Scotland's Orkney Islands
The Orkneys, off the northern tip of Scotland, are well and truly alive with histories and mysteries to discover by land and sea. Spend five days experiencing the best of the Orkney Islands, departing from the highland hub of Inverness, and using Kirkwall as your base. Admire the Neolithic town of Skara Brae that predates Stonehenge, get well off the tourist trail on a leisurely coastal hike on Shapinsay Island, and bookend your days with some live music and whisky tastings at local pubs along the way. With a local leader full of knowledge and a group as eager to learn as you, this slice of European history has never been so enticing.
- The Orkney Islands are teeming with historic sites to explore. The Neolithic township of Skara Brae, the renowned Ring of Brodgar and 12th-century St Magnus Cathedral – it’s like you’ve been transported back in time!
- Join your group leader on a walking tour of Kirkwall – Orkney’s main centre. They’ll be able to share with you the history and traditions behind the game of ‘Ba’ in town.
- Spend the morning discovering the island of Shapinsay on a coastal walking tour, full of rich heritage and small-town quirks. You might even spot some resident seals!
- What’s Scotland without a tipple? Be sure to join your local leader and group of travellers throughout the trip at a corner pub, tasting some of the finest whiskies on offer.
- With plenty of time dedicated to exploring at your own pace, you can dial up the history, or instead, balance it all out with some distillery visits. You’ve got the power to choose.
Day 1: Inverness / Kirkwall / Orkney Islands
Welcome to Scotland! Meet your local leader and fellow travellers at Inverness Railway Station. Exact times and further details can be found in the ‘Joining Point Instructions’ of your Essential Trip Information. From here take a train to Thurso, and on arrival, transfer to the nearby port of Scrabster to board a ferry over to Orkney. The ferry journey is a scenic adventure in itself, so keep your eyes peeled for the Old Man of Hoy – the tallest sea stack in the UK. Disembark in Stromness and catch a local bus with your group to Kirkwall – the largest centre in Orkney. After a long day of travelling, it’s time to settle into your accommodation and perhaps cosy up in a pub. Your leader will recommend some options to have drinks, plus hopefully with some live music on offer too!
Day 2: Kirkwall / Orkney Islands
Stretch your legs this morning on a walking tour of Kirkwall – the beating heart of Orkney. Your local leader will fill you in on the town’s history and Viking culture plus some of the hotspots, including 12th-century St Magnus Cathedral, the ‘Peedie Sea’ birdwatching area and the narrow maze of streets in the centre of town. These streets are home to the traditional ‘Ba’ game each year – a unique sporting spectacle that your leader will tell you about. This afternoon, you’re free to explore the city at your own pace. Perhaps retrace your steps, stopping by the craft shop, museum or other historic sites that piqued your interest. Your leader might also suggest a short hike up to Wideford Hill, offering great views across Kirkwall and the islands. Otherwise, there’s a whole range of craft and jewellery shops, pubs and even the acclaimed Highland Park whisky distillery to visit. It’s totally up to you!
Day 3: Mainland / Kirkwall / Orkney Islands
It’s time to explore Orkney in more detail today. Head off with your travel crew in a private vehicle towards some of the islands’ most historic sites. Begin heading south to the Italian Chapel – comprised of two Nissen huts converted into a stunning chapel by Italian prisoners of war. Cross the remarkable Churchill Barriers – built in WWII to keep enemy U-boats out of the waterways of Scapa Flow. These barriers now connect smaller islands in Orkney with the mainland, and dotted in the sea are a number of shipwrecks nearby. Continue west to perhaps Orkey’s most famous site – the prehistoric village of Skara Brae. It’s northern Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic village, and predates Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Pop into an old schoolhouse building for a picnic lunch of local Orkney produce (and perhaps meet the producers), then begin your return journey to Kirkwall, stopping by the renowned Ring of Brodgar Standing Stones, dating back over 5,000 years.
Day 4: Shapinsay Island / Kirkwall / Orkney Islands
Enjoy breakfast and then walk down to the harbour to board a ferry bound for the island of Shapinsay. Although a short 30 minutes from Kirkwall, this island feels a world away from where you’ve been, and sees much fewer tourists than other hotspots in Orkney. You’ll spot the grand 18th-century Balfour Castle as you approach Shapinsay Island – the most regal of all private homes in the Orkneys. On arrival, set off on a coastal walk past Balfour Castle and along the western coastline. Pro tip: keep an eye out for seals. Today’s walking loop returns to the village of Balfour, where you can stop in at the local café and heritage centre, plus check out the unusual saltwater toilets. In the early afternoon, head back on the ferry to Kirkwall, where you will have an afternoon at leisure. Tonight get back together with your leader and head to a local pub to see some local live music. Perhaps enjoy a whisky tasting session, including local Orkney whiskys and others from around Scotland. You’re only in the Orkneys once!
Day 5: Kirkwall / Inverness
After breakfast this morning, begin your journey back to Inverness with your group, arriving in the late afternoon. With no activities planned in Inverness, you are free to leave the group upon arrival at the railway station. That doesn’t mean your adventure has to come to an end! If you would like to spend more time in this northern UK hub, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability).
Includes: Meals - 4 breakfasts and 1 lunch, Transport - Train, Public bus, Private vehicle, Taxi, Ferry, On foot, Accommodation - Guesthouse (4 nights)
- Kirkwall - Leader-led Walking Tour
- Orkney Islands - Ring of Brodgar Standing Stones
- Orkney Islands - Italian Chapel & Churchill Barriers
- Orkney Islands - Orkney Mainland Day Tour
- Orkney Islands - Picnic with Local Orkney Produce
- Orkney Islands - Skara Brae Prehistoric Village Visit
- Shapinsay Island - Coastal Walk
- Shapinsay Island - Day Trip
- Kirkwall - Live Music at a Local Pub