Things to do in Kirkwall Scotland

The Top 25 Things To Do In Kirkwall Scotland You Need to Know Before You Go

Last Updated: August 1, 2023By

What are the best things to do in Kirkwall, Scotland? Well, you don’t need to answer that question because we’ve got the answer for you. Are you ready to explore the beautiful town of Kirkwall in Scotland? Well, get ready for an adventure because we’ve compiled a list of the best 25 things to do in this charming place.

From historical landmarks to natural wonders, there’s something amazing for every kind of traveler. Here are just a few:

First up, make sure to visit St Magnus Cathedral, a stunning architectural masterpiece that will leave you in awe.

Then, why not head over to Highland Park Distillery and indulge in some delicious whiskey tasting?

Orkney Museum is another must-see attraction where you can dive into the rich history and culture of this ancient town.

If you’re interested in World War II history, don’t miss the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre or The Churchill Barriers.

For nature lovers, Skara Brae and Hoy Hills offer breathtaking views and opportunities for hiking.

And if you want to learn more about the local heritage, be sure to check out Westray Heritage Centre.

So grab your camera and get ready for an unforgettable journey through Kirkwall’s finest attractions as we quickly

Key Takeaways

  • Kirkwall, Scotland offers a wide range of attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy.
  • The city is rich in history, with ancient archaeological sites, medieval cathedrals, and landmarks that date back thousands of years.
  • Nature lovers will appreciate the stunning coastal views, majestic cliffs, and picturesque landscapes that surround Kirkwall.
  • The city is also known for its whisky production, with distilleries offering guided tours and tastings of award-winning whiskies.

1. St Magnus Cathedral

When visiting Kirkwall, you can’t miss the awe-inspiring St Magnus Cathedral. With its towering spires and intricate stone carvings, this cathedral is a must-see attraction in the heart of the city.

Built in the 12th century, St Magnus Cathedral is one of Scotland’s most significant religious sites and holds great historical significance. The stunning architecture and grandeur of the cathedral will leave you in awe as you step inside.

Marvel at the beautiful stained glass windows and admire the detailed craftsmanship that went into creating this masterpiece. Explore the peaceful surroundings and take a moment to reflect in this sacred space.

Adjacent to the cathedral, you’ll also find the ruins of Bishop’s Palace, adding to the charm and history of this remarkable site. Don’t forget your camera – you’ll want to capture every breathtaking detail!

2. Highland Park Distillery

Explore the charming Highland Park Distillery and immerse yourself in the rich history and exquisite flavors of Scottish whisky. Located in Kirkwall, Scotland, this iconic distillery is a must-visit attraction for whisky enthusiasts.

Step inside the traditional stone buildings and be transported back in time to experience the craftsmanship that goes into creating their renowned single malt whisky. Take a guided tour and learn about their unique production process, from malting the barley to maturing the spirit in oak casks.

As you stroll through the distillery, soak up the aromas of peat smoke and oak barrels, and marvel at the copper stills that have been used for over two centuries. Finish off your visit with a tasting session where you can savor the distinct flavors of Highland Park’s award-winning whiskies.

Don’t miss out on this exceptional opportunity to indulge in Scotland’s liquid gold at Highland Park Distillery.

3. Orkney Museum

Step into the Orkney Museum and transport yourself to a world of fascinating artifacts and captivating history. Located in Kirkwall, this attraction is one of the top things to do when visiting the area.

The museum showcases the rich heritage and culture of Orkney through its extensive collection of archaeological finds, artworks, and historical exhibits. As you wander through the museum’s various galleries, you’ll be amazed by the intricate details of ancient stone tools, Viking weaponry, and Pictish carvings.

The displays are thoughtfully curated, providing insight into the lives of those who inhabited these lands centuries ago. Whether you’re a history buff or simply curious about Orkney’s past, a visit to the Orkney Museum is a must-do experience that will leave you with a deeper appreciation for this remarkable region.

4. Scapa Flow Visitor Centre

Immerse yourself in the captivating history of Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and discover the secrets that lie beneath the surface of this mesmerizing destination. Located in Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, this center offers a fascinating glimpse into the events that took place during World War I and World War II.

At Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, you can explore:

  • Interactive exhibits: Dive deep into the history with engaging displays that bring the past to life.
  • Submarine artifacts: Get up close to actual submarines used during both world wars and learn about their impact on naval warfare.
  • Underwater archaeology: Discover the remnants of sunken ships and unravel their stories through underwater exploration.

Whether you’re a history buff or simply curious about this significant part of Kirkwall’s heritage, a visit to Scapa Flow Visitor Centre is an absolute must. Prepare to be amazed by its rich collection and gain a deeper understanding of Scotland’s maritime past.

5. Skara Brae

Get ready to transport yourself back in time as you uncover the ancient secrets of Skara Brae, a remarkable Neolithic village nestled on the rugged shores of Orkney, Scotland.

Step into this prehistoric settlement and marvel at the remarkably preserved stone dwellings that date back over 5,000 years.

Wander through the interconnected rooms and imagine what life was like for its inhabitants all those centuries ago.

Don’t miss the opportunity to visit nearby attractions such as Magnus Cathedral, a stunning example of medieval architecture, or take a tour of Highland Park, one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland.

For those interested in history and archaeology, a visit to Chambered Cairn is also highly recommended.

With its rich Viking heritage and its location within the Orkney Archipelago, Skara Brae offers an unforgettable journey into Scotland’s past.

6. Orkney Wine Company

Located in the Orkney Archipelago, the Orkney Wine Company is a unique distillery that offers a fantastic opportunity to learn about the art of winemaking. You won’t want to miss a visit to this distillery and indulge in its exquisite selection of locally-produced wines.

The Orkney Wine Company is nestled amidst stunning scenery, providing a picturesque setting for wine enthusiasts to explore.

After your visit, make sure to check out other attractions in Kirkwall. The Orkney Wireless Museum is a must-visit, where you can delve into its fascinating history of wireless communication. Don’t miss the chance to visit Skara Brae, a remarkable chambered tomb that gives insight into ancient life on Orkney.

For breathtaking views, head over to Scapa and marvel at its natural beauty.

7. Birsay Bay

With its stunning coastal views and rich history, Birsay Bay in the Orkney Archipelago offers a captivating destination for those seeking to uncover the hidden treasures of this enchanting region. Located just a short distance from Kirkwall, the bay is one of the must-see attractions on the Orkney Islands.

As you explore Birsay Bay, you’ll be greeted by dramatic cliffs and pristine sandy beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. The rugged beauty of this place is truly awe-inspiring. Take a leisurely stroll along the coastline and breathe in the fresh sea air while admiring the picturesque scenery.

Don’t forget to bring your camera because Birsay Bay provides countless photo opportunities that will leave you speechless. Whether you’re a nature lover or history enthusiast, this idyllic spot should definitely be on your list when visiting Kirkwall and the Orkney Islands.

8. Broch of Gurness

Immerse yourself in the ancient wonders of the Broch of Gurness, where you can step back in time and feel the palpable history that surrounds this mesmerizing archaeological site. As you explore this remarkable location, prepare to be captivated by its rich heritage and intriguing features.

Picture yourself strolling along Broad Street, imagining what life was like for the inhabitants of this thriving Iron Age settlement.

Marvel at the impressive Earls Palace, a grand structure that once served as a residence for Orkney’s powerful rulers. Admire the intricate architecture and ornate details that make this palace an architectural masterpiece.

Continue your journey through time as you visit the Bishops Palace, a medieval ruin with stunning views over Kirkwall. Explore its crumbling walls and imagine how it must have been during its heyday.

Before leaving, don’t miss out on visiting two more nearby attractions:

  • The Italian Chapel: a symbol of hope and resilience built by Italian prisoners during World War II.
  • The Ring of Brodgar: a mysterious stone circle believed to be older than Stonehenge itself.

The Broch of Gurness offers an enchanting blend of history and beauty, ensuring an unforgettable experience for all who visit.

9. The Italian Chapel

Step into the enchanting world of the Italian Chapel, where you can’t help but be mesmerized by the story behind this symbol of hope and resilience.

