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Kirkwall

Known for Historical Buildings, Cathedrals and Monuments

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

How do you get to Kirkwall?

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.

Things to do in Kirkwall

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

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

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

Find out about the history of Stromness when you take a trip to Mainland. Amble around the area's marina or experience its museums.

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

Gain insight into the rich Neolithic heritage of the Orkney Islands at this ancient monument, which consists of a circle of megaliths.

Walk along the scenic trail leading to this iconic sea stack, which is among the tallest in Britain.