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10 Tips for Visiting Orkney

10 Tips for Visiting Orkney

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The wind whipped my hair into my face as I stood on the deck of the ferry. It cut through the North Sea like a blunt knife; the waves doing the opposite of rocking me to sleep like a baby. I had come outside for some air to ease my queasy stomach, just as the ferry sailed past a mighty lump of red rock that arose from the sea: the Old Man of Hoy.

Top tip: The North Sea is unkind to those of us that experience seasickness, and a packet of Kwells is your new best accessory.

Don’t let this stop you from visiting the awe-inspiring Orkney Islands, the journey is well worth it to explore Neolithic monuments, war history, Viking heritage and vast, natural beauty.

But Orkney is a group of islands that requires forward planning (queasy stomachs aside). Life is different in the Scottish Islands- they don’t subscribe to the rat race like most of the Western World. Expect opening dates and times to change at the last minute, popular restaurants to be fully booked, sailings to be cancelled due to bad weather. The key is to be organised and also to adapt.

This is where I come in- Scotland travel blogger and travel planner at your service! Here are ten tips for visiting Orkney. I hope you find them helpful!

10 Tips for Visiting Orkney

1) Book your accommodation well in advance

The view from our accommodation in Stromness

One of the things I spoke to the islanders about was how accommodation in becoming increasingly harder to find. Due to the requirement for all self-catering properties to have a license, this has meant that some accommodation owners can no longer operate. 

Festivals or popular events also see Orkney accommodation filling up quickly. I was lucky and just this week managed to book my preferred accommodation for 3 nights in August- the last dates they had available!

👉 See my top accommodation recommendations for each region in Scotland

2) Visit epic Neolithic sites

The Ring of Brodgar

Undoubtedly one of the most magical reasons for visiting Orkney is to see 5,000 years of history that is still evident today.

The four most remarkable sites were given UNESCO World Heritage status, and together they make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. These sites are:

  • Maeshowe – a large chambered tomb
  • The Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar – two large, ceremonial stone circles
  • Skara Brae – a Neolithic village by the sea

There are also a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites in the above areas too. Make sure you visit all of these monuments when you visit Orkney!

3) Make reservations for Maeshowe 

Visiting Maeshowe Chambered Cairn is a popular attraction on Mainland Orkney- and you also need to book your timeslot in advance. As of today (May 30) the earliest availability is July 11th, and there are dates in August that are already fully booked 😲

So yes- you need to book months in advance if you plan on visiting!

4) Spend at least 3 days in the islands

The minimum amount of time I suggest you spend visiting Orkney is three full days (or four nights). Ideally, four or five days is even better.

Three days gives you enough time to visit the main attractions. Four days allows you to see all the attractions and go on an island-hopping adventure, and five days allow all of this plus time to visit another island and see some hidden gems.

This is just a guide, and you could easily spend a week, a month, or several months exploring Orkney- but make sure that you allow ample time to explore at a relaxed pace. One of the best places to slow down from the rat race is the Scottish islands- embrace the island way of life!

5) Get off the beaten path

Birsay Earl’s Palace

Orkney is so much more than Skara Brae, Maeshowe, and the Ring of Brodgar. The islands are stuffed full of fascinating historic sites that are much less busy than the aforementioned. 

6) Book a day tour with a local

I recommend booking a tour with one of the fabulous local guides that live in the islands. Even if you plan on exploring Orkney by car, local guides can give you a much more in-depth perspective to the islands.

I’m an introvert and I’m not a massive tour person, but my recommendation is to mix it up and do at least one tour with a local. Plus you can ask a local all the questions buzzing around in your head!

7) Have dietary requirements? Plan your meals in advance

As someone with IBS and the wife and mother of lactose intolerant boys, we try to avoid dairy where possible. Occasionally we cheat, but the Haggis and I always have almond/oat milk in our coffee, and we found that some cafes on the islands didn’t cater to this.

This is why if you have certain dietary requirements, it’s a good idea to do some research and have a few restaurants booked or in mind as you travel around.

I’m including my recommendations for restaurants with vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options in my Orkney workshop too.

8) Sign up for the Planning A Trip To Orkney Workshop

Cliffs on west Mainland

Orkney is just one of those places that requires careful planning and booking in advance. It can also be overwhelming trying to do all the planning yourself. I personally found planning our trip to Orkney one of the trickiest trips I’ve planned in Scotland!

This is why I’m running a fun workshop to help you plan your trip to Orkney! In this 90-minute workshop, you will learn:

👉 The history and folklore of Orkney

👉 The must-sees in Orkney

👉 My favourite hidden gems

👉 Island day trip ideas

👉 How to get to Orkney

👉 Getting around the islands

👉 My top food and drink recommendations

👉 Where and how to book accommodation, tours, and activities

👉 The things you need to book in advance (and the things you don’t)

👉 Helpful travel hacks and more!

Sign up for the Planning a Trip to Orkney Workshop

9) Book the Magnus Lounge if travelling by ferry

One of the best decisions I made on our first trip to Orkney was booking the Magnus Lounge on our ferry trip with Northlink Ferries. For just £15 per adult, you receive access to a special lounge, free tea and coffee, snacks, and free wine and beer!

You can also order hot meals (this costs extra). In my experience, upgrading was totally worth it!

10) Sign up to be notified when ferry tickets go on sale

Booked your accommodation and nervous you may miss out on ferry tickets? Sign up to Northlink Ferries to be notified when their schedules are released.

It’s important that if you’re taking your vehicle on the ferry, you book your tickets in advance so you don’t miss out on a vehicle space.

Need help planning your trip to Orkney?

I hope you found these tips for visiting Orkney helpful! I share many more wonderful tips for visiting Orkney in my Planning a Trip to Orkney Workshop. I cover everything from finding and booking accommodation, things to do, hidden gems, what to book in advance, my favourite places to eat and drink, island hopping itineraries and ideas, and lots more!

Here’s what you receive when you purchase the workshop:

💜 90-minute LIVE workshop

💜 Planning a Trip to Orkney digital workbook

💜 Orkney Cheat Sheet Travel Planners

💜 Digital map with ALL my recommendations for activities, food and drink, facilities and more

💜 12 months of access to the replay

Sign up for the Planning a Trip to Orkney Workshop

Did you find this blog helpful? Share your tips for visiting Orkney in the comments.

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