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  • Address: Scotland
  • Admission: Free
Separated from the northern tip of mainland Scotland by the choppy waters of the Pentland Firth strait, the Orkney Islands are an archaeological wonderland. Comprised of about 20 inhabited islands and many more uninhabited ones, the archipelago is littered with prehistoric ruins and Viking remnants. The islands’ interiors, a patchwork of heather-clad moors and fertile grasslands, are encircled by superb sandy beaches and sheer coastal cliffs.
 
The Basics
The Orkney Islands showcase a side of Scotland few visitors ever get to see. Travelers can visit on guided day trips from John O’Groats, which typically include boat travel to Burwick and transport via the Churchill Barriers, a network of causeways that link the Orkney Mainland (the biggest island in the archipelago) to four other smaller islands to the south. Travelers can also see the islands as part of multi-day tours from Edinburgh that cover highlights of the Scottish Highlands too. Most guided Orkney tours will include a stop at the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Skara Brae, a prehistoric stone settlement that’s older than the Egyptian pyramids, and the Lamb Holm Italian Chapel, which was constructed by Italian prisoners of war during World War II.
 
Things to Know Before You Go
  • Guided day tours from John O’Groats generally last upwards of 10 hours.
  • Bring layers that provide protection from the archipelago’s near-constant wind.
  • Comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
  • Keep an eye out for the island’s incredible fauna and flora, including the delicate and rare Scottish primrose.

How to Get There
Direct flights to Kirkwall run from the Scottish mainland cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Inverness. NorthLink Ferries operate services from Scrabster to Stromness on Mainland Orkney (90 minutes), and from Aberdeen to Kirkwall on Mainland Orkney (six hours). Pentland Ferries run a route from Gills Bay to St. Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay (one hour). From May to September, John O’Groats Ferries carry passengers between John O’Groats and Burwick on South Ronaldsay (40 minutes).

When to Get There
No matter what time of the year, solitude and serenity can be found on the Orkneys. Because of the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, the islands are rarely subject to extreme weather, though the biting wind can make it feel colder than it is. Summer is the best time to go, as longer daylight hours facilitate exploration.

Sightseeing on the Orkney Islands
The Orkney Islands are jam-packed with attractions. In addition to the Stone Age temple complex known as the Ness of Brodgar and the Viking-era graffiti in the Neolithic Maeshowe tomb, visitors can survey sunken warships while scuba diving around the Scapa Flow, admire the 1,136-foot-tall (346-meter) cliffs on the island of Hoy, and stroll the boulder-strewn Rackwick Beach.

Tours & Tickets

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3-Day Orkney Islands Tour from Inverness, Inverness, null
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3-Day Orkney Islands Tour from Inverness

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 9 Reviews

Leave mainland Scotland behind and travel across the North Sea to reach the Orkney Islands on this incredible 3-day trip from Inverness. Remote yet enticing, ...  Read more

Location: Inverness, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 days (approx.)

From USD $504.75
5-Day Orkney Islands Tour from Edinburgh Including the Scottish Highlands, Edinburgh, Multi-day ... 
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5-Day Orkney Islands Tour from Edinburgh Including the Scottish Highlands

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 32 Reviews

Venture to the far-flung Orkney Islands on a 5-day tour from Edinburgh with 3-star accommodation included, and visit top Highland towns and attractions, too! ...  Read more

Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 days (approx.)

From USD $746.46
Orkney Islands Day Trip from Inverness, Inverness, Multi-day Tours
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Orkney Islands Day Trip from Inverness

4.5 star rating: Recommended 229 Reviews

This day trip from Inverness visits some of the main attractions of the Orkney Islands including Skara Brae, The Churchill Barriers, Scapa Flow, The Ring of ...  Read more

Location: Inverness, United Kingdom
Duration: 14 hours (approx.)

From USD $99.53
Orkney Islands Day Trip from John O'Groats, The Scottish Highlands, Day Trips
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Orkney Islands Day Trip from John O'Groats

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 122 Reviews

Explore the Orkney Islands on this day trip from John O'Groats. Take the ferry and island hop across the Churchill Barriers to visit Kirkwall, home to the ...  Read more

Location: John O'Groats, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 hours (approx.)

From USD $85.31
4-Day Orkney and Highlands Tour from Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Day Trips
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4-Day Orkney and Highlands Tour from Edinburgh

An adventure to the Orkney Isles – experience Scotland’s incredible history, nature and people on this fantastic four day tour! Visit the ...  Read more

Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 days (approx.)

From USD $675.37

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