Orkney and Shetland Island Hopping
So, what awaits you in Orkney and Shetland? For starters, each has a distinctive culture, natural wonders and a number of fascinating geological sites. Lying off Scotland’s north coast, surrounded by crystal-clear waters, these two archipelagos are rather special places indeed.
Take a 12-day trip through this charming scattering of islands where you’ll discover some of the most stunning coastal scenery in the world, remarkable wildlife, ancient archaeological sites, pristine beaches and much more.
Perfect Time To Go
April - October
Number Of Nights
Orkney – Kirkwall & Stromness
Collect your rental car for the first day of your adventure and it’s going to be a good one! Get your bearings on Orkney mainland, the largest of the islands in Orkney, and explore town, coastline and the famous Skara Brae.
Your journey starts in the Orcadian capital of Kirkwall. Immerse yourself in the island’s fascinating history on a visit to its many historic sites including St Magnus Cathedral, a magnificent red sandstone building that dominates the skyline for miles around.
Nearby you’ll find the remains of Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces. In spite of its architectural splendour, the Earl’s Palace was actually the setting of one of the most infamous periods in Orkney’s past when it was the stronghold of the despotic Stewart Earls. The ruined Bishop’s Palace dates from the 12th century and is the site where Norwegian King Haakon the Old died following his defeat at the Battle of Largs in 1263.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney
Dedicate your second day in Orkney to unearthing the other archaeological treasures which form the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You might feel like you’re Indiana Jones by the end of today!
Make your first stop the Brough of Birsay, the remnants of Pictish and Viking settlements which span the 7th to the 13th century. Here you’ll find traces of Viking and even older Pictish homes, the remains of a Viking monastery, an 11th century sauna, and the cast of a Pictish standing stone with its engravings still visible (the original is on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh).
Isle of Hoy
Set off by ferry from Houton and head to the Isle of Hoy. Today you’ll explore the second largest island in Orkney and enjoy its coastal delights. Once you’ve arrived in Hoy, you can drive to Rackwick Bay where you’ll be met by some of the most spectacular coastal scenery Orkney has to offer. Enjoy a bracing walk to the Old Man of Hoy, a dramatic sea stack which is the tallest in Britain and considered one of the most challenging ascents in the UK by climbers. Take the ferry back to Houton.
Take the ferry from Kirkwall for a day trip to the Isle of Westray, where you can discover this island’s natural beauty and unique heritage.
Lamb Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay
Travel South to other islands via the causeways known as the Churchill Barriers and get a further insight into two very different eras of Orkney’s history. From Kirkwall, head south to the island of Lamb Holm. Here you can visit the Italian Chapel, a highly ornate Catholic chapel which was constructed at the same time as the Churchill Barriers by Italian prisoners of war during the Second World War.
Head back North to Kirkwall to catch the overnight ferry to Lerwick and relax in your own cabin.
Shetland – Lerwick
You are now 100 miles from the Scottish mainland on the most northerly of the British Isles! Wake up and disembark from the ferry in Lerwick, the main port and bustling capital of Shetland. Spend today getting to know this harbour town and see its sights.
Lerwick is a network of narrow lanes that lead out from the shop-lined Commercial Street. Victoria Pier is a hub of activity during the summer months with sailing races and regattas regularly taking place in the harbour, while the town centre hosts street markets and live concerts throughout the year.
As well as a fantastic choice of cafés and shops, Lerwick boasts a number of must-see attractions including the fascinating Shetland Museum and Archives which offers entry free of charge and brings to life the story of Shetland and its people.
In the three-storey Boat Hall, admire beautiful vessels suspended from the ceiling. These have been crafted by locals using skills and techniques passed down through the centuries from their Viking forefathers. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, pop to Hay’s Dock Café Restaurant. It serves simple yet delicious dishes prepared using the finest Shetland produce. Yum!
Shetland – South Mainland
We suggest an early start today – there’s a lot to fit in! Today you’ll be heading south to experience remarkable heritage sites. Soak up the history and imagine life in eras gone by!
Pop into the Shetland Crofthouse Museum in Dunrossness, a restored 19th century Shetland croft which was inhabited until the 1960s. It offers a rare insight into a traditional way of life which has long since vanished. See the charming cottage with the carefully maintained thatched roof and smell the burning peat fire. It might be tempting to leave civilisation behind and move in!
Shetland – Central Mainland
Explore the central mainland of Shetland, including the sheltered seaport of Scalloway, only 6 miles from Lerwick. It was known as the capital of the islands till 1708 and has had its fair share of history. Visit the Scalloway Museum and discover the fascinating story of the Shetland Bus, the name given to a covert wartime operation. Conducted between the Royal Navy and the Norwegian Resistance, it involved Shetland fishing vessels helping to transport supplies, weapons and Allied agents out of Nazi-occupied Norway.
Shetland – North West Mainland
Today, explore the north west part of the Shetland Mainland, known as the Northmavine peninsula, and discover local history and stretch your legs and see the best of Shetland’s landscape on a rejuvenating walk!
Follow the road north to Hillswick, home to a small wildlife sanctuary for seals and otters, and onto Eshaness. Here you can visit the Tangwick Haa Museum, a former laird’s house which displays exhibits relating to the development of Northmavine and its people.
Cross from the Mainland to the island of Yell, and then catch the 10 minute ferry crossing to neighbouring Unst, Britain’s most northerly island to uncover the remnants of the Vikings, see incredible geology and admire the island’s natural heritage.
Explore the excavated Viking longhouse sites of Unst. Highlights of which include the reconstructed longhouse at Hamar and the nearby Skidbladner, an impressive replica Gokstad ship. Managed by the Shetland Amenity Trust, you can find out just what the digs revealed about the Norse Vikings who settled on the islands.
It’s the final day! Depart Unst and start to make your way back to Shetland Mainland. Before you leave Shetland and catch the evening ferry departure from Lerwick, you might just have time to catch some of Yell’s natural highlights.
You’ll find some of the best beaches in the UK! In the very north of the island, you can discover the Sands of Breckon, where shell sand dunes are bordered by crystal clear waters and dune grass lands.
Orkney – Kirkwall
It’s been a busy few days in Orkney, but your last day on these islands has finally arrived. Return your rental car and bid farewell to these beautiful islands!
The above package includes the following:
- 12 nights hotel accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis
- Orkney Explorer Pass
- Hire of self-drive car (additional supplement may be payable for additional mileage on Shetland)
- Ferry Fares between Orkney & Shetland including the smaller islands (excluding ferry from/to mainland Scotland)
- VAT at 20%