Orkney and Shetland Islands

We’ve compiled the best of the best in Orkney and Shetland Islands - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Clickimin Broch

    A stone tower on the site of what was originally an Iron Age fortification, Clickimin Broch makes a good introduction to these mysterious buildings. It...

    A stone tower on the site of what was originally an Iron Age fortification, Clickimin Broch makes a good introduction to these mysterious buildings. It was possibly intended as a place of retreat and protection in the event of attack. South of the broch are vivid views of the cliffs at the south end of the island of Bressay, which shelters Lerwick Harbor.

    Off A970, Lerwick, Shetland Islands, ZE1 0QX, Scotland

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 2. Highland Park Distillery

    Having come this far, you'll have earned a dram of the local single malt at one of Scotland's northernmost distilleries. It was founded around the...

    Having come this far, you'll have earned a dram of the local single malt at one of Scotland's northernmost distilleries. It was founded around the turn of the 19th century by Magnus Eunson, a church officer who dabbled in illicit stilling. The Viking Soul tour is highly recommended and takes you through the essential aspects of this near-sacred process, from the ingredients to the hand-turning of the malt, the peating in the peat kilns, the mashing, and finally the maturation in oak casks. This smoky, peaty malt can be purchased all over Orkney, as well as from the distillery's austere shop.

    Holm Rd., Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, KW15 1SU, Scotland
    01856-885604

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Tours from £30, Closed weekends Oct.–Mar
  • 3. Italian Chapel

    During World War II, 550 Italian prisoners of war were captured in North Africa and sent to Orkney to assist with the building of the...

    During World War II, 550 Italian prisoners of war were captured in North Africa and sent to Orkney to assist with the building of the Churchill Barriers, four causeways that blocked entry into Scapa Flow, Orkney's great natural harbor. Using two corrugated-iron Nissan huts, the prisoners, led by Domenico Chiocchetti, a painter-decorator from the Dolomites, constructed this beautiful and inspiring chapel in memory of their homeland. The elaborate interior frescoes were adorned with whatever came to hand, including bits of metal, colorful stones, and leftover paints.

    A961, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, KW17 2RX, Scotland
    01856-781580

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £3.50
  • 4. Jarlshof

    In 1897 a huge storm blew away 4,000 years of sand to expose the multilayered remains of Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pictish, and Viking buildings;...

    In 1897 a huge storm blew away 4,000 years of sand to expose the multilayered remains of Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pictish, and Viking buildings; prehistoric wheelhouses; and earth houses that represented thousands of years of continuous settlement. It's a large and complex site, and you can roam—and photograph—the remains freely. The small visitor center is packed with details of the lives of former residents and illustrates Jarlshof's more recent history as a medieval farmstead and home of the 16th-century Earl of Orkney and Shetland, "cruel" Patrick Stewart, who enslaved the men of Scalloway to build Scalloway Castle.

    Sumburgh Head, Virkie, Shetland Islands, ZE3 9JN, Scotland
    0131-668–8600

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £6, Closed Oct.–Mar
  • 5. Mareel

    Next to the Shetland Museum, the bold and beautiful—although somewhat brutal around the back—Mareel is Shetland's adventurous and ambitious arts center. It has a live...

    Next to the Shetland Museum, the bold and beautiful—although somewhat brutal around the back—Mareel is Shetland's adventurous and ambitious arts center. It has a live performance space attracting national and international musicians, two cinemas showing art-house and mainstream films, and a café and bar area that showcases local crafts, acoustic musicians, and some very drinkable Shetland beers.

    North Ness, Lerwick, Shetland Islands, ZE1 0WP, Scotland
    01595-745500
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  • 6. Mousa Broch

    Sandsayre Pier in Sandwick is the departure point for the passenger ferry to the tiny isle of Mousa, where you can see Mousa Broch, a...

    Sandsayre Pier in Sandwick is the departure point for the passenger ferry to the tiny isle of Mousa, where you can see Mousa Broch, a fortified Iron Age stone tower rising about 40 feet high. The massive walls give a real sense of security, which must have been reassuring for islanders subject to attacks from ship-borne raiders. Exploring this beautifully preserved, curved-stone structure, standing on what feels like an untouched island, makes you feel as if you're back in 100 BC. From April to September, the ferry (£16 round-trip) departs for the island once or twice each afternoon. From May to July there are dusk boat trips (£25 round-trip) to catch the tiny storm petrels as they return from their day feeding at sea to their nests in the walls of the broch. The sight—and feel—of them swarming in the half-light is something you'll never forget. Note that you must pay in cash for the ferry rides and boat trips.

