Orkney & Shetland

Where is it: 

Both Orkney and Shetland lie in the North Sea, off the northern coast of mainland Scotland. Orkney is only roughly 16 kilometres (9.94 miles) from the mainland but Shetland is about 170km (110 miles) away.

There are ferry services, some that take cars on board, from Aberdeen to Orkney and Shetland, as well as routes from Orkney to Shetland, and from Scrabster or John O’ Groats on the mainland to Orkney. You can also fly from airports in Scotland and sometimes other UK locations. 

Orkney & Shetland Map

Why visit: 

To explore some of Scotland’s most remote areas with dramatic scenery and unique historical sites. Both Orkney and Shetland are perfect for those looking to experience the lesser visited, but no less stunning, parts of Scotland.

Top things for families: 

Plenty of beautiful beaches and wide-open spaces to explore and relax in. Wildlife watching and historical sites like stone circles and ancient tombs. Orkney and Shetland have many more places like these in close proximity than on the mainland. 

Major towns:

Lerwick, Shetland: The capital of Shetland, where the ferries and cruise ships dock. A great jumping point to explore more of mainland Shetland and more of its islands. 

Kirkwall, Orkney: The largest town and site of the 12th century Norse Cathedral of St Magnus and the perfect base for exploring more of Orkney mainland, and other Orkney islands. 

Known for: 

Standing Stones and Pictish Sites: Orkney has several important historic sites relating to the Picts, the Celtic speaking people who originally lived in these isles.

The Ring of Brodgar is a large stone circle, close to the huge Standing Stones of Stenness, and also located near the Ness of Brodgar which is still being excavated every summer.