Orkney Day Tour from Inverness
With its astonishing concentration of Neolithic monuments, fascinating plethora of World War I and II sites, unique coastal landscapes and distinct Orcadian culture, a visit to this remote archipelago is deservedly high on many visitors’ must-see lists.
On our one day bumper tour from Inverness you will visit: The prehistoric sights of Skara Brae and The Ring of Brodgar; Orkney’s most fascinating WWII sight, The Italian Chapel; the town of Kirkwall, home of the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral; and the architectural gemstone of Stromness. In addition, the journey itself is definitely a firm favourite too, with highlights including sights of the North Coast 500 and the ferry trip home, which enables you to enjoy views over to The Old Man of Hoy; a 450 foot high sea stack towering in front of Britain’s tallest vertical sea cliffs. You will have to get up early in the morning, but you will be able to see and explore more on this one day tour than others see in two or three days..trust us, it is worth it to see it the WOW way!
The Orkney tour itinerary
The Journey Begins
Upon arrival at Inverness Bus Station you will be greeted by the WOW Scotland team. You will board our executive mini-coach ready for departure promptly at 5.30am. This early start is essential as it enables us to take the first ferry onto the island, giving us the whole day on Orkney. It is a long journey, so we want to make sure that you experience as many sights as possible when you get there; we are confident that the early start will enable you to do this. Once on the coach your guide will excite you with some details of the action-packed day ahead of you, then he will let you sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery.
North Coast 500
Since its inception in 2015, the North Coast 500 has been a runaway success, taking its place on many “world’s best road trips” lists. On this tour we will drive the first 120 miles of the NC500, on our journey from Inverness to the ferry terminal in Gill’s Bay. The early part of the journey is though the county of Sutherland, where you will be able to sit back, relax and enjoy views of unspoilt mountainous landscapes out one side of the coach, and stunning seascapes out of the other side. This is an area of scattered fishing communities, award-winning golf courses, quaint harbours and archaeological wonders, so there is plenty to look out for along the way. We will stop for a quick comfort break in Golspie or Brora, before we push on to Caithness, arriving at the ferry terminal around 8.45am.
Crossing to Orkney - Pentland Ferries
Upon arrival on the north coast of Scotland we will board the MV Pentalina; a family-owned ferry which provides the quickest crossing to Orkney. The journey only takes one hour but we would encourage you to bring binoculars as this may well be a heavenly hour for wildlife fans!
As the ferry departs you will see the islands of Stroma and Swona in the distance. Keep your eye out for both common seals and grey seals, which can often be seen basking on these islands’ shores, as well as for the feral cattle of Swona, which have been roaming free on the island for over 30 years.
This area is a haven for birds and you should look out for puffins, fulmars, great skua, razor bills, guillemots and gannets. It is also possible to see orca, dolphins, minke whales and even basking sharks, so bag a window seat, or venture outdoors if you can.
As we sail towards the Orkney island of South Ronaldsay we will pass the abandoned gun towers and lookout posts of the Hoxa Head, which give an poignant reminder of Orkney’s role during both WWI and WWII. Shortly after this the village of St Margaret’s Hope comes into view and our Orkney adventure begins!
St Margaret's Hope and Churchill Barriers
Welcome to Orkney! Upon arrival in the village of St Margaret’s Hope you will re-board the coach and our tour of the archipelago begins in earnest.
The Churchill Barriers are a series of four causeways which link the islands of South Ronaldsay, Burray, Glims Holm and Lamb Holm. They were commissioned by Winston Churchill during WWII to protect the anchorage at Scapa Flow, after the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak while it lay at harbour there in 1939. As construction was not completed until after the war had ended their lasting legacy was the linking of these five islands, and it is courtesy of these barriers that we can quickly island hop northwards.
Our first stop is at the Italian Chapel, situated on the island of Lamb Holm.
During WWII a shortage of manpower to build the Churchill Barriers coincided with the capture of thousands of Italian soldiers in North Africa. It was thus decided to transport these prisoners of war to camps in Orkney, where they were permitted to build their own chapel. The building started out as two disused Nissen huts but, due to the ingenuity of the parishioners, and in particular artist Domenico Chiocchetti, the resulting building is a beautiful chapel, which is now a major tourist destination.
