Orkney Islands are located off the far northern tip of Scotland and are most often accessed by a boat ride of some sort. This archipelago consists of approximately 70 islands, and 20 of these are inhabited. The "Mainland" is the largest island with its administrative center in the town of Kirkwall. The islands have been inhabited for at least 5,000 years, and there is a rich heritage of prehistoric archeological excavations here. These are called the "Heart of Neolithic Orkney" and are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Orkney Islands tourism draws many people to these fascinating sites.
The Orkney Islands Scotland prehistoric sites that are named in the UNESCO inscription are located on the Mainland. There is the large chambered tomb (Maes Howe), the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar ceremonial circles, the settlement of Skara Brae, and a number of unexcavated sites. The island of Rousay lies just a couple thousand feet off the Mainland, and boasts a number of notable prehistoric sites as well. These are primarily impressive Iron Age cairns and brochs, sophisticated drystone hollow wall structures unique to Scotland and the Scottish Highlands.
The Orkney Islands were conquered Norway in 875 AD and were ceded to Scotland in 1472. You can fly to Kirkwall Orkney Islands Scotland from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness on the Scottish mainland, in addition to Shetland Island located even farther to the north. From here, there are flights to the larger inhabited islands. Among these flights is what is reputed to be the shortest scheduled passenger flight in the world. The flight from Westray to Papa Westray takes two minutes, or just one if the wind is right.
Other than these flights, Orkney Islands tourism relies on boats. There are frequent ferries from the Scottish mainland and on to the Shetlands. The shortest ferry route from the mainland is from the far northern towns of Thurso, Scrabster, and Gills Bay. The longest ferry route is between Aberdeen and Kirkwall.
Known as the Royal Burgh, Kirkwall is the Orkney Islands capital. Virtually everyone who visits the islands will end up in here for a time. Things to see include one of the country's cathedrals. Construction on S. Magnus Cathedral began in 1137, and it is made of distinctive red sandstone. Across from the cathedral are the equally impressive ruins of the Bishop's Palace and Earl's Palace, both dating to the seventeenth century. You can get a taste of traditional whiskey at the Highland Park Distillery that offers tours during the spring and summer.
This is a very remote region, but steady growth in Orkney Islands tourism has helped a growing number of hotels to prosper. The largest number of these are located in Kirkwall and in other Mainland communities along the coast. But there are prestigious accommodations to be had on other islands as well. You can try Balfour Castle on Shapinsay Island. This is a 52-room stately home that was built in 1847 and today is a truly unique bed and breakfast lodging that can accommodate only 18 guests. The house is furnished in period antiques, and the expansive grounds are quite beautiful. If this is a bit out of your league, you can try one of the two hostels in Kirkwall or enjoy camping in truly beautiful surroundings. There are several camp sites on different islands, and most of them offer caravan sites with electricity.
Most of the most popular things to do on the Orkney Islands Scotland involve outdoor activities. There is excellent fishing, including sea trout fishing. There are many hiking trails and footpaths, as well as cycling paths. There is horseback riding and birdwatching. This is prime territory for spotting puffins, as well as osprey, eagles, owls, and a variety of sea birds. If lucky, you might catch a glimpse of orca whales. More commonly spotted are playful dolphins.