Orkney is an archipelago of over 70 islands lying just off the north coast of Scotland. The main island, known as 'Mainland', is surrounded by smaller islands to the North and South, each with their distinctive character. In all 19 islands are inhabited, and are accessible via causeways, ferries or flights.
Kirkwall is the main transport and distribution hub. Ferries travel to and from the Northern Isles from the busy harbour and there are short flights to many of the islands from the airport just 10 minutes out of town, as well as daily flights to Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The islands of Hoy and Flotta, which lie to the south of Mainland, are reached by boat from Houton, 20 minutes drive from Kirkwall.
The town has a vibrant centre around its magnificent 12th century Cathedral. With lots of independent retailers, butchers, a deli, baker, craft shops and general stores which stock everything you can imagine, it's a good place to get your bearings, to shop and eat. There are historic buildings, museums and a leisure centre with cinema, swimming and leisure pools, fitness and health suites, squash courts and other sports facilities.
Beyond the town, the open landscape offers stunning views and there's lots to explore. Around the coasts there are quiet sandy beaches, spectacular coastal walks, panoramic views and wonderful wildlife. Inland the rich farmland of rolling green fields is grazed by cattle and sheep, and wetlands are alive with birds in summer.
The second town of Stromness, 17 miles from Kirkwall, has narrow streets leading steeply uphill from the harbour and is the ferry terminal for Northlink's service to Scrabster. It has a Museum, the renowned Pier Arts Centre and a number of smaller commercial art galleries. It is also home to the European Marine Energy Centre and a centre of expertise for the renewables industry.
Roughly 15 miles south of Kirkwall is St Margaret's Hope, a conservation village which is the terminus for the Pentland Ferries service to Gills Bay near John o Groats. On the way you can visit the famous Italian Chapel and visit other galleries and local museums.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site lies to the west of Kirkwall within easy reach, a must-see for any visitor. There are plenty of other historic sites of interest too, including Iron Age brochs, Norse palaces and coastal batteries from the First and Second World Wars.
A Craft Trail provides a self-drive tour of artists studios and workshops making jewellery, textiles and other crafts; and there are a number of interesting local museums and visitor centres dotted around the Mainland and linked South Isles.
The outer isles offer further riches for those who make the journey. Find out more here.