The quiet sandy beaches, stunning scenery, abundance of wildlife, fresh quality cuisine and warm welcoming hospitality make these islands an ideal place for a relaxing visit or an action-packed holiday. The remnants of ancient civilisations are everywhere to be found here, particularly in the West Mainland region. There are 70 islands that make up the Orkneys: be sure to visit several to get a sense of their different characters, and take in the coastal scenery for which they're famous.
Explore Skara Brae
Orkney’s history goes back more than 4,500 years to the earliest dwellings of Neolithic people.
One of the most impressive of these is at Skara Brae, Europe’s most complete Neolithic village, where you’ll find 8 remarkably preserved stone dwellings, their walls, rooves and interior fittings still in place after thousands of years.
See the Ring of Brodgar
This ancient stone circle is one of Orkney’s most iconic sights, and part of the Hearth of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
It’s an incredible piece of ancient human history, part of a prehistoric ritual complex that includes numerous other stone circles and standing stones nearby. It’s also in a particularly majestic spot, surrounded by lochs and the distant hills beyond.
Take in the view from Yesnaby Cliffs
The dramatic red sandstone rock formations of Yesnaby are a breathtaking sight.
(Image © Northlight Images)
Towering sea stacks, blowholes and the cliffs themselves drop for hundreds of feet to the thrashing sea below, making for a scene of spectacular natural drama! If you like cycling, there’s a great cycle route along the West Mainland that passes by the Yesnaby Cliffs.
Visit Britain’s oldest building: the Knap of Howar
The oldest building in Britain is the suitably Game of Thrones-esque-sounding Knap of Howar (not Hodor), which dates from about 3700BC. Located on Papa Westray in Orkney, it’s a Neolithic farmstead that’s withstood the test of time, and looks out over the North Sea.
Sample local whisky
All that pristine natural wilderness is perfect for making whisky, and one of the best known distilleries is Scapa. Made with fresh spring water from the local Orquil Springs, this single malt whisky is a delivious local tipple. Stop by the Scapa distillery and see how it’s made, and sample some for yourself.
Dive the historic wrecks of Scapa Flow
Once used by the Vikings to anchor their longships, Scapa Flow is a large body of water in the midst of the Orknies which has been used by ships since prehistory.
In more recent times it was used as a harbour during the World Wars, and has been the scene of some significant naval battles. Today it’s popular among divers, who come here to see the great array of shipwrecks that lay on the seabed here.