Planning Your Time
Orkney and Shetland require at least a couple of days each if you're to do more than just scratch the surface. Since getting to Shetland isn't easy, you may want to spend three or four days here. The isles generate their own laid-back approach to life, and once here, you may want to take it slowly. A good clutch of the key sites of Mainland Orkney can be seen in a day, if you have a car and are disciplined, but to really get the most out of them, take two days. You can do the Kirkwall sights in a morning before heading to the Italian Chapel on South Ronaldsay in the afternoon. This allows a whole day for Stomness, a town caught in the most poignant of time warps, and the archaeological sites of Maes Howe, the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae, and Skaill House and Gurness Broch. To include Birsay, plan your day round the tides.
In Shetland, the sites on the South Mainland—Jarlshof, Scatness, the Crofhouse Museum, St. Ninian's Isle, and Mousa Broch—take the best part of a day, although sailing times for Mousa must be factored in to your schedule. Lerwick and its lanes and spectacular museum is a good day, and can be supplemented with a trip to the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale. It's a good idea to take a whole day to explore the north of the islands, including Eshaness and Tangwick Haa, although a car or a guide who drives will be necessary. Ferry times allow for a mad dash round the northern islands of Yell and Unst, but you will see more if you book an overnight stay.