We will spend 20 minutes here. Entrance is payable separately and costs £3 for adults (children under 12 are free).
Our next stop is in Orkney’s vibrant capital; Kirkwall. With independent shops, cute cafes and no shortage of historic sights, it is no wonder that this town is immensely popular with visitors keen to experience the islands’ unique culture and heritage.
We would recommend a visit to St Magnus Cathedral; one of the most impressive examples of medieval architecture anywhere in the UK. Just a stone’s throw from here are the Earl’s and Bishop’s palaces, which provide a thought-provoking reminder of Orkney’s turbulent past.
If it’s shopping you are after, Kirkwall’s thriving town centre is bustling with character, and indeed remains an inspiration for the island’s creative folk as independent retailers offer their locally-made jewellery, arts, crafts, fashion, knitwear and unique souvenirs.
For those who would prefer to relax with a coffee and some local delicacies (be it cheese, icecream, sweet treats or seafood, Orkney can produce their own version, and produce it exceedingly well!) there are a number of noteworthy cafes in the town, and your guide will be on hand to offer recommendations.
We will spend around one hour in the compact town of Kirkwall.
Ring of Brodgar
If there is one iconic symbol which represents Orkney’s ancient heritage, The Ring of Brodgar is surely it. As the third largest standing circle in the UK, it is also one of four monuments in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage site, and is referred to by this organisation as, “unquestionably among the most important Neolithic sites in Western Europe”.
This jewel in Orkney’s archaeological crown was built over 4000 years ago, and originally encompassed 60 stones. Today half of these four metre high megaliths have survived more-or-less intact, and you can also see 13 burial mounds and a large rock cut ditch surrounding the site. Whether the stones were used for astrological purposes, as a religious shrine or place of ritual, we will probably never know; you will have around 45 minutes to explore, and to draw your own conclusions.
At over 5000 years old, the level of preservation at Skara Brae is unparalleled for a prehistoric settlement in Northern Europe, due to the fact that it was covered by sand for over 4000 years. It was only during a ferocious storm in 1850 that the site became partially uncovered, although the village as we see it today wasn’t fully excavated until the 1920s.
Skara Brae survives as eight dwellings, linked together by a series of low, covered passages. The walls are still intact, the alleyways are roofed with original stone slabs, and even the interior fittings of the houses give a fascinating insight into life in Neolithic Orkney. You will have the opportunity to walk around the settlement and also to step inside a complete replica house, to give you a greater insight into the lives of the farmers and fishermen who lived here (long before Stonehenge or even the Eygptian Pyramids were built!). There is also a visitor centre here, displaying many artefacts, as well as a cafe and gift shop.
We will spend around 1 1/4 hours at Skara Brae. Entrance is payable separately, costs £7.50 for adults (£4.50 for children, £6 for concessions) and is free for Historic Scotland members
Stromness is a picturesque town with a colourful maritime history, and it is here that our day in Orkney draws to a close. The town is dramatically set above the iconic natural harbour of Hamnavoe, and strong sea links are prominent in the town’s architecture. The lanes, nooks, crannies and closes of this unique and unusual townscape are fascinating to wander around, and the scattering of independent galleries, cafes and boutiques add to the natural charm of this appealing seaport.
You will have around 45 minutes to peruse the narrow, winding streets of this welcoming gem of a town.
Northlink Ferry and the Old Man of Hoy
Our homeward ferry journey completes our round trip from the mainland, and enables us to see another of the area’s top sights; the Old Man of Hoy. As we sail past the island of Hoy look out for this iconic 137m sea stack, as well as the tallest vertical sea cliffs in the UK, which rise steeply behind it. After you have snapped a few photos of these famous sights we would recommend visiting the ferry’s convenient on-board restaurant. Here you can enjoy a well-deserved dinner from The Feast Menu, and perhaps sample some of the tasty beers and whiskies that Orkney is famous for; a well-earned reward after a busy day!
