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Getting to Orkney Islands

Hello, what is the best way to get to Orkney ( and then Shetland) Islands from Scotland- a ferry from Edinburgh?

Posted by
17 posts

Erm... Ferry from Edinburgh?! I think you need a closer look at a map! Ferry from Aberdeen. There's an overnight service that goes to Orkney and then continues on to Shetland.

Posted by
5546 posts

You can fly from Edinburgh to Kirkwall. When I did the flight, we stopped in Inverness on the way. Alternatively, you can take the ferry from one of three places.

  • Thurso/Scrabster--you take the train to Thurso and then a bus over to the other side of the bay where you catch which will take you to Stromness on the Mainland of Orkney. This ferry ride takes you past the Old Man of Hoy.
  • Gills Bay / John O'Groats--you take a bus to Gills Bay and it will take you to St. Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay. You can take a taxi over the Churchill Barriers to the Mainland. Or stay in St Margaret's Hope.
  • Aberdeen--this service takes you to Kirkwall on the Mainland of Orkney. You can also catch this service on Shetland.

You can also fly from Kirkwall to Shetland and BTW the Fair Isle!

It's a wonderful place. I need to get to Shetland. :)

Posted by
1209 posts

We flew non stop from Edinburgh to Orkney. After three nights we flew to Aberdeen to continue our itinerary. On balance I think the ferry might have been a better option.

Posted by
8293 posts

I went to Orkney on a cruise ship but it was a long journey. (Smart Alec remark)

Posted by
815 posts

Ferry from Aberdeen. I took the ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick, Shetland in 2010. It was great

Posted by
278 posts

If time is a factor, flights from Edinburgh are really quite affordable, especially when compared with the ferry prices, which really surprised me on our 2012 trip. The car rental is at the Kirkwall airport, and if you are worried about driving there, the Orkney roads are some of the easiest to drive on, IMO, with few roundabouts and single-track roads.

Posted by
63 posts

There are two different companies that run ferries from the northernmost tip of mainland Scotland to Orkney, and the drive up the east coast of mainland Scotland to get to the ferry terminals is gorgeous.

Posted by
5546 posts

I will never forget the flight attendant with her wee trolley coming down the aisle offering whisky. My trip to Orkney had two legs and thus we got two whiskies. And yes they were free. :)

Posted by
4 posts

The best way to travel is entirely subjective. In April four of us took the overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick, Shetland. We reserved a room for four early in our tour planning. We also reserved meals on the ferry. The room reservation was essential if we wanted to sleep in a bed. The meal reservation was unnecessary. The overnight ferry from Aberdeen stops in Orkney, near Kirkwall, a couple times a week if my memory is correct. With the room reservation and meals this was not an inexpensive trip. I think we could have flown for about the same pounds if we'd reserved airfare ahead of time but the ferry trip was most enjoyable. I understand the trip is not always pleasant when the seas are rough.
As for Fair Isle, we traveled to Fair Isle via the 12 passenger Good Shepard Ferry (leaving from Grutness on the southern tip of the island). We intended to stay on Fair Isle two nights and return to Lerwick for the Folk Music Festival. We missed the entire Festival as we were stranded on Fair Isle for six nights due to weather. There is air service out of the small airport (Tingwall) near Lerwick. Flight times and days are only an estimate. The plane seats eight not including the pilot and an empty seat for a co-pilot. When we were on Fair Isle it did not fly for six days due to weather. It almost did not fly on the seventh day due to no "fire cover". The fire engine at the Tingwall airport needed repairs and apparently there was no provision to have another fire engine provide "fire cover". After our "rescue flight" on a Monday the plane did not fly until either Friday or Saturday due to needed repair part not being readily available. Apparently being stranded on Fair Isle is not unusual as day trippers were stranded for a night this week so your plans should be flexible if they include Fair Isle.
I absolutely agree with a previous person regarding the historic sites on the Orkneys. Due to being stranded on Fair Isle we missed the historic sites on Shetland but thoroughly enjoyed our Orkney time at Skarra Brae, Maeshowe, the Ring of Brogdar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
5546 posts

Orkney really is a wonderful place. I fill the urge to say more. My grandfather grew up on South Ronaldsay and his father was the postman for St. Margaret's Hope! I still have relatives at Longhope on Hoy and in Stromness. So, I have been twice and want to chime in on the wonder of the neolithic sites. When my sister and I first went as 20 somethings we hadn't a clue, but fortunately had relatives who did. (Thank you Marjorie Mitchell and your wonderful little Mini.) But there are things to see and do beyond the neolithic sites.

  • On Shapiinsay there is a wonderful Victoria Castle, Balfour Castle. There is wonderful walled garden as well. This is an easy ferry ride from Kirkwall.
  • Head south to the Churchill Barriers that connect the Mainland to South Ronaldsay. They were built as a naval defense but ended up becoming a key connection for South Ronaldsay to the Mainland. Check out the Italian Chapel. It too is from WWII.
  • South Ronaldsay is more than my grandfather's home it has at the southern end, the Tomb of the Eagles. The walk out to the tomb takes you past marvelous cliffs with lots of birds. Also on South Ronaldsay is the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery. This is just one of the many artisans and artists who have workshops and studios on Orkney.
  • Highland Park's distillery is back on the Mainland. It is an awesome single malt. My whole family loves it.
  • And then there is Hoy. First, there are the Martello Towers They were built to defend against Napoleon. Then there is the new Longhope Lifeboat Museum. My sister and I visited 8 years after the disaster that so hurt that community. My cousin showed us the new Memorial back then. The Museum is much newer. If you travel there you will understand why the deaths of 8 volunteers would devastate such a small community. And yet, they continue to volunteer and serve. I feel so proud to have a connection with these people.
  • And then there is the music of Orkney. The Wrigley Sisters are most well known, but you should look for a chance to hear some fiddle music. I know people come up from Inverness for day tours. But those who stay longer are richly rewarded.
Posted by
4836 posts

If you reverse our trip, where we’d flown from Edinburgh on Flybe air up to Lerwick, Shetland, then took the ferry to Kirkwall, Orkney, then flew to Inverness where we picked up another rental car to drive to Isle of Skye and by ferry back to the mainland and eventually back to Edinburgh. Separate rental cars in each place. That worked best for us 5 years ago.

So to do that in reverse, start in Inverness, fly to Orkney, then ferry to Shetland. Pamela’s right about the Orkney music. We picked up several CD’s of Orkney music at the gift shop at the Tomb of the Eagles.

Posted by
5546 posts

I should add that Aly Bain is one of Scotland most well-known and wonderful fiddlers and he is from Shetland.

Posted by
9616 posts

I flew Loganair in and out this past spring. Very easy and convenient.

Posted by
5546 posts

You can have the best of both worlds. Fly in on Logan Air or from Shetland and then take the ferry back from Stromness. You can either take the train or the bus south to Inverness.