We will have 2 days and 2 nights on Orkney in July, flying in and out of Kirkwall, and plan on renting a car. We plan general sightseeing with an emphasis on checking out the megalithic sites. Can anyone here recommend a nice place to stay? Thanks!
Hi David- We stayed for 2 nights and parts of 3 days in August 2014, and had a lovely stay at a great place with a modern bathroom, full kitchen, and large living room, in addition to a comfy bedroom. I did a quick Internet double-check, to ensure I was getting the spelling correct, and unfortunately, it appears the Craigiefield House (the main house, where the owner lives . . . or lived, along with its lodging accommodations in back) is now for sale, for nearly 1 million pounds! Craig had been very accommodating, picking us up from the dock at night (we arrived by ferry and left by plane), giving some sightseeing tips (including the essential phoning ahead to get a reservation for the Maes Howe tomb), and letting us use the family's washer & dryer in the main house when the washing machine in our lodge malfunctioned, and I'd recommend them in a heartbeat. Sadly, it appears since they've put the place up for sale, they may not be offering lodging now. We also arrived on the night before one of the two days each summer that Orkney sees not one, but two enormous cruise ships, and the population of Orkney nearly doubles for a couple of days, with lodging scarce and at a premium. Sights were extra-busy, when it wasn't pouring rain -- be prepared for both!
So if that's no real help with lodging, even though you didn't ask about a car rental outfit, we rented our Ford from W.R. Tullock in Kirkwall. The price was good, and reserving online was easy, although we had trouble confirming whether it would be simple to turn in the car at the airport, before their rental desk opened for the day (we had a very early flight). As it turns out, there was a key drop-box at their desk inside the terminal, so that was simple, although there was no one there with the company to confirm that we returned the car without any damage. Picking up the car at their downtown Kirkwall location took a long time, as the woman who needed to be there to process the paperwork wasn't on-site, even though we had a reservation, and it took awhile to sort out getting the keys to our rental car. Still, the price was good. Also, the gas pump at the Ayre Service Station took our USA chip-and-signature VISA card after-hours, unlike pumps in Italy the year before!
The airport security, by the way, was as close to pleasant as could be -- the security staff at O'Hare, Denver International, Heathrow, etc. could learn a lot about courtesy and decency from their Orkney counterparts!
Arriving at the driveway leading to the Tomb of The Eagles (worthwhile sight, but be prepared for a 2+ hour visit, and they loan out free waterproof and mud-proof jackets and pants if it's pouring rain), we saw a driveway to the right for a 2nd tomb, not mentioned in our guidebooks. We didn't have time to visit the 2nd tomb that day after leaving the T.O.T.E. five minutes earlier (we would've gotten there at 4:55 PM, and they closed at 5), but you might find both worthwhile, if you have the time.
I can't find the place were we stayed several years ago. I suspect that it is no longer in operation. But, I would have this advice that you stay in Kirkwall or Stromness in the "city" centre. It's really nice to be able to walk to dinner and have an an ale in the pub afterwards and that is harder to do in the countryside unless you stay and a hotel with a residence bar. Of course, the latter is fun to do do as well as you do meet interesting people!
We used the local company to hire a car. They did pick us up at the airport and we arranged to drop the car off near the ferry, but I note that now they won't do that anymore. Maybe the bus service has really improved! At any rate, we liked supporting the local business and the car was great.
We stayed at Avalon House B&B. Terrific rooms, great breakfast, warm and professional welcome - but it was a short drive from the centre of Kirkwall. It would be walkable but probably twenty minutes. Recommended if you don't mind the short drive/long walk. The owners even drove us to a recommended restaurant about twenty minutes drive inland (we were planning on having wine and didn't want the car [taxi back]).
Thanks for the suggestions so far, please keep 'em coming.
A related question: I think the advice to stay "in town" has some merits. I will be doing a fair bit of driving on this trip, and I think I would rather be able to walk to dinner etc. in this destination. But which town - Kirkwall or Stromness?
We will be flying in to and out of Kirkwall, so that might seem logical, but it can't be terribly far between them (we will have a car). Kirkwall appears to be the larger town. Stromness is marginally closer to the Ring of Brodgar and the stones at Stenness - but those distinctions seem pretty trivial. Anyone have a preference for one town over the other? Which one gets the cruise ships (I would probably be inclined to head for the one that doesn't...).
My understanding is Kirkwall gets the cruises, Stromness gets the car ferry. In terms of location most of mainland and the islands down the Churchill Barriers is in an easy distance from Kirkwall. The other advantage is Kirkwall is more sheltered from the Atlantic by its location.
You probably have more restaurant choices in Kirkwall, but with only two nights, that is likely not a good variable. :) There are things to tour in Kirkwall itself--the Cathedral for example. But Stromness is a lovely little town. And check out this link for some local activity in Stromness. Here's the TA list for Kirkwall.
And another reason, in my opinion, to pick a town is the opportunity to hear some music. Check out this very interesting website by a Canadian. Since he lists Dunkeld first, and describes it exactly as I would, I think I completely trust the rest of his commentary! When we were last in Orkney, we head music at the hotel in Kirkwall, but picked up a great CD of the Wrigley Sisters in Stromness. :)
When we went to Orkney we stayed two nights in Stromness and two in Kirkwall. I liked Stromness a little better -- it was smaller and more quaint. Kirkwall was less attractive, but was bigger and had more to do. I loved both B&Bs we stayed in although they were really different. In Stromness we stayed at Miller's House, which was very old and right in the middle of the town. Not fancy, but very, very charming. In Kirkwall we stayed at Avalon House, which was brand new at the time (2008). It was a 15-20 minute walk into town, which we walked a few times and drove when the weather was bad. It had every comfort you could want. Both places were wonderful with friendly owners and very good breakfasts. Since it was so long ago, be sure to check Trip Advisor to make sure the reviews are still good.
We had dinner one night in Stromness, and attended a Storytelling Session at the big hotel. For sheer convenience, we opted to stay in Kirkwall (actually, the apartment was about 1.5 miles outside the city center), which also made for a very convenient drive south to the airport the morning we left.
If you fancy a whisky distillery tour or a music session, both Highland Park and The Creel are in Kirkwall.
While you're on the west side of Orkney Mainland, consider a visit to the Brough of Birsay, with ruins from many civilizations. Check the tide table, though, as you have to cross over to it when the tide's low.
I also thank you for comments. I am doing a 9 day trip to the Shetland Islands and Orkneys in late August into September so I am reading with interest. I am leaning towards Kirkwall as a base in the Orkneys because it seems that from there I can get around the mainland island ok. Shetlands looks to be a different story and will require the stay at several places.
My mom and I spent four nights in 2012 at the Mill of Eyrland, which is about ten minutes east of Stromness and five minutes south of the Stones of Stenness. We loved it! Morag, the proprietor, was very helpful with advice of what to see, her breakfasts were terrific, the rooms were comfortable (even if our en suite bathroom had been crammed into the corner of the room and was just tiny, but the shower water was hot, so we didn't mind!), and they stocked up the biscuit tin (aka cookie jar) in our room every day. Since we were only a few minutes away from the main Stromness-Kirwall road, we were never too far away from most of the main sights on Mainland except for South Ronaldsey, but we liked the drive to see the countryside. Breakfast is served at one big table, so we had some really interesting conversations with our fellow travelers. (I impressed a young German couple by knowing their prime minister's name and some of her policies.)
Edited to add: the only drawback to staying a converted 1830s mill is that the outer walls are really thick, so the only wifi available is in the large guest lounge right above the dining room.