Located in Kirkwall, Scotland, this chapel holds a captivating history that will leave you in awe.

During World War II, Italian prisoners of war were held on the remote island of Orkney to build barriers across Scapa Flow to protect British ships from German attacks. In their spare time, these talented men transformed two Nissen huts into a stunning place of worship.

Using limited resources and salvaged materials from German ships, they created intricate artwork and beautiful sculptures that still adorn the chapel today.

The Italian Chapel stands as a testament to human creativity and determination in even the most challenging circumstances.

Don’t miss out on experiencing this extraordinary piece of history when visiting Kirkwall.

10. Maes Howe

Located in Orkney, the ancient tomb of Maes Howe will transport you back in time with its rich history and mysterious atmosphere. When visiting Kirkwall, Scotland, be sure to add Maes Howe to your list of things to do. Here are four fascinating aspects of this Neolithic wonder:

  1. Architectural Marvel: Built over 5,000 years ago, Maes Howe showcases remarkable engineering skills that still bewilder experts today.
  2. Ancient Cairns: Explore the surrounding area and discover other Neolithic cairns like Midhowe Chambered Cairn and Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn.
  3. Viking Graffiti: Inside the tomb’s walls, you’ll find centuries-old Viking graffiti left by Norsemen who sought shelter within its chambers.
  4. Winter Solstice Illumination: Witness a breathtaking phenomenon during the winter solstice as sunlight enters through a carefully aligned entrance passage.

Maes Howe is not just an archaeological site; it’s a captivating journey into our ancient past. So don’t miss out on this incredible experience when you visit Kirkwall, Scotland!

11. Old Man of Hoy

Now that you’ve explored the ancient wonders of Maes Howe, it’s time to venture further into the Orkneys and discover another breathtaking sight: the Old Man of Hoy.

Located just off the coast of Kirkwall, this towering sea stack is a testament to nature’s power and beauty. Standing at an impressive 449 feet tall, it has become an iconic landmark in Scotland.

The Old Man of Hoy was formed over thousands of years by erosion from wind and waves, creating its unique Neolithic design. As you gaze upon this magnificent structure, you can’t help but imagine the Vikings who once sailed these waters and marveled at its grandeur.

A visit to the Old Man of Hoy is a must for anyone seeking adventure and a connection to Scotland’s rich history.

12. Yesnaby Cliffs

As you continue your journey through the Orkneys, prepare to be awestruck by the dramatic beauty of the Yesnaby Cliffs. These majestic cliffs are a must-see for any visitor to Kirkwall, the largest town in Orkney. Standing tall and proud, they offer breathtaking views of the rugged coastline and crashing waves below.

Here are five reasons why you should make a stop at Yesnaby Cliffs:

  1. Stand Stones: Explore the ancient standing stones that dot the landscape surrounding the cliffs. These mysterious monuments have stood for centuries and hold stories from a time long gone.
  2. Tourist Attractions: Yesnaby Cliffs attract tourists from all over the world who come to witness their sheer grandeur and natural beauty. It’s no wonder these cliffs are considered one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions.
  3. Spectacular Views: From atop these towering cliffs, you’ll be treated to panoramic vistas that will take your breath away. The combination of rugged cliff faces and crashing waves create a mesmerizing sight.
  4. Wildlife Spotting: Keep an eye out for various seabirds that call these cliffs home, including puffins, gannets, and fulmars. Watching them soar above the cliffs is truly a sight to behold.
  5. Coastal Walks: Take advantage of the walking trails that wind along the coastline near Yesnaby Cliffs. The invigorating sea breeze and stunning scenery make it an unforgettable experience.

Make sure to add Yesnaby Cliffs to your itinerary when visiting Kirkwall – you won’t be disappointed!

13. Marwick Head

When you visit Marwick Head, prepare to be captivated by its rugged beauty and breathtaking views. Located near Kirkwall in Scotland, Marwick Head offers a stunning coastal landscape that will leave you in awe.

As you explore this magnificent site, you’ll encounter ancient standing stones that whisper stories of the past. The towering cliffs provide a dramatic backdrop as waves crash against them, creating a mesmerizing spectacle.

