs, Meerkats and Raccoon dogs!

Jewellery Designers of Orkney

Jewellery Designers of Orkney

It's easy to see why the lovely Orkney islands attract so many writers, artists and makers to its shores. There is inspiration to be easily found just outside your front door! In recent years, the Orkney craft industry has developed a reputation for producing many talented designers of beautiful and unique jewellery. Find out what inspires these amazing people!

A Brief History of Stromness

A Brief History of Stromness

The town of Stromness in the Orkney Islands has a fascinating salt-encrusted history and this year the town celebrates 200 years since it became a Burgh of Barony and 150 years of the Stromness Lifeboat. We've delved into the history of Stromness to find out about the events which shaped the town through the years!

Food from the Orkney Islands that you must try!

Food from the Orkney Islands that you must try!

When visiting the Orkney Islands you’ll find that, as well as having a unique history and heritage, Orkney also has some unique and very tasty food to try! The Orkney menu owes much to the fresh air, fertile fields and rich seas around the islands. Make sure you sample some of our suggestions before you take your ferry home!

Our trip to the Barony Mill

Our trip to the Barony Mill

The Barony Mill in Birsay is a working watermill, the only one in Orkney. During the winter, the miller makes beremeal, from an ancient form of barley, which has been used in Orkney since the stone age. We'd highly recommend the Barony Mill as a must-see to any visitor to Orkney; it has a fascinating tour. The children particularly enjoyed making the mill come to life!

Where in Orkney do you find…

Where in Orkney do you find…

Looking for puffins, standing stones, sea stacks, owls, otters, groatie buckies or Viking runes in Orkney? We've written a handy guide to the Orkney islands which should answer your questions and point you in the right direction!

Fifteen fascinating facts about Stromness you may not know!

Fifteen fascinating facts about Stromness you may not know!

Stromness is a remarkable and beautiful town. It has a salt-encrusted history full of pirates, whalers and explorers. NorthLink Ferries are very proud that our ferry, MV Hamnavoe arrives in Stromness; the town offers a wonderful first impression for visitors to Orkney. We’ve compiled fifteen fascinating facts about Stromness you may not know!

Twelve great Stromness places to see

Twelve great Stromness places to see

Stromness is a unique and picturesque town in the Orkney Islands, and we'd highly recommend a visit! The town is hemmed in by a steep hill on one side and the sea on the other. It has a lovely waterfront of houses, piers and jetties. Stromness has a colourful maritime history and this year it celebrates 200 years as a Burgh of Barony. We've compiled a list of 12 great places to see around the town!

Fly Fishing in Orkney

Fly Fishing in Orkney

One of the many attractions of Orkney are the expansive lochs which dominate much of the West Mainland. These are filled with Brown Trout and are popular with fishermen from Orkney and further afield. We asked Neil Chalmers, the Freight Supervisor for MV Hamnavoe and a keen fly fisherman all about his experiences fishing in Orkney!

Meeting Orkney Alpacas at Skate Rumple Farm

Meeting Orkney Alpacas at Skate Rumple Farm

If you are an animal-loving family planning to visit Orkney you may even be looking forward to the opportunity to see seals and puffins. Alpacas may be the last animal you would expect to see! However we spent a wonderful afternoon at Skate Rumple Farm in Deerness, Orkney. There we met Orkney Alpacas, baby goats, North Ronaldsay Sheep and more!

Ten further hidden gems of Orkney

Ten further hidden gems of Orkney

There are so many great places to see in Orkney - and it's a shame that not all of them are as well known as Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar and the Old Man of Hoy. We've compiled a list, an insider's guide, to some less familiar but still brilliant places to see in Orkney - we hope that you'll agree these are gems indeed!

Twelve essential historical places to visit in Orkney

Twelve essential historical places to visit in Orkney

2017 is the year of History, Heritage and Archaeology - and if you are interested in any of those things, Orkney is one of the most essential places in Scotland to visit - there's an average of three archaeological sites per square mile! We've compiled a list of twelve essential historical places to visit across the Orkney islands.

A walk to the Knowes of Trotty

A walk to the Knowes of Trotty

We think that the award for the best name in Orkney archaeology should go to the Knowes of Trotty - the largest Bronze Age burial site in Scotland. They are located in Harray in the West Mainland at the foot of a heathery hill. My family and I chose a fine autumn day to go on a brilliant walk to find this hidden archaeological treasure!