We will board the Northlink ferry for departure at 4.45pm and the journey takes 1 ½ hours. Meals/snacks/drinks are at your own expense.
Journey back to Inverness
On the last leg of our Orkney adventure you can sit back and relax, as your guide keeps you entertained with stories and anecdotes throughout the evening, and we return to Inverness via the North Coast 500. We will stop for a comfort break once enroute, before arriving back into Inverness at around 9.30pm.
There’s no place in the British Isles quite like Orkney. Now that it’s time to return, you can look back at the smorgasbord of sights you have immersed yourself in today, and reflect on the magic of these truly unique islands.
When you book onto the Orkney Tour you are booking the following:
More time spent on Orkney than any other day tour from Inverness
5 Star VisitScotland rated tour company
Number 1 Inverness tour company, with a 5 star-rating, on TripAdvisor
Executive 30-seater mini-coach featuring WiFi, USB points, AC and reclining seats
Free cancellation up to seven days prior to departure
All ferry fees included in the price
Family-run local company
A company you can trust; member of both Visit Scotland and Visit Loch Ness
Don’t Miss your chance with WOW. Last year we were traveling in Scotland and booked a one day tour with WOW. We had a wonderful time so when we decided to travel Scotland again this year, and include Orkney in our travels, the choice was a natural one – we chose “WOW” again.
Travelling to Skye with Gordon was a truly memorable experience. He exudes the Highland spirit and has a delightful way of expressing himself. We got our money’s worth and more. We’d been herded around Orkney with another bus tour operator a few days before and the WOW tour was a night and day difference.
I would not hesitate to take one of their tours again, and when we next visit Scotland, we will use them for a trip to Orkney!
I’m not sure if it’s logistically plausible, but it would be great to see this company get into Orkney tours. The guides I had with another company left a lot to be desired. The sights alone made the tour worth it, but I’m sure it would have been 100x better with WOWScotland in charge.
FAQs for the Orkney Tour:
In 2019 we will be operating two main vehicles on this route; a 28-seater and a 30-seater. The 28-seater was build especially for us in 2018 and you can read all about it here! The 30-seater will be brand new in 2019 and will be of a very similar specification. Both vehicles are very well-appointed, with panoramic windows, comfortable reclining seats, USB ports under every seat and on-board WiFi. You can rest assured that you will be able to relax and enjoy the majestic scenery in complete comfort.
We pick-up from Stance 7 at Inverness Bus Station, Margaret Street, Inverness, IV1 1LT. Look out for the kilted WOW guide and WOW-branded coach and you won’t miss us!
Due to customer demand, we have a booking system for the four seats at the front of the coach. These seats are available to pre-book for a £20 per seat surcharge (if you are not given this option when booking then this will be because the seats have already been taken). Please note that it does not make any difference which side of the coach you sit on, so we don’t take requests for specific front seats.
We also give you the opportunity (on all tours except the Greenock shore tour) to book the extra leg room seats near the back of the coach – as with all seats in the coach these seats recline so you can really travel in comfort. The surcharge for extra legroom seats is £15 per seat.
The rest of our seating works on a first-come-first-served basis, as we feel that this is the fairest system of allocating seats. It is not possible to reserve window seats, or seats together if you are travelling as part of a group but, if you do wish to choose your seat, we would recommend arriving early at the bus stop (i.e. a few minutes before check-in closes). If you are unhappy with your seat please let your tour guide know and he will do his best to accommodate your requests, although obviously many guests would prefer a window seat so it is not always possible to keep everyone happy!
Note that any fees paid for front row or extra legroom seat upgrades are non-refundable if you cancel your tour.
The Orkney Day Tour departs at 5.30am (0530). Please ensure that you are ready to board the bus at 5.20am (0520) as we will leave promptly at 5.30am (0530), and are unable to wait for any latecomers. The tour will return to Inverness city centre at approximately 9.30pm (2130). It is possible that we may return a bit later than this, as we are dependent on the ferries running to time; generally they do, unless there is severe weather.
The tour price includes guiding, coach transportation and all ferry fees.