    Sandsayre Pier, Sandwick, Shetland Islands, ZE2 9HP, Scotland
    07901-872339-ferry

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Oct.–Mar
  • 7. Pier Arts Centre

    At the striking Pier Arts Centre, a gallery in a former merchant's house and adjoining buildings, huge sheets of glass offer tranquil harborside views and...

    At the striking Pier Arts Centre, a gallery in a former merchant's house and adjoining buildings, huge sheets of glass offer tranquil harborside views and combine with space-maximizing design to make the best use of every shard of natural light and inch of wall to display the superb permanent collection. The more than 100 20th- and 21st-century paintings and sculptures include works by Barbara Hepworth and Douglas Gordon, and edgy temporary exhibitions showcase international contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst. A chic shop sells design products and art books.

    28–30 Victoria St., Stromness, Orkney Islands, KW16 3AA, Scotland
    01856-850209

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sun. and Mon
  • 8. Ring of Brodgar

    About 5 miles northeast of Stromness, the Ring of Brodgar is a magnificent circle of 36 Neolithic standing stones (originally 60) surrounded by a henge,...

    About 5 miles northeast of Stromness, the Ring of Brodgar is a magnificent circle of 36 Neolithic standing stones (originally 60) surrounded by a henge, or deep ditch. When the fog descends over the stones—a frequent occurrence—their looming shapes seem to come alive. The site dates to between 2500 and 2000 BC. Though the original use of the circle is uncertain, it's not hard to imagine strange rituals taking place here in the misty past. The stones stand between Loch of Harray and Loch of Stenness.

    B9055, Stromness, Orkney Islands, KW16 3HA, Scotland
    01856-841815

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 9. Shetland Crofthouse Museum

    Nine miles south of Sandwick, this 19th-century thatched house reveals the way of life of rural Shetlanders, which the traditionally attired attendant will be delighted...

    Nine miles south of Sandwick, this 19th-century thatched house reveals the way of life of rural Shetlanders, which the traditionally attired attendant will be delighted to discuss with you. The peat fire casts a glow on the box bed, the resting chair, and the wealth of domestic implements, including a hand mill for preparing meal and a straw "keshie" for carrying peat. One building made from an upturned boat was used for storing and drying fish and mutton; huts like this inspired the design of the new Scottish Parliament.

    East of A970, Dunrossness, Shetland Islands, ZE2 9JG, Scotland
    01590-460557

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free (donations welcome), Closed Oct.–Apr
  • 10. Shetland Museum

    On the last remaining stretch of the old waterfront at the restored Hay's Dock, the striking Shetland Museum, with its sail-like tower, is the area's...

    On the last remaining stretch of the old waterfront at the restored Hay's Dock, the striking Shetland Museum, with its sail-like tower, is the area's cultural hub and a stimulating introduction to local history. The two-story space is filled with displays about archaeology, textiles, and contemporary arts. Standout exhibits include depictions of the minutiae of everyday Shetland life across the centuries, the last remaining sixareen (a kind of fishing boat), and the collection of lace shawls donated by Shetland families. Its informal spaces make this a wonderful place to hang out; look for vintage vessels moored in the dock and seals that pop up to observe everyone at the glass-fronted café-restaurant terrace. The museum shop is a must-visit, with a beautiful selection of nicely priced postcards and useful things inspired by the museum's collection.

    Commercial Rd., Lerwick, Shetland Islands, ZE1 0WP, Scotland
    01595-695057

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 11. Skara Brae and Skaill House

    After a fierce storm in 1850, the laird of Breckness, William Graham Watt, discovered this cluster of Neolithic houses at the bottom of his garden....