Fascinating facts about Skara Brae you may not know!

Fascinating facts about Skara Brae you may not know!

One of the most remarkable places to visit in Orkney is the perfectly preserved Stone Age village of Skara Brae. Unlike the burial chambers and standing stones that make up the majority of the amazing archaeology in Orkney, Skara Brae is unique in that it offers us a glimpse into Neolithic everyday life. We've compiled some fascinating facts about Skara Brae you may not know!

12 essential Orkney books

12 essential Orkney books

The culture, landscape and history of the Orkney Islands are a great source of inspiration for poets and writers. If you're keen to do a bit of holiday reading then we've picked hand-picked 12 books that make essential guides to understanding the Orkney Islands. Not only that; they make very fine and entertaining reads!

Charles Tait – a life in pictures

Charles Tait – a life in pictures

Photographer Charles Tait is, to us, a figure central to the Orkney Tourism industry. As well as being the author of several acclaimed local guide books, his photographs have illustrated visitor brochures, calendars and postcards for many years. We asked Charles to share his story along with some tips for budding photographers keen to capture the drama of the Northern Isles!

A tour of the Orkney Brewery

A tour of the Orkney Brewery

Nestled on the wild west coast of Orkney, just 2 miles from the Neolithic village of Skara Brae, is the Orkney Brewery Visitor Centre. It’s an easy destination to recommend to visitors exploring Orkney. Located in a former Victorian schoolhouse; the Orkney Brewery offers informative tours, mouth-watering local food, a warm welcome and spectacular beer.

Skaill House Falconry

Skaill House Falconry

Skaill House Falconry is one of Orkney’s newest attractions. It’s easily found, situated in the grounds of Skaill House next to Skara Brae in the West Mainland. The business is a family affair, run by Keith Austen, along with his wife Andrea and son Lewis. Together they offer a brilliant and personal falconry experience for visitors and Orcadians alike. NorthLink Ferries were delighted when Keith agreed to answer some questions about his birds and the experience folk can expect to have at Skaill House Falconry!

6 Fantastic Cycling Routes in Orkney

6 Fantastic Cycling Routes in Orkney

The Orkney Islands are fantastic to explore by bicycle - cycling is a great pace at which to appreciate the beauty of the landscape and enjoy the fresh air. Bicycles can also be taken free of charge on our ferries! We asked Sean Chalmers, NorthLink's resident cycling expert about his favourite places to go and he came up trumps with six brilliant Orkney routes for keen cyclists!

Inside the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory

Inside the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory

The North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory is located on the most northerly of the Orkney Islands – one famed for rare and interesting migrating birds. We were delighted when Alison Duncan, the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory warden agreed to answer our questions about the Observatory and the fascinating work they do there.

Only have one or two days in Orkney?

Only have one or two days in Orkney?

We'd always recommend visiting Orkney for a few days to get a full flavour of the isles. However, if one or two days in Orkney is all you have, here are the essential sites we'd recommend you visit during that time!

All about Orkney Chairs – an interview with Robert H. Towers

All about Orkney Chairs – an interview with Robert H. Towers

An Orkney Chair is unique part of the rich heritage of the Orkney Islands. They are wooden, handcrafted and have a straw back. We approached master craftsman Robert H. Towers, who has been making Orkney Chairs for over 38 years, to ask him some questions about the history and process of making them...

An extra ten hidden gems of Orkney

An extra ten hidden gems of Orkney

We've been told that our previous guides to the less well known, but just as lovely, highlights of Orkney have been helpful for frequent visitors looking for something different to do! So we've written another guide, with ten more brilliant places to go in Orkney that are less well known than Skara Brae and the Italian Chapel.

The Yellowbird Gallery

The Yellowbird Gallery

At NorthLink Ferries, we've long been admirers of the artwork of Jon Thompson and Lesley Murdoch, who reside in the north west corner of Orkney, near the Brough of Birsay, and who run the fantastic Yellowbird Gallery. We asked if they would be happy to answer some questions about themselves, the Gallery and their work.