The tour price does not include entrance to the Italian Chapel (£3 per adult, children under 12 are free) or Skara Brae (£7.50 for adults (£4.50 for children, £6 for concessions, free for Historic Scotland members). Meals, snacks and optional gratuities are not included either and we would recommend budgeting around £20 – £40 per person for this.
On this tour there are bathrooms on the ferries and at most of the attractions we visit (with the exceptions of the Italian Chapel and the Ring of Brodgar). To give you an idea, after leaving the bus station (where there are public toilets) at 0530 there will be bathroom stops at approximately 0700, 0830, 0900 – 1030 (on ferry), 1130/1200 (Kirkwall), 1400-1500 (Skara Brae), 1645 – 1830 (on ferry) and at around 2000 on the way home.
We are delighted to be working with Jolly’s of Orkney to offer packed lunches. We will take orders and cash (only) in the morning then we will deliver the meals to you at lunch time, to be eaten on the coach.
You will have the option of the following lunches;
- Peedie lunch – filled roll, packet of crisps and bottle of water for £5
- Standard lunch – filled roll, packet of crisps, traybake, piece of fruit and bottle of water for £6.50
For each of these options the sandwich fillings offered are as follows;
- Roast beef
- Coronation chicken
- Hot-cured salmon
- Ploughman’s – cheese and pickle (vegetarian option)
- Hummus (vegan option)
These will be on your choice of white roll or white gluten free roll.
Jolly’s of Orkney are a long-established, family-owned business who pride themselves in their fine products; they source all rolls and tray bakes from the local bakery and all of their cheese, beef and salmon comes from Orkney too.
The lunch pre-ordering service is organised purely for your convenience, and in order to save you from wasting precious sightseeing time looking for places to dine. It is very difficult to organise options which please every customer, particularly as the choice of suppliers on Orkney is very limited. Consequently, if you do not like the sound of our menu options then please feel free to bring your own food and drinks with you. Alternatively, you will have a little time to pick up something in Kirkwall if you wish (please note that, for the comfort of other passengers, we do not allow any hot fried food to be brought onto the coach).
There will be opportunities to purchase snacks and/or hot drinks at the following places;
- Gills Bay (ferry terminal cafe)
- Ferry from Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope (on-board cafe)
- Kirkwall (various coffee shops, pubs and restaurants)
- Skara Brae (coffee shop)
- Stromness (various coffee shops, pubs and restaurants)
- Ferry from Stromness to Scrabster (on board licensed restaurant)
You are also welcome to bring your own cold snacks and drinks with you.
We will board the ferry in Stromness at 1645 and will be on the ferry until 1830. Consequently, we would recommend that you purchase dinner on the ferry. They have a self-service restaurant which offers The Feast Menu, and you could also sample some of the tasty beers, whiskies and fudge that Orkney is famous for.
On both ferry journeys you have the opportunity to go out onto the deck, and this is certainly something we would recommend for the awesome views! However, please be aware that, regardless of the time of year, it will be cold and windy on deck. Consequently, we would strongly recommend bringing/wearing layers (e.g. t-shirt, fleece, warm jacket), a hat, gloves and a waterproof jacket (waterproof trousers can also come in useful if you have them!).
On Orkney itself there is some walking involved and most of the sights are outdoors, with Ring of Brodgar in particular being in quite an exposed location, where the ground can be muddy and slippery. We would definitely recommend that you wear hiking boots or, as an absolute minimum, sensible shoes/trainers/sneakers which have good grip and which are suited to this type of terrain.
Even if the sun is shining brightly when you leave Inverness, they do say that you only really experience Scotland when you see four seasons in one day, so please be prepared – it’s better to leave extra layers on the coach unused than to feel cold and wet on such a long day!
Yes, children are welcome to come on the Orkney Day Tour and, as such, benefit from a reduced price. Note that there is a lot of time spent on the coach at the start and end of the day (it is approx. three hours each way between Inverness and the ferry ports) but, on Orkney itself, there are frequent stops for kids to get out and run around!