    After a fierce storm in 1850, the laird of Breckness, William Graham Watt, discovered this cluster of Neolithic houses at the bottom of his garden. The houses, first occupied around 3000 BC and containing stone beds, fireplaces, dressers, and cupboards, are the most extensive of their kind in northern Europe and provide real insight into this ancient civilization. A reconstruction of one house can be seen in the visitor center, which displays artifacts from the site and hosts an excellent café. Skara Brae stands on the grounds of Skaill House, a splendid, intriguing mansion built by the Bishop of Orkney in the 1600s. His descendants, the lairds of Breckness, along with the various ladies of the manor, added to the house and to the eclectic furnishings. These sites offer a joint ticket in summer months that's well worth the price: the juxtaposition of different societies thousands of years apart that shared the same corner of Orkney makes a fascinating visit.

    B9056, Stromness, Orkney Islands, KW163LR, Scotland
    01856-841815

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Skara Brae £7, Skara Brae and Skaill House £9, Skaill House closed Nov.–Mar.
  • 12. St. Ninian's Isle

    It was on St. Ninian's Isle that a schoolboy helping archaeologists excavate the ruins of a 12th-century church discovered the St. Ninian treasure, a collection...

    It was on St. Ninian's Isle that a schoolboy helping archaeologists excavate the ruins of a 12th-century church discovered the St. Ninian treasure, a collection of 28 silver objects dating from the 8th century. This Celtic silver is housed in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh (a point of controversy), but good replicas are in the Shetland Museum in Lerwick. Although you can't see the silver, walking over the causeway of golden sand (called a tombolo or ayre) that joins St. Ninian's Isle to the Mainland is an unforgettable experience. From Sumburgh head 8 miles north on A970 and B9122, then turn left at Skelberry.

    Shetland Islands, Scotland
  • 13. Stromness Museum

    The enchanting Stromness Museum has the feel of some grand Victorian's private collection but has, in fact, been community owned since it opened in 1837....

    The enchanting Stromness Museum has the feel of some grand Victorian's private collection but has, in fact, been community owned since it opened in 1837. Its crammed but utterly fascinating exhibits on fishing, shipping, and whaling are full of interesting trinkets from all over the world that found their way to this small Orcadian town because of its connections with the Hudson's Bay Shipping Company. The company recruited workers in Stromness between the late 18th and 19th century as they were considered more sober and therefore more reliable than other Scots. Also here are model ships and displays on the German fleet that was scuttled on Scapa Flow in 1919. Upstairs don't miss the beguiling, traditionally presented collection of birds and butterflies native to the British Isles.

    52 Alfred St., Stromness, Orkney Islands, KW16 3DF, Scotland
    01856-850025

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £5 (allows as many visits as you like within a week), Closed Sun. Nov.–Mar
  • 14. Sumburgh Head Lighthouse and Visitor Centre

    Perhaps one of northern Europe's most stunning locations, this Robert Stevenson—grandfather of the writer Robert Louis—designed lighthouse, built in 1821, was the first lighthouse in...

    Perhaps one of northern Europe's most stunning locations, this Robert Stevenson—grandfather of the writer Robert Louis—designed lighthouse, built in 1821, was the first lighthouse in Shetland. Sir Walter Scott was very taken with the location and based his novel The Pirate on the nearby landmarks of Jarlshof and Fitful Head. The stories of the Old Radar Hut—crucial during WWII—and the engine room with its deep booming foghorn are brought back to life here, while a Marine Life Centre has excellent displays on the birds, fish, and sea mammals found around the cliffs. If you walk round the dry-stone dikes, you will hear and probably see puffins, guillemots, and fulmars breeding, feeding, and fighting on the rocks, but if it's wet and wild, the circular café and Education Suite with its jaw-dropping panorama will provide enough drama.

    Sumburgh Head, Sumburgh, Shetland Islands, ZE2 9JN, Scotland
    01595-694688

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £6, Closed Oct.–Mar
  • 15. Tangwick Haa Museum

    After viewing the cliffs at Eshaness, call in at Tangwick Haa Museum, the 17th-century home of the Cheynes, now packed full with photographs, household items,...

    After viewing the cliffs at Eshaness, call in at Tangwick Haa Museum, the 17th-century home of the Cheynes, now packed full with photographs, household items, and knitting, farming, and fishing equipment from the 18th to early 20th century. Upstairs is the Laird's Room---a traditional sitting room of the 19th century and a room of curiosities, including whale eardrums. Downstairs—next to the help-yourself café—there are rows of folders; ask one of the staff to let you hear what's in them and you will be rewarded with the soft, gentle voices of local elders telling you of life lived in Shetland.