Don’t forget to visit the nearby St. Magnus Cathedral, a masterpiece of medieval architecture that showcases the rich history of the area.

After taking in the sights, why not indulge in some delicious local produce? Kirkwall is known for its fresh seafood and farm-to-table dining experiences. Treat yourself to succulent lobster or mouthwatering scallops while enjoying panoramic views of Marwick Head from one of the charming seaside restaurants.

With its combination of natural wonders, historical landmarks, and culinary delights, Marwick Head is an absolute must-visit when exploring Kirkwall and its surrounding areas.

14. The Churchill Barriers

Get ready to be amazed by the Churchill Barriers, a series of causeways that connect several islands in Orkney. These barriers were built as defensive measures during World War II and are not only an engineering marvel but also offer a unique experience for visitors to Kirkwall, Scotland.

Here are four reasons why you should include the Churchill Barriers in your list of things to do:

  1. Historical Significance: Learn about the fascinating history behind these barriers and how they played a crucial role in protecting naval vessels during the war.
  2. Scenic Beauty: Marvel at the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes as you drive or walk across these causeways.
  3. Wildlife Spotting: Keep an eye out for seals, otters, and various seabirds that inhabit the waters around the barriers.
  4. Tranquil Atmosphere: Enjoy a peaceful stroll along these quiet roads while taking in the serenity of the surrounding sea and countryside.

Don’t miss out on exploring this incredible piece of history when visiting Kirkwall, Scotland!

15. The Standing Stones of Stenness

Prepare to be mesmerized by the Standing Stones of Stenness, an ancient and mystical site that will transport you back in time.

Located near Kirkwall in Orkney, these standing stones are a true marvel of human history. Believed to date back over 5,000 years, this Neolithic monument is one of the oldest in the world.

As you stand amidst the towering stones, it’s hard not to feel a sense of awe and wonder at their sheer size and mystery. Legend has it that they were erected by Earl Rognvald, a Viking ruler with magical powers. Some say that these stones possess supernatural abilities, making them even more captivating.

Whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply seeking an otherworldly experience, a visit to the Standing Stones of Stenness is an absolute must-do when in Kirkwall.

16. Hoxa Tapestry Centre

Now that you’ve explored the ancient wonders of the Standing Stones of Stenness, it’s time to immerse yourself in the artistry and history of Kirkwall at the Hoxa Tapestry Centre.

Located just south of Kirkwall, this hidden gem showcases the intricate craftsmanship of local tapestry artists. As you step inside, you’ll be greeted by a kaleidoscope of colors and textures, each thread telling its own unique story.

Take your time to admire the stunning tapestries on display, depicting scenes from Orkney’s rich past and present. The centre also offers workshops where you can learn traditional weaving techniques or try your hand at creating your own masterpiece.

After indulging in the artistic beauty here, explore some nearby places to stay or grab a bite to eat in Kirkwall.

17. Stromness Shopping Street

Located a short distance from Kirkwall, Stromness Shopping Street offers visitors the opportunity to explore a charming and vibrant collection of local shops and boutiques. This bustling street is situated near the harbor, providing a picturesque setting for shopping enthusiasts.

As you stroll along the cobblestone sidewalks, you’ll be captivated by the historic buildings that line the street, each with its own unique character. From trendy clothing stores to quaint gift shops, there’s something for everyone on Stromness Shopping Street.

Don’t forget to stop by some of the top-rated cafes and restaurants in the area, where you can indulge in delicious local cuisine. If you’re planning to stay in Kirkwall overnight, there are plenty of accommodation options available nearby, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in this delightful shopping experience.

18. Foveran Links

As you explore Stromness Shopping Street, make sure to take a leisurely stroll along the scenic Foveran Links.

Located in Kirkwall, Orkney’s largest town, this picturesque coastal area offers breathtaking views of the coastline.

The Foveran Links is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts with various activities to indulge in.

If you’re a golf enthusiast, you can enjoy a round of golf on the well-maintained greens while soaking up the stunning scenery.

For nature lovers, birdwatching is a must-do activity here, as the Foveran Links is home to numerous bird species.