We know that you have a choice of tours, and we are always reviewing our offering to ensure that we are providing the best tour, combined with the best value for money and best customer care, from the minute you land on our website. We are confident that we do this, and are proud to have been awarded a 5 star rating from VisitScotland in 2016, 2017 and 2018 for providing “exceptional” tours.
Also, we have been consistently rated as “excellent” on Trip Advisor as of October 2018 1266 out of 1405 reviews rate us as excellent) and are proud to be ranked as the number 1 activity in Inverness.
For those who are unsure about booking with a small company, please click on any of the following links for assurance that we are a member of the national tourism body; Visit Scotland and also of the local tourism body; Visit Loch Ness.
Absolutely. Rose Street car park is right next to the tour pick-up point and you can find further information on parking here.
If you would like to go on the Isle of Skye Tour or Speyside Whisky Tour then yes, absolutely! There is a train regular train service running between Dingwall, Conon Bridge, Muir of Ord, Beauly and Inverness, which allows you to get to Inverness in time for the 0830 departure time, then get back again in the evening. For more details, click here
If you would like to go on the Orkney Day Tour you will not be able to get public transport from outlying towns to Inverness early enough in the morning, as the tour departs at 0530.
If you would like to go on the Isle of Skye Tour or Speyside Whisky Tour then yes, absolutely! There is a train regular train service running between Elgin, Forres, Nairn and Inverness, which allows you to get to Inverness in time for the tour departure, then get back again in the evening. For more details, please click here
If you would like to go on the Orkney Day Tour you will not be able to get public transport from outlying towns to Inverness early enough in the morning, as the tour departs at 0530.
Unfortunately there is no public transport from Edinburgh or Glasgow which will allow you to arrive in Inverness before the tours depart, so for all tours you would require to arrive the night before.
If you are interested in the Speyside Whisky Tour you will be able to get a train back at the end of the day as the last train to Glasgow and Edinburgh is at 2015.
If you are interested in the Isle of Skye Tour or Orkney Day Tour you will not be able to get public transport back to Glasgow or Edinburgh at the end of the day, as the last train is at 2015, before the tours arrive back in Inverness. Consequently, if you wish to travel from one of these cities, and take the tour, all in one day then you will require your own transport (the drive takes approx 3 1/4 hours to either city).
If you have a car then you can certainly drive to Inverness, park for the day and join the tour.
If you wish to travel by train, unfortunately it it not possible to take the first train in the morning from Aberdeen to Inverness, as it arrives at 0836 (after departure time for the Isle of Skye Tour, and after check-in has closed for the Speyside Whisky Tour). However, if you can stay in Inverness the night before the tour then there is a train back late evening at 2133 (except on Sundays, when the last train is at 2103 – we would strongly advise against taking this train if you are on the Isle of Skye Tour as we sometimes arrive back later than planned).
Consequently, for these tours we would suggest that you stay in Inverness the night before the tour, then return to Aberdeen on the last train back after the tour.
For our Orkney Day Tour it is not possible to get the train from or to Aberdeen on the day of the tour so you will need to stay in Inverness the night before and after the tour.
The itinerary has been carefully planned to ensure that you get the most out of your day. However, there are factors outside of our control, such as traffic flow, road closures and adverse weather, which mean that, on rare occasions, we may not be to achieve everything listed in the tour itinerary. Consequently, we reserve the right to alter the itinerary if necessary, although this will be a last resort, and we will endeavour to visit alternative places of interest instead.
It is advisable to bring some cash (GBP £) on all tours. Credit/debit cards are widely accepted but, in some small shops (or for smaller purchases), cash is the only option.
Please note that American Express is not commonly accepted in Scotland, but Visa and Mastercard should be fine. Unfortunately very few places will accept other currencies such as Euros or US dollars.
Unfortunately dogs and other pets are not able to travel on our tours. If you are partially sighted or blind and use a guide dog to get around please do get in touch to discuss ways in which we can accommodate you and your dog.
Yes, we do have space for a limited amount of luggage. If you wish to bring luggage please contact us before booking. There are also left luggage facilities at Inverness train station for those travelling back to Inverness (please contact the station to find out opening times of this facility prior to use).