    Off B9078, Tangwick, Shetland Islands, ZE2 9RS, Scotland
    01806-503389

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed. Oct.–Mar
  • 16. Bishop's and Earl's Palaces

    The Bishop's Palace dates to the 12th century when St. Magnus Cathedral was built. In 1253 this was the site of King Hakon IV of...

    The Bishop's Palace dates to the 12th century when St. Magnus Cathedral was built. In 1253 this was the site of King Hakon IV of Norway's death, marking the end of Norwegian rule over Sudreyjar (the Southern Hebrides). It was rebuilt in the late 15th century, and a round tower was added in the 16th century. The nearby Earl's Palace was built in 1607 for Earl Patrick Stewart, the much despised Earl of Orkney and Shetland who bound the people of both into terrible, inescapable poverty. While his name is still mud, his Orcadian residence is considered one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Scotland. The great hall with its magnificent fireplace may be a ruin, but it evokes the splendor of its age.

    Palace Rd., Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, KW15 1PD, Scotland
    01856-871918

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £6, Closed Oct.–Mar.
  • 17. Bonhoga Gallery

    Built in 1855 using stones from the Kergord estate's "cleared" (forcibly evicted) crofts, Weisdale Mill is now the Bonhoga Gallery, a contemporary art space showing...

    Built in 1855 using stones from the Kergord estate's "cleared" (forcibly evicted) crofts, Weisdale Mill is now the Bonhoga Gallery, a contemporary art space showing quirky exhibitions by local, national, and international artists. Downstairs is a small but cake-laden café that looks over the Weisdale burn. An excellent shop sells artist-made housewares.

    B9075, Weisdale, Shetland Islands, ZE2 9LW, Scotland
    01595-745750
  • 18. Broch of Gurness (Aikerness Broch)

    An Iron Age tower built between 500 BC and 200 BC, the Broch of Gurness stands more than 10 feet high and is surrounded by...

    An Iron Age tower built between 500 BC and 200 BC, the Broch of Gurness stands more than 10 feet high and is surrounded by stone huts, indicating that this was a village. The tower's foundations and dimensions suggest that it was one of the biggest brochs in Scotland, and the remains of the surrounding houses are well preserved.

    A966, Birsay, Orkney Islands, KW17 2NH, Scotland
    01856-751414

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Oct.–Mar.
  • 19. Brough of Birsay

    A Romanesque church can be seen at the Brough of Birsay, a tidal island with the remains of an early Pictish and then Norse settlement....

    A Romanesque church can be seen at the Brough of Birsay, a tidal island with the remains of an early Pictish and then Norse settlement. (Brough is another word for "fort".) The collection of roofless stone structures on the tiny island, close to Birsay, is accessible only at low tide by means of a concrete path that winds across the seaweed-strewn bay. The path is slippery, so boots are essential. To ensure you won't be swept away, check the tides with the tourism office in Kirkwall or Stromness before setting out. The cliffs at the far side of the island are stunning but be very careful as you look for puffins.

    A966, Birsay, Orkney Islands, KW17 2NH, Scotland
    01856-841815

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £6, Closed Oct.–mid-Jun.
  • 20. Eshaness and Ronas Hill

    About 15 miles north of Brae are the rugged, forbidding cliffs around Eshaness; drive north and then turn left onto B9078. On the way, look...

    About 15 miles north of Brae are the rugged, forbidding cliffs around Eshaness; drive north and then turn left onto B9078. On the way, look for the defiant Drongs, striking sandstone stacks or pillars battered into shape by thousands of years of crashing seas. Then return to join the A970 at Hillswick, but before reaching Ura Firth, turn left toward the old crofting community of Heylor on Ronas Voe, beautifully documented by the pioneer filmmaker Jenny Gilbertson in the 1930s. Providing a front-on vista of rounded, red Ronas Hill, the highest hill in Shetland, Heylor's delightful sandy beach is known as the Blade. Beware: arctic terns—which Shetlanders call Tirricks—nest among the pebbles in May and June.

    Shetland Islands, Scotland

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