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KirkwallUnited Kingdom

Wander along the winding streets of this bustling market town, one of Britain’s most well-preserved ancient Norse settlements.

The capital of Orkney, Kirkwall, is a lovely town dotted with historic houses and independent shops. Look inside the town’s eye-catching sandstone cathedral, sip Scotch whisky and learn about the rich history of Kirkwall and the Orkney Islands at the local museum.

It’s almost impossible to miss St. Magnus Cathedral, which is easily Kirkwall’s most notable landmark. Dating back to the 12th century, this beautiful sandstone building features an interesting mix of Norman and early Gothic designs. Admire the early stained glass works, as well as the compelling 17th and 18th-century tombs housed inside.

Find the 17th-century ruins of Earl's Palace just across from the cathedral. Once the residence of despised leader Earl Patrick Stewart, the palace’s most significant feature is its elaborate 16-foot (5-meter) wide fireplace.

Your entrance ticket to Earl’s Palace also grants admission to neighboring Bishop’s Palace. Like Earl’s Palace, Bishop’s Palace mainly consists of roofless ruins. Make your way to the top of its tower staircase for magnificent views over St. Magnus Cathedral and all of Kirkwall.

Head to the Highland Park Distillery for samples of local single malt whisky. Informative hour-long tours of the distillery cover the entire process of producing the region’s smoky yet sweet malt. Learn about the processes of drying the barley in peat kilns, mashing and maturation of the product in oak casks.

The engaging Orkney Museum provides an overview of the islands’ history. Housed in a former merchant’s house, the museum includes Pictish carvings as well as intriguing exhibits dedicated to the islands’ social history. Don’t miss the pretty gardens located at the back of the residence.

Plan your visit in June to see the week-long St. Magnus Festival. One of the most acclaimed arts festivals in Britain, this event features a diverse program of literature, visual arts, dance, music and drama.

Kirkwall is one of Orkney’s main transportations hubs. Kirkwall Airport is serviced by flights from Aberdeen, Glasgow and Inverness. The town itself is located just west of the airport, where it’s accessible by bus. The harbor is connected to Shetland and Aberdeen via ferry. See the fascinating historic sites of this charming harborside town.

Top hotels in Kirkwall

Estimated price for 1 night / 2 adults
The Ayre Hotel
The Ayre Hotel
3 out of 5
Ayre Road, Kirkwall, Scotland
The price is £85 per night

Situated in Kirkwall, this hotel is steps away from Mainland and Orkney Wireless Museum. St. Magnus Cathedral and Orkney Museum are also within 10 minutes.

3.9/5Good! (8 reviews)

"The family apartment was very nice and suited our needs. The restaurant had great food and the staff was very friendly."…"

Reviewed on 5 Sep 2019

The Ayre Hotel
The Shore
The Shore
3 out of 5
Shore Street, Kirkwall, Scotland
The price is £90 per night

Located in the heart of Kirkwall, this hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Mainland and Orkney Wireless Museum. St. Magnus Cathedral and Orkney Museum are also ...

4.4/5Wonderful! (77 reviews)

"The staff were great - super friendly and very helpful."…"

Reviewed on 10 Mar 2020

The Shore
West End Hotel
West End Hotel
3 out of 5
14 Main Street, Kirkwall, Scotland
The price is £80 per night

Located in the heart of Kirkwall, this hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Mainland, Bishop's Palace and Earl's Palace. Orkney Museum and St. Magnus Cathedral ...

4.2/5Very Good! (67 reviews)

"The meals are excellent and very friendly staff. I had the best gin and tonic ever in their bar - Orkney Rhubarb Old Tom"…"

Reviewed on 17 Mar 2020

West End Hotel

Popular places to visit in Kirkwall

Earl's Palace
Image for Earl's Palace

Earl's Palace

4/5(13 reviews)

Take a tour of this impressive 17th-century ruin, considered to be among the finest examples of French Renaissance architecture in Scotland.

St. Magnus Cathedral
Image for St. Magnus Cathedral

St. Magnus Cathedral

4.5/5(33 reviews)

Examine the intriguing 17th-century tombstones housed inside this stunning sandstone cathedral.

Bishop's Palace
Image for Bishop's Palace

Bishop's Palace

4/5(13 reviews)

Explore the ruined remains of this 12th-century palace and see the views from the top of its spiral staircase.

Scapa beach
Image for Scapa beach

Scapa beach

Why not spend a lazy afternoon at Scapa beach during your trip to Kirkwall? You can enjoy the bars while in the area.

Mill Sand
Image for Mill Sand

Mill Sand

Why not spend a lazy afternoon at Mill Sand during your trip to Kirkwall? You can enjoy the bars while in the area.

Skara Brae
Image for Skara Brae

Skara Brae

4.5/5(22 reviews)

Discover the secrets of Orkney’s earliest inhabitants and find out what life was like during prehistoric times at this beautifully preserved ancient village.

Cities near Kirkwall