Orkney is justifiably famed for its world-class neolithic monuments, World War I and II sights and unique coastal landscapes. Although it takes a bit of planning to get there, you will be well rewarded with a very special place.
We know that it can be tricky to work out the best way to get to Orkney. Consequently, we have done the research for you and have provided a summary below of all of the transportation options available from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen. We have based our research on travelling in the summer months (April to September). Here goes…
This is the quickest way to get to Orkney, but it is also the most costly. Loganair is the only airline to operate flights to Orkney from Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh to Kirkwall, Orkney’s main town, and the flight time is around one hour. The planes are generally pretty small and, if the weather co-operates, you can often get great views most of the way, particularly from Inverness!
We did a search in July for flights at the start of September and the return flight prices and frequencies were as follows;
Aberdeen – £135, 3 flights daily
Inverness – £188, 1 – 2 flights daily
Edinburgh – £202, 2 – 3 flights daily
Glasgow – £249, 2 flights daily
Aberdeen tends to have the strongest links with Orkney (and Shetland) so we’d imagine that’s why there are higher passenger numbers there, hence the more frequent flights and cheaper rates.
2. Ferry from Aberdeen
There are a number of ferry options, and it really depends where you are starting from as to which is most suitable for you.
If you are starting from Aberdeen it would make most sense to take the Northlink ferry from here. There is a ferry on four days per week during the summer and it departs at 1700, arriving into Kirkwall at 2345 (6 ¾ hour duration). On the way home there is again only one choice of departure, with the 2345 ferry arriving back into Aberdeen at 0700 the next day.
Whilst this is quite a long journey the ferry is very comfortable, and well-equipped with restaurants, bars and lounges. You can also take your car on the ferry, which is convenient for travelling around in Orkney.
The price for a return trip for 2 adults plus a standard car is around £320. If you want to add a cabin (perhaps for the way back only) you can, with prices ranging from £35 for a bed in a shared cabin, to £135 for a twin cabin (each way).
Incidentally, if you wish to visit Shetland too this is the only way to get a ferry from the mainland to there. Once it drops off in Kirkwall it carries on up to Sumburgh, arriving at 0730.
3. Ferry from the North Coast (Gills Bay, Scrabster or John O’Groats)
The drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh to either of these ferry ports will take around 6 – 7 hours, with the drive from Inverness taking 3 hours. Thankfully, once you get there, the ferry crossings are regular and short!
The crossing from Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope is run by Pentland Ferries and takes approximately one hour. Departures are regular and you can take your car with you. The price of a return trip, for 2 adults and a standard car, is around £150 (their website is currently down so we need to check this price!)
The crossing from Scrabster to Stromness is run by Northlink and takes 90 minutes. There are 2 – 3 departures per day and you can also take your car on this ferry. The price of a return trip, for 2 adults and a standard car, is around £186.
The crossing from John O’Groats to Burwick is run by John O’Groats Ferries and takes 40 minutes. The crossing is only available for foot passengers (i.e. no vehicles) and costs £20 per person. Unlike the other ferries mentioned, which run year round, this one only runs between May and September.
4. One Day tour (from Inverness only)
There are two companies offering day tours from Inverness. The huge advantage of these one day tours is that they cover the same, if not more, sights than all of the multi-day tours listed in the next section.
The WOW Scotland Orkney Day Tour is a 16-hour bumper day from Inverness, departing at 0530 and returning at 2130. Whilst it’s a long day, you will get to see all of the main sights on the island! Plus, by having the same coach throughout the day it means we can make a round trip on two different ferry routes, enabling us to see many other islands, plus the Old Man of Hoy, enroute. The WOW tour is priced at £119 per person, plus an optional £10 for attractions and £5 sandwich lunch.
The other company offering a one day tour, from June to August only, is John O’Groats Ferries. They depart a bit later than the WOW tour, and return earlier, so you get to see less sights and you go there and back on the same passenger ferry (one bus drops you off and another collects you) but you do still get to see a lot in a day. The tour is priced at £64pp, with no entrance fees or meals included.
5. Multi-day tour (from any city)
Timberbush offer a three day tour from Inverness, as do Rabbies. On these tours the first day is spent travelling up, then you have a full day on Orkney and spend the third day travelling back. The Timberbush tour is priced at £175 per person and the Rabbies tour is priced at £199 per person approx., but note that neither of these include your accommodation (they can arrange this for an additional cost).
There are ambitious tours from Edinburgh which cover all of Scotland in a minimum of 5 days (up to around 10 days). Rabbies, Timberbush and Highland Experience all have 5 days tours which incorporate one or two nights on Orkney. Prices start from around £300 (not including accommodation, entrance fees or meals). Discreet Scotland offer an 8 day private Scotland tour, including one day and two nights in Orkney.
There are fewer multi-day choices from Glasgow, although Timberbush have a 5 day Scotland tour from there, and we are not aware of any scheduled multi-day tours including Orkney from Aberdeen
We hope that this has been helpful, and we hope that you will manage to visit Orkney whilst you are in Scotland – it truly is a magical place!
To read more about our Orkney Day Tour click here