Ten more hidden gems of Orkney

Ten more hidden gems of Orkney

Last year we wrote about some of the great places to visit in Orkney that don't make the front cover of the tourist brochure! Here are ten more brilliant places to visit, that are a bit more unusual and less well known than the Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae!

Orkney’s finest beaches

Orkney’s finest beaches

Throughout the islands of Orkney there are many distinctive beaches to discover. In anticipation of warm weather this summer, we thought we’d display a list of the ten best – most beautiful, peaceful, atmospheric, and fun – beaches to visit in Orkney!

Fantastic places to Camp and Caravan in Orkney

Fantastic places to Camp and Caravan in Orkney

The Orkney Islands are a brilliant place to explore, and taking a caravan, motorhome or tent is a brilliant way to see the best of the islands. We've written a handy guide, which we hope will help you, to the many great caravan, motorhome and camping sites in Orkney!

Things to do on a sunny day in Orkney

Things to do on a sunny day in Orkney

At NorthLink Ferries we'd like to think we're 'glass-half-full' kinda guys, so as a companion piece to the recent 'Things to do on a rainy day in Orkney' article, we have compiled a list of great things to do in Orkney when the sun is shining and you have no business being indoors!

The Ness of Brodgar – an interview with Nick Card

The Ness of Brodgar – an interview with Nick Card

The Ness of Brodgar is a new archaeological discovery in Orkney located between the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. The site has a huge amount of Neolithic art, a massive enclosing stone wall, houses, and a large building of great significance. Nick Card, Director of the Ness of Brodgar, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute very kindly answered our questions about the Ness.

The Junior Inter-County competition between Orkney and Shetland

The Junior Inter-County competition between Orkney and Shetland

The two archipelagos of Orkney and Shetland, it would seem, are naturally drawn to one another in terms of friendships and rivalries. Nowhere is this more evident than in the annual Junior Inter-county sports competition! Read on to find out more about the yearly competition, how it was set up, and how this amazing sporting performance has changed over the years.

Great Museums to visit in Orkney

Great Museums to visit in Orkney

There are a great many cracking museums to visit in Orkney, but we particularly recommend the Orkney Museum, Stromness Museum, Scapa Flow Visitor's Centre and Kirbuster Farm Museum as great places to go in Orkney - read on to find out some fascinating facts about each!

Trout Fishing in Orkney

Trout Fishing in Orkney

We recently spoke to Ian Robertson, a keen fisherman who has fished Orkney's lochs for many years. Ian kindly offered some tips about Brown Trout and Sea Trout fishing in Orkney, including favourite lochs and best techniques to catch fish. We hope these tips help those visitors coming to the isles in search of a Trout!

8 Great walks with your dog in Orkney

8 Great walks with your dog in Orkney

Orkney is a great place to take dogs and there are some great walks to be had. There are wide sandy beaches, amazing cliffs, hills with stunning views and lovely moorland walks dotted with wild flowers. Your dog will have a great time in Orkney, and you’ll love the fresh air and peeping birds overhead! Here are some great walks for you and your dog in Orkney!

The Essence of Orkney

The Essence of Orkney

If we were asked to explain to someone who had never been before what makes Orkney so special it would be hard to name just one thing! There are many different facets that make up the essence of Orkney. To help explain, we've compiled a list of ten reasons why Orkney is a great place to visit!

Birdwatching in Orkney – an interview with Alan Leitch

Birdwatching in Orkney – an interview with Alan Leitch

When imagining birdwatching, one pictures folk hiding in long grass, peering through powerful binoculars. However, the truth is very different in Orkney. Short eared owls fly along roadside verges as commuters travel to work, and long tailed ducks are found in the Peedie Sea in Kirkwall! Alan Leitch, the RSPB Site Manager of Orkney Reserves offers a fascinating insight (and an indispensable holiday guide) to the amazing birds you can easily see in Orkney!

Photographing Orkney – an interview with Premysl Fojtu

Photographing Orkney – an interview with Premysl Fojtu

Premysl Fojtu is a photographer from the Czech republic who has brought a fresh eye to Orkney photography. He has recently embarked on an ambitious project to photograph a different Orkney island each month. Premysl very kindly agreed to answer our questions about his photography and also offers tips to help you take photographs of the beautiful Orkney Islands!

