Boat and Ferry
For those willing to travel the slow way, Northlink operates ferries—locally known as "the boat"—from Aberdeen to Kirkwall in Orkney and Lerwick in Shetland. These leave Aberdeen Harbor each evening (or every second night for Kirkwall), arriving at Kirkwall at 11 pm and Lerwick at 7:30 am the next day. These services have reclining seats for the budget traveler, pods for those wanting more comfort, and clean, compact cabins in single, double, or four-berth combinations. There's a shop, a cinema, two bars, and two restaurants (one self-service and one table service) on each boat.
If you're arriving in Aberdeen on Sunday morning and plan on meeting a train, note that the station does not open until 9 am. Northlink allows you to stay in your cabin or the restaurant until 9:30 am.
An alternate way of reaching Orkney is the Northlink ferry from Scrabster to Stromness. There is also a ferry from John O'Groats to Burwick, operated by John O'Groats Ferries, with up to three daily departures May through September. The fastest and smoothest sail is by catamaran from Gills Bay, Caithness, to St. Margaret's Hope on Orkney. Operated by Pentland Ferries, it has three daily departures.
In both Orkney and Shetland, the local council runs the interisland ferry networks (Orkney Ferries and Shetland Island Ferries) to the outer islands. Northlink Ferries has service between Lerwick on Shetland and Kirkwall on Orkney. These are lifeline services, so not just for visitors; always book ferry tickets in advance.
John O'Groats Ferries. 01955/611353; www.jogferry.co.uk.
Northlink Ferries. 0845/600–0449; www.northlinkferries.co.uk.
Orkney Ferries. 01856/872044; www.orkneyferries.co.uk.
Pentland Ferries. 0800/688–8998; www.pentlandferries.co.uk.
Shetland Island Ferries. 01595/745804; 01595/760363; www.shetland.gov.uk/ferries.