If the tour meets or exceeds your expectations then please feel free to tip as it is always very much appreciated. However, please rest assured that tips are not expected in Scotland, so no offence will be taken if you don’t tip. It is worth noting that, if there is a separate driver and tour guide on your tour, they always split any tips equally, so it is fine to give money to either one of them.
Yes, you’ll find the most up-to-date tour dates on our calendar. Scheduled tours will only run on the listed dates.
We work closely with a number of agents all over the world and welcome enquiries from all travel agents. Whilst we are unable to offer travel agent discounts on private tours, we can offer commission on our scheduled coach tours, for those agents who are sending us their clients on a regular basis.
At the moment we only offer tours in English, and we are unable to offer any translation services. This is something which we are working to improve in the future but, for now, hopefully the fantastic Highland scenery can speak for itself!
Yes, lots! Check out our TripAdvisor ratings to see what our customers say about us (we are currently number 1 in Inverness, have 5 stars and have been awarded a Certificate of Excellence – which means we rate amongst the top 10% of TripAdvisor businesses worldwide – every year since we started the business in 2010!)
To find out how to get to Inverness click here.
Once you have booked your tour we are happy to send you our list of recommended accommodation providers in Inverness and Skye. As a start, click here for a short list of where to stay in Inverness and Loch Ness.
Yes! We know that you have a choice of tours, and we are always reviewing our offering to ensure that we are providing the best tour, combined with the best value for money and best customer care, from the minute you land on our website. We are confident that we do this, and are proud to have been awarded a 5 star rating from VisitScotland in 2016, 2017 and 2018 for providing “exceptional” tours.
Also, we have been consistently rated as “excellent” on Trip Advisor (as of September 2018 we had 1265 5 star reviews) and are proud to be ranked as the number 1 activity in Inverness.
For those who are unsure about booking with a small company, please click on any of the following links for assurance that we are a member of the national tourism body; Visit Scotland and also of the local tourism body; Visit Loch Ness. WOW Scotland has also featured in a number of local and national publications including Wanderlust, Coast Magazine, The Houston Chronicle, The Boston Globe, The Vancouver Sun, Scotland Outdoors Magazine, Scottish Life magazine (Autumn 2013 p 49), German TV programme Euromaxx and the Inverness Courier (our logo has even featured in the Hollywood blockbuster Johnny English Reborn..and we are looking out for logo in a new Hollywood film soon – watch this space!).
All payments are taken through our secure online booking system, which utilises Stripe. We accept almost any debit and credit card, including American Express (we cannot accept Diner’s Card or Discover).
Our terms and conditions can be found here. You’ll find a general overview of our cancellation terms in this FAQ section if you don’t want to read though all the T&Cs!
Due to high demand for our tours, we are unable to secure your booking unless you pay the full amount in advance. That being said, you are welcome to come to the bus stop in the morning and, if there are places available, you can join the tour and book/pay online on our website.
Yes, if you book onto one of our tours then we will run this tour, regardless if anyone else has booked on or not!
We have never had to cancel a tour yet but, if the weather forecast was so bad that we considered it dangerous to travel, then we may have to cancel a tour. However, this is extremely unlikely, and we would do our utmost to accommodate you on an alternative date.
For groups of 10+ please contact us for preferential pricing.
Yes, and our cancellation terms for scheduled tours from Inverness (i.e. Isle of Skye Tour, Whisky Bus and Highland & Speyside Explorer) are as follows;
- If you cancel your tour at least 72 hours in advance of the scheduled departure then we will refund you in full (note that any fees paid for seat upgrades are non-refundable)
- If you cancel within 72 hours of the scheduled departure you will not be entitled to a refund. However, if we are able to re-sell your place then we will be able to issue a partial refund, so please let us know if you need to cancel, no matter how last minute it is.
Unfortunately we cannot make exceptions to these rules, as it would be unfair to treat customers differently.
Please note that booking direct with WOW Scotland (rather than through an online agent) gives you the best cancellation policy!