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!
Executive mini-coach with A/C, Wifi & USBs
Family run local business
Free cancellation up to 7 days prior to departure
Easy and convenient online booking
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 South 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 excellent 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.