As you wander through this tranquil setting, it’s hard not to feel at peace amidst its natural beauty.

Fun fact: during World War II, Italian prisoners were held in camps nearby and used their artistic skills to create intricate sculptures that can still be seen today.

19. The Ring of Brodgar

Immerse yourself in the ancient mystique of Orkney by venturing to the awe-inspiring Ring of Brodgar, located near Kirkwall in Scotland.

This historical site is a must-visit attraction in Kirkwall and offers a captivating experience for history enthusiasts.

As you approach the ring, you’ll be greeted by towering stone monoliths that have stood strong for thousands of years. The sheer size and grandeur of these stones are truly mesmerizing, leaving visitors in awe of their construction and significance.

Walking among them, you can’t help but feel a palpable sense of history surrounding you.

The Ring of Brodgar is an important part of Orkney’s rich heritage, offering a glimpse into ancient times and leaving visitors with unforgettable memories of their time in Kirkwall, Scotland.

20. The Brough of Birsay

Step into the ancient past and explore the captivating Brough of Birsay, where history comes alive amidst its rugged coastal beauty. Located near Kirkwall in Scotland, this is one of the best places to visit when exploring the area.

As you approach the island, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking views of cliffs and crashing waves. Once you step foot on Brough of Birsay, you’ll discover an array of archaeological remains that date back centuries. Explore the ruins of a Norse settlement and imagine what life was like for those who once called this place home.

Don’t forget to climb to the top of the lighthouse for panoramic views that will leave you in awe. Whether you’re a history buff or simply appreciate natural beauty, a visit to Brough of Birsay is a must-do when in Kirkwall.

21. Loch of Harray

Located near Kirkwall in Scotland, the Loch of Harray offers a tranquil setting where you can appreciate the serene beauty of nature. This picturesque loch is one of Orkney’s largest freshwater bodies and is surrounded by rolling green hills and stunning landscapes.

As you stroll along the loch’s shores, you’ll be captivated by the peaceful atmosphere and breathtaking views.

The Loch of Harray is not only a haven for nature lovers but also holds historical significance. Its proximity to Kirkwall makes it an ideal spot to learn about the rich history of this area.

From here, you can explore Kirkwall’s fascinating past, including its connection to the Earls and Bishops as well as its iconic Cathedral.

So take a moment to unwind at the Loch of Harray and immerse yourself in both natural beauty and cultural heritage.

22. Hoy Hills

Surrounded by rolling green hills and stunning landscapes, the Hoy Hills offers a majestic backdrop for hikers and nature enthusiasts to explore. With its towering sandstone cliffs and breathtaking views, this natural wonder is a must-visit attraction in Kirkwall, Scotland.

As you hike through the rugged terrain, you’ll be treated to panoramic vistas of the nearby Scapa Beach and even catch glimpses of cruise ships passing by. The Hoy Hills are also home to diverse wildlife, including seabirds nesting on the cliffs and wildflowers scattered along the trails.

Don’t forget your camera as you capture unforgettable moments in this picturesque setting. Whether you’re an avid hiker or simply looking to appreciate nature’s beauty, exploring the Hoy Hills ranks high on the list of top things to do in Kirkwall, the largest town in Orkney.

23. Westray Heritage Centre

Now that you’ve explored the breathtaking views of Hoy Hills, it’s time to dive deeper into the rich history of Kirkwall.

One place that shouldn’t be missed on your journey is the Westray Heritage Centre. This charming museum offers a fascinating insight into the island’s heritage and culture.

As you step inside, you’ll be greeted by friendly staff ready to share their knowledge and stories with you. The center houses an impressive collection of artifacts, photographs, and exhibitions that will transport you back in time.

Discover the lives of generations past through interactive displays, highlighting everything from traditional crafts to local legends.

Whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply curious about this enchanting corner of Scotland, a visit to the Westray Heritage Centre promises an unforgettable experience.