All about the Ba’ – an interview with James Linklater

All about the Ba’ – an interview with James Linklater

On Christmas Day and New Year's Day, the traditional Ba' game is played by hundreds of men through the streets of Kirkwall in Orkney! James Linklater has played the game for many years and was the winner of the Christmas Day Men’s Ba' in 2011! We were delighted when he agreed to answer our questions about the game!

Things to do on a rainy day in Orkney

Things to do on a rainy day in Orkney

When visiting Orkney there's lots to see outdoors - standing stones, neolithic villages, birdlife and wartime relics - there’s plenty to see and explore in Orkney! However, what do you do when it's a rainy day in Orkney? We've compiled a helpful list of things to do and places to go so that you can make the most of your time in Orkney without getting soggy!

The Geology of the Old Man of Hoy

The Geology of the Old Man of Hoy

NorthLink Ferries are very proud to sail past the Old Man of Hoy on the Scrabster to Stromness route. The sea stack is the tallest in Britain and stands 40m taller than Big Ben! In geological terms The Old Man of Hoy is relatively juvenile - having stood as a sea stack for less than 400 years - find out how it was created here!

Spotting Seals – an interview with Roderick Thorne

Spotting Seals – an interview with Roderick Thorne

The Sanday Sealcam is displayed on the NorthLink website during the winter months thanks to the hard work and dedication of Sanday Ranger, Roderick Thorne! We were delighted when he agreed to answer some questions about his work, the sealcam and about how to spot seals in Orkney!

All about the Dwarfie Stane

All about the Dwarfie Stane

The Dwarfie Stane lies in one of the most desolate and beautiful places in the Orkney islands. It is a giant block of sandstone dropped by the glaciers that cut the valley in Hoy; an amazing structure surrounded by folklore! Read on to find out more about this amazing tomb that was carved out of rock using the most primitive tools!

The mystery of the Birsay whalebone

The mystery of the Birsay whalebone

One of the best coastal walks in Orkney is to the whalebone at Skiba Geo. This mysterious sculpture was created from a jaw and skull bones of a whale. It has downcurved 'wings' and looks like an owl in flight. We investigated who put it there, when they did it and why? The story is a fascinating one - read on to find out more!

The day we caught an Orkney Vole

The day we caught an Orkney Vole

Orkney Voles are twice the size of field voles found on mainland Britain. They have a stocky body with a blunt, rounded snout and they feed on the leaves, stems and roots of plants in the rough grassland of Orkney. We thought we'd try to catch one, to see an Orkney Vole up close. We succeeded, but in the most unexpected way!

Exploring Orkney’s wartime history

Exploring Orkney’s wartime history

Orkney has a fascinating wartime history as the vast natural harbour of Scapa Flow was used as the Naval Base for the British Fleet. Many of the batteries, searchlights and gun emplacements remain - read on to find out more about the relics of war left scattered through the islands!

Ten hidden gems of Orkney

Ten hidden gems of Orkney

When people come to visit Orkney they usually go to the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae and the Italian Chapel. Here you'll find a list of ten hidden gems in Orkney to visit - places that don't make the front cover of the tourist brochure!

Island in Focus: North Ronaldsay

Island in Focus: North Ronaldsay

Low lying with lovely beaches, old customs, the UK's tallest land-based lighthouse and a 19km sheep dyke which extends around the island to keep the sheep on the beach: find out a bit more about the remote Orkney island, North Ronaldsay here!

Building the Italian Chapel

Building the Italian Chapel

The Italian Chapel was built by Italian Prisoners of War in 1943 and is now visited 100,000 times a year. Read on to find out more about how the Italians created this beautiful building in their spare time, using only scrap metal and concrete!

Facts about the Old Man of Hoy and St John’s Head

Facts about the Old Man of Hoy and St John’s Head

The Old Man of Hoy is a 449 ft tall sea stack and St John's Head is one of the highest vertical sea cliffs in Britain. You can get a superb view of both when travelling MV Hamnavoe. Did you know these fascinating facts about these amazing landmarks?

Orkney Fudge Cheesecake Recipe

Orkney Fudge Cheesecake Recipe

The most popular pudding on our ships - easy to make but hard to keep around for very long! You'll find a delicious recipe to make your own Orkney Fudge Cheesecake here!

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