Rachel’s Orkney Tourist Guide
I hope my Orkney Tourist Guide inspires you to visit these stunning islands in the most northern corner of Britain. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, then you know Scotland changed my outlook on life, and encouraged me to keep traveling alone, even with reckless abandon. Scotland’s wild landscapes, warm people, and welcoming hostels made me realize we only live once, and I wanted more from my own life. We can’t waste precious time waiting for dreams that won’t ever happen… at least not without a swift kick in the butt.
So, in order to fully show my appreciation of Scotland, I’m posting once a week throughout the month of May about this amazing part of the United Kingdom. I hope these posts inspire you to visit Scotland soon. This incredible corner of Europe will truly change your life and provide lasting memories.
For my first Scottish destination, I wanna skip over the obvious places like Edinburgh, the Isle of Skye, and Loch Ness, and instead focus on the wild and windy Orkney Islands.
The Orkney Islands are awesome. Why? There are neolithic villages and standing stones that rival Stonehenge. There are unique whisky distilleries. There’s a small Italian Cathedral built by prisoners of war. Oh, and the eerie, flat, and foggy landscape makes you feel like you’ve landed on a new planet or inside a fantasy novel’s well worn pages.
Haggis Adventures made the right decision adding the Orkney Island to its Compass Buster Tour.
However taking a fully guided tour isn’t mandatory. For example, Northern Scotland in general is fantastic with offering plenty of accommodation. Whatever you do, don’t stick to only Edinburgh and Loch Ness. Go explore!
1. The Tomb of Eagles
My first item in my Orkney tourist guide will blow your mind. Honestly, this is definitely one of the more unique sites you’ll stumble across when exploring the Orkney Islands.
The Tomb of Eagles is a Neolithic chamber where farmer Ronald Simison discovered 16,000 human bones and 725 bird bones! Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos inside the chamber itself, but as you can see, it’s a lot of fun making your way inside the small tomb to breath in ancient history
What’s a typical visit like? On Haggis, we had our own bus driver. The Tomb of Eagles is kinda in the middle of nowhere (understatement) so you either need your own car or a guided tour. And make sure to bring good quality waterproof walking shoes on your visit.
After a presentation, you change into appropriate gear at the visitor’s center, and then trek across the grounds to reach the tomb itself. To go inside, you need to lie down on a scooter and use a rope to pull yourself into the cramped rooms. Spooky, huh?
Honestly, I’m a little claustrophobic and wasn’t sure if I’d manage the scooter ride, but the experience was totally worth it! Can you imagine being a farmer and finding prehistoric bones on your land? Geez.
2. Skara Brae
Another favorite site included in my Orkney tourist guide. One of the top sights on Orkney Islands is Skara Brae. This prehistoric village is right at the heart of Neolithic Orkney, and therefore a current UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As I quietly roamed through the grass-covered village, I wondered about the prehistoric people’s lives and their hardships and dreams on these remote islands. Truly, this open air museum makes it feel like you’ve been transported far into Scotland’s history.
To make things even better, tourists didn’t swamp Skara Brae on my visit. Yes, you read that correctly. In the middle of July, considered the height of Europe’s tourist season, I felt like I could take my time and soak up Skara Brae’s atmosphere without a selfie-stick hitting me in the head.
Keep in mind hours and availability are different in the summer versus the winter. In summer (April – September), your ticket is good for both Skara Brae and Skaill House, a 17th century mansion that overlooks the nearby bay. However, in winter, expect shorter hours and Skaill House to be closed.
3. Seriously, Neolithic structures galore!
Skara Brae isn’t your only opportunity to check out some prehistoric goodness. Orkney is a playground for these mysterious structures.
In particular, Ring of Brodgar is one of the coolest examples of prehistory you’ll discover on the island. It’s estimated that the Ring of Brodgar has been standing since 2500 – 2000 BC. I can’t even wrap my mind around that amount of time. Unsurprisingly, this area is also considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ring of Brodgar is free to visit, which is wonderful, and it’s also open all year round for visitors to admire and enjoy.
Personally, I loved visiting the Ring of Brodgar, because you could actually approach and touch the stones unlike the more popular Stonehenge – where the stones are roped off.
Any idea what the stones mean? I’m still debating.
Other fascinating neolithic sites on the Orkney Islands include Maeshowe Chambered Cairn and The Stones of Stenness. And, of course, Skara Brae which I’ve already discussed in this awesome Orkney tourist guide.
4. Who can say “no” to a whisky distillery?
Ahhh, an Orkney Tourist Guide wouldn’t be complete without talking about whisky.
As you probably know, whisky distillery tours are absolutely everywhere in Scotland. Orkney is no exception. By exploring the Orkney Islands, you will find tasty Scottish whisky for you to sample and enjoy.
On our Haggis tour, we went to Highland Park Distillery in Kirkwall – the biggest town on the islands. The tour was informative and a lot of fun, and we also had the opportunity to taste some free samples! My advice is to stick with the free samples rather than buy a bottle of whisky. You don’t want to deal with aggravation at the airport. Fortunately, Highland Park is very popular and available at the Edinburgh Airport’s duty free store. Yay!
Furthermore, the guides also deeply admire their Viking Heritage, which is made clear as you learn all about the whisky made at this distillery.
Highland Park Distillery is highly recommended for any visit, especially if you’ve an interest in drinks and distilleries!
Finally particular distillery is rooted in history, too, and was first opened in 1798. Pretty amazing.
5. Italian Chapel
What? An Italian Chapel in the northern islands of Scotland? For real? Yup, it’s absolutely true. By exploring the Orkney Islands, you will find an Italian Chapel! Crazy!
Yes, for real.
The Italian Chapel was built by Italian Prisoners of War, who were captured in World War II and consequently sent to the Orkney Islands.
These men used the available materials to construct this tiny and ornate building. Most of the interior design was completed by a man named Domencio Chiocchetti. Even though his companions were released at the end of the war, Chiocchetti decided to stay behind and finished the chapel.
Impressive, huh? I know I couldn’t pull it off! The Chapel is active today and also serves as a popular tourist attraction on the islands. It’s definitely worth the visit!
Like the Tomb of Eagles, you’ll need either a guided tour or a car to reach this tiny chapel. Definitely go if you can swing it.
6. The stupidly awesome landscape.
The Orkney Islands have two main “cities” (or towns) Kirkwall and Stromness. However, Orkney is known for it’s spectacular nature wonders.
Now we experienced every type of weather on the Orkney Islands. Seriously, anticipate all four seasons happening in a single afternoon. Although I visited in July, the sudden clouds and wind made Orkney’s summer feel like New Jersey’s November. Be sure to wear a rain jacket to keep you dry and warm.
However, the scenery of the Orkney Islands is incredible in both the glorious sunshine or spooky fog. Both types of weather allows for some super cool photographs – especially near the cliffs and harbors – and I felt like a big brave Viking myself.
The last point I want to make in this Orkney Tourist Guide is for you to stop your car often. Get lost (not really but metaphorically lost) and discover incredible cliffs and bayside scenery and ruins settled amongst the wild greenery.
A visit to the Orkney Island is truly magical and one you won’t forget anytime in the near future.
I hope you enjoyed my Orkney Tourist Guide! Do you think exploring the Orkney Islands would be awesome? Have you ever visited them? What do you think the Neolithic structures mean? Share in the comments.
Don’t forget to check out my tips for your first trip to Scotland if you’re planning your vacation soon.
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