Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Islands, resonates with ancient echoes of Christian, Nordic and Celtic history. It’s a town that feels more Scandinavian than Scottish; in fact, the name Kirkwall comes from the Norse for 'Church Bay', relating to the town's 11th century Church of St Olaf of Norway.
Exploring the town’s atmospheric paved streets and twisting lanes, reveals a number of highlights, including the ruins of the Earl and Bishop’s Palaces, dating from the mid-12th century and serving as a reminder of the Orkney's turbulent past. The palaces are considered by many to be the finest Renaissance buildings in Scotland. Also worth visiting is the recently restored St. Magnus Cathedral, founded in memory of Saint Magnus Erlendsson by Norseman Earl Rögnvald Kali.
Don't miss Tankerness House, a beautifully preserved 16th century townhouse, and the Orkney Wireless Museum, with it's fascinating insights into the history of radio, too.
The group of Neolithic monuments on Orkney consists of a large chambered tomb (Maes Howe), two ceremonial stone circles (the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar), and a settlement (Skara Brae), together with a number of excavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites. Skara Brae – this archaeological site on the shores of the bay of Skaill is reputed to be the best-preserved Stone Age village in Europe. Skara Brae is accorded the same status as the pyramids in Egypt. However, the village is in fact much older, dating from 3200BC compared to 2700BC when the building of the pyramids began. Ring of Brodgar – the spellbinding stone circle – the Ring of Brodgar – is arguably the most iconic symbol of Orkney's prehistoric past. It is a site of ritual and ceremony. The Ring of Brodgar is an archaeological treasure and without doubt, one of the islands' most visited attractions.
Scapa Flow is a body of water covering 120 square miles, with an average depth of 30 to 40 metres. The Orkney Mainland and South Isles encircle Scapa Flow, making it a sheltered harbour with easy access to both the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Scapa Flow has been used as a harbour since Viking times. However, it wasn’t until the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800’s that the Admiralty first took an interest in Scapa Flow. The Admiralty used the area as a deep-water anchorage for trading ships waiting to cross the North Sea to Baltic ports. Some of the most significant naval action of World War II began in Scapa Flow. The astonishing diversity of wrecks, along with the fascinating stories behind them, make Scapa Flow a world-renowned location for all those interested in maritime history.