Guide to the Orkney Islands

#30DaysOfScotland, Beaches, Coastal, Days out


Just off the North Coast of Scotland, an archipelago of over 70 islands creates a spectacular array of outlines set against clear blue Scottish waters. Orkney encapsulates everything magical about the great outdoors, offering monuments which enjoy world class status, set against the most stunning backdrops of sandy white shores and wonderful wildlife.

Any trip to this unique destination of outstanding beauty will leave you with memories to last a life time. Your exploration will begin the second you step on the grounds.


Travelling to Orkney

The islands lie just north of Mainland Scotland at around 59 degrees north, however travelling to Orkney is surprisingly easy and can make for a pleasant experience. You needn’t worry about travelling around once there wither, you can explore all the enchanting islands by using the inter-island service.

Whichever mode of transport suits you best there is something available for you. If you wish to drive for as much of the jouney as possible head north to the ferry ports of either Aberdeen, Scrabster, Gills Bay or John O’ Groats. Once at the port, opt for either NorthLink Ferries or Pentland Ferries as these allow you to take your car, so you can drive around Orkney. Travelling by train to either Aberdeen or Thurso will also provide you with ferry transport to Orkney from the harbours there.

If you are thinking of travelling to Orkney via bus you have the option to catch a Citylink bus which runs to Aberdeen, Thurso and Gills Bay, with ongoing ferry connections to the islands. During the summer months there is also the advantage of catching the Orkney Bus straight from Inverness to Kirkwall, utilising the John O’ Groats Ferry link.

If you are travelling from further afield, regular Flybe flights operated by Loganair are available, allowing you to travel from various inland airports including < a href="/holidays/glasgow">Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Shetland.

Orkney’s wildlife attractions

The charming islands are brimming with wildlife attractions and spots waiting to be explored.

Noup Cliffs Nature Reserve

Reaching over 76 metres above the sea, the dramatic Noup cliffs are home to Orkney’s largest seabird colony, providing the most spectacular sights! Walk along the cliff path in the summer and you’ll see an array of wildflowers, while below you on the cliffs, guillemots, kittiwakes and razorbills will be nesting. You might even catch a glimpse of a puffin, porpoise and orca.

RSPB Scotland Birsay Moors Nature Reserve

The Orkney moors are full of wild and windswept beauty, a visit to the Birsay nature reserve will allow you to view some of the native summer wildlife on show. Hen harriers, short-eared owls and arctic skuas can be spotted nestling in the moorlands of this area. From the Burgar Hill hide you might also be lucky enough to spot the outstanding views of breeding red-throated divers.

Mill Dam Nature Reserve

Birds of prey regularly patrol this reserve during the winter months, especially hen harriers, their presence will be revealed if you look carefully any time other birds fly up in panic. Many other birds can be spotted form this location if you continue exploring, whooper swans use the reserve to roost and the surrounding farmland to graze, whilst large flocks of greylag geese, pigeon, mallard and teal also frequent the area.

Onziebust Nature Reserve

A visit during the spring and summer months will provide you with an exuberant display of summer flowers and possibly the rare great yellow bumblebee. Marshland wading birds nest here in the summer, while in the autumn greylag geese and a variety of ducks stop off at Onziebust's two tranquil lochs

Orkney’s towns and villages


The settlement of Rackwick is situated on the west coast of Hoy. This crofting township is considered one of the most beautiful places in Orkney. Surrounded by towering red sandstone cliffs and steep heathery hills, Rackwick Valley rests beside a fine sand and boulder strewn beach. The walk to the Old Man of Hoy starts here making it a great beginning point for your adventures. There are many places of interest in this beautiful spot including the Dwarfie Stane and the Crow’s Nest.

St Margaret’s Hope

The picturesque town of St Margaret’s Hope is located at the northern end of South Ronaldsay, making it the nearest Orkney Island to Scotland, being just 6.5 miles across the Pentland Firth from John o’ Groats. St Margaret’s Hope is the main town on the island and lies at the head of a sheltered bay which houses round the shore. The village has a pretty waterfront and plenty of quirky streets.


The village of Stenness is situated at the south-east end of Loch of Stenness, south west of Finstown on Mainland Orkney. Stenness is a great base to explore the Heart of Neolithic Orkney and its prehistoric monuments, including The Standing Stones of Stenness which date back to 3100 BC, making it one of the oldest stone circles in Britain. A visit to Maeshowe is also an unforgettable experience – with it being one of Orkney’s most outstanding Neolithic tombs, this chambered tomb was constructed before 2700 BC and contains runic inscriptions from the much later period of the Vikings.

View our collection of cottages in Orkney here.

Posted by Hayley on 29th August 2017