Melanie Grandidge June 16 2022

Sitting 10 miles off Scotland’s North Coast, Orkney consists of 70 magical islands each with its own unique personality. Mysterious prehistoric sites, natural wonders, and breathtaking scenery await around every corner.

This wild and remote corner of Britain is also home to some amazing wildlife, and it’s estimated that Orkney is home to 15% of the world’s seal population!

Absolute Escapes are award-winning experts in self-drive holidays in the UK and Orkney is one of our favourite destinations. Read on to discover our top tips for visiting this amazing archipelago.


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Best things to see and do in Orkney

With a fascinating history, stunning landscapes, and a vibrant culture, there’s an abundance of things to keep you occupied in Orkney.

Orkney was a centre for Neolithic life in Scotland and boasts a number of incredible sites where you can uncover the mysteries of a 5,000-year-old civilisation. Step back in time at the prehistoric village of Skara Brae and explore archaeological wonders at the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe – one of Europe’s finest chambered tombs.

The beauty of Orkney has inspired a thriving creative scene of local artisans for thousands of years. There is a whole variety of island businesses offering everything from jewellery, pottery, and woodwork to storytelling. There’s a gallery or workshop to suit all tastes.

The Orkney wildlife is legendary and can be spotted all over the islands. At Hermaness National Nature Reserve, you can often see dolphins and porpoises in the coastal waters, and seabirds such as puffins and guillemots.

Take a stroll on one of Orkney’s many spectacular beaches such as Tresness in Sanday or Dingieshowe on the east mainland to experience the rugged beauty of Orkney’s coast. Yesnaby on the west mainland is one of Orkney’s most dramatic stretches of coastline.


Best places to eat and drink in Orkney

For a special evening, we highly recommend The Foveran in St Ola, 3 miles from Kirkwall. The Foveran is a stylish family-run restaurant with stunning views across Scapa Flow. Taking advantage of seasonal availability, and the abundance of life in the clear waters surrounding the islands, the menu showcases the best of the local Orkney larder. Don’t leave without trying the divine puddings!

Situated on the Harbourfront, Helgi’s serves great gastropub meals using locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible. Helgi’s design takes inspiration from Orkney’s Viking past, featuring slate walls and wood panelled walls. The ground floor bar is well stocked with draft and bottled beers, wines and spirits plus a good selection of malts.

If you love seafood, then we recommend that you travel 20 miles south to South Ronaldsay, where Skerries Bistro sits metres from the cliffs with stunning views across the Pentland Firth. The bistro’s speciality is fresh local shellfish and fish. Carole and Hamish, who run the restaurant share the same passion for using the freshest local food and ingredients and presenting dishes as simple as possible.


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Best places to stay in Orkney

For a higher-end option, we love the Lynnfield Hotel in the island’s capital of Kirkwall. This small country-house faces Kirkwall Bay and the north isles. Every room is unique, and it’s also home to an excellent restaurant. The decor is whisky-themed, which is very apt considering the location is close to Highland Park Distillery.

Also in Kirkwall, Avalon House is a purpose-built four-star guest house which is a 20 minute walk from the historic town centre. The comfortable en-suite bedrooms offer views across Kirkwall Bay and north to the isles of Rousay, Wyre and Gairsay.

For an excellent value option, we recommend Straigona B&B in Tankerness. The owners here go above and beyond to make sure their guests have a relaxing and comfortable stay. Straigona enjoys the best of both worlds, being semi-rural but only minutes away from the airport and the town of Kirkwall.


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Best time to visit Orkney

The best time to visit Orkney is from the start of April until the end of October. In April, the strong winds settle and beautiful signs of spring appear. You’ll see adorable lambs on the bright green fields and puffins begin arriving back on the cliffs.

Once spring appears, Orkney comes to life in the sunnier months starting with the esteemed Orkney Folk Festival in May. The summer solstice in June brings beautiful long days, giving you more time to explore the islands. With bright blue skies, a warmer temperature, and exciting events, summer is an excellent time to visit.

In the autumn, things begin to wind down after the busy summer months giving you a more peaceful Orkney to explore. The weather, just like anywhere in Scotland, can be unpredictable, but autumn brings some delightful natural highlights. In September, you may catch a glimpse of some seal pups, especially on the north isles where large numbers of seals gather. Although the days start to get shorter in autumn, this brings ample opportunity to catch a wonderful sunset, when you can experience the beauty of Orkney in a whole new light.


Tips from our team

Katia: “For a short but stunning walk, head to Yesnaby where you can take in amazing views of the cliffs and might even spot the Old Man of Hoy in the distance.

James: “On the Isle of Hoy, the remote but beautiful Rackwick Bay has a wonderful ‘edge of the world’ feel to it, and it’s from here that you can hike up the famous Old Man of Hoy.

Charlotte: “Orkney is home to one of Scotland’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. There are several examples of Neolithic sites, built by settlers on the island over 5,000 years ago, which together are one of the best-surviving sites in Europe.”

Sine: “Explore the world-famous burial cairn of Maeshowe – one of Europe’s finest chambered tombs. At the winter solstice, the last sun rays illuminate the chamber (now live-streamed online), which is a truly magical moment. The Vikings were the first to discover the chamber and they carved graffiti runes on the walls, including a dragon, serpent, and walrus.

You can read more about Orkney’s incredible historic sites in Sine’s blog: Hunting Historic Treasures on Ancient Orkney.


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Discover Orkney with Absolute Escapes

Absolute Escapes have specialised in self-drive holidays since 2004, and each holiday is created uniquely for you by one of our exceptionally knowledgeable Travel Specialists.

Why not incorporate Orkney into a breathtaking road trip on the North Coast 500, or combine Orkney and Shetland for an unforgettable adventure in Scotland’s Northern Isles?

Melanie Grandidge

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