24. The Churchill Barriers

The Churchill Barriers are a remarkable feat of engineering, connecting several islands and protecting the harbor of Scapa Flow. These barriers in Kirkwall, Scotland are a must-see for anyone visiting the area. Here are three reasons why you should make sure to visit them:

  1. Historical significance: The Churchill Barriers were constructed during World War II to prevent enemy submarines from entering Scapa Flow. They stand as a testament to the ingenuity and determination of those who built them.
  2. Stunning views: As you drive along these remote islands, you’ll be treated to breathtaking vistas of rugged coastlines and turquoise waters. The scenery alone is worth the trip.
  3. Fascinating wildlife: Keep an eye out for seals, seabirds, and even otters that call this area home. The Churchill Barriers provide a unique habitat for various species, making it an ideal spot for nature enthusiasts.

Don’t miss out on experiencing these incredible structures firsthand when exploring Kirkwall, Scotland’s remote islands!

25. RSPB Reserve of Marwick Head

When you visit Kirkwall, Scotland, make sure to check out the RSPB Reserve of Marwick Head for an unforgettable experience!

The RSPB Reserve of Marwick Head is a stunning coastal reserve that offers breathtaking views and incredible wildlife sightings.

As you explore the reserve, you’ll be captivated by the dramatic cliffs that tower above the North Atlantic Ocean.

Keep your eyes peeled for seabirds such as puffins, guillemots, and razorbills nesting on the cliffs.

The reserve is also home to a variety of other bird species including oystercatchers and kittiwakes.

Take a leisurely stroll along the well-maintained paths and immerse yourself in nature’s beauty.

Don’t forget to bring your binoculars or camera to capture these precious moments at the RSPB Reserve of Marwick Head.

FAQs About Things to Do in Kirkwall Scotland

Can you recommend any accommodations near the attractions mentioned in the article?


There are several accommodations near the attractions mentioned in the article. You’ll find a range of options to suit your preferences and budget. From charming bed and breakfasts to cozy guesthouses, there’s something for everyone.

These accommodations are conveniently located, allowing you to easily explore all the exciting things Kirkwall has to offer. Whether you’re looking for a central location or a peaceful retreat, you’re sure to find the perfect place to stay near these popular attractions.

Are there any guided tours available for these attractions?

Yes, there are guided tours available for many of the attractions mentioned in Kirkwall, Scotland. These tours offer a fantastic way to explore the city and learn more about its rich history and culture.

Whether you’re interested in visiting historic sites, enjoying scenic views, or experiencing local cuisine, there’s a tour that caters to your interests.

So sit back, relax, and let the knowledgeable guides take you on an unforgettable journey through Kirkwall’s top attractions.

What is the best time of year to visit Kirkwall and these attractions?

The best time of year to visit Kirkwall and its attractions is during the summer months, from June to August. This is when the weather is at its best, with longer daylight hours and milder temperatures.

You’ll have a greater chance of enjoying outdoor activities like visiting historical sites and exploring the stunning landscapes that surround the city.

Additionally, many events and festivals take place during this time, offering a vibrant atmosphere for visitors to immerse themselves in.

Are there any local restaurants or cafes near these attractions?

Yes, there are plenty of local restaurants and cafes near the attractions in Kirkwall.

You’ll find cozy cafes serving up delicious pastries and hot drinks, as well as charming restaurants offering traditional Scottish cuisine.

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite or a leisurely meal, there are options to suit all tastes.

Make sure to indulge in some local delicacies while exploring the attractions in Kirkwall!

Are there any public transportation options to reach these attractions?

Yes, there are public transportation options available to reach these attractions in Kirkwall, Scotland. Buses are a convenient mode of transport that will take you to various locations within the city.

There is also a reliable ferry service that can transport you to nearby islands and attractions.

Additionally, taxis are readily available for those who prefer a more private means of travel.

With these options, exploring Kirkwall and its beautiful attractions is easy and accessible for everyone.


These are the best and top things to do in Kirkwall, Scotland! What are your thoughts?

From exploring the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral to indulging in a whisky tasting at Highland Park Distillery, this charming town offers something for everyone.

Dive into the rich history of Orkney at the Orkney Museum or immerse yourself in the beauty of Skara Brae’s ancient village. Whether you’re a nature lover or a history buff, Kirkwall has endless adventures waiting for you.

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