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Travelling to Orkney Islands

In planning a 2022 March trip to the continent, we are shifting a week to Scotland, and lack the guidebooks. Due to Covid restrictions, we are not able to get good information on Ferries to the Orkney Islands. Planning on arriving in Edinburgh, staying 2-3 days, travelling through Aberdeen to Inverness, but then not sure where to go up A9 to catch a Ferry, and for how much.

I have heard that some lines have stopped service, but I am not sure if that is temporary or forever. In terms of early stage planning, where are the best departure points from, approx travel time, and approx cost for two adults with a car hire.

Thank you for your help!

Posted by
877 posts

I have not been to orkneys yet.

Maybe we will go in July 2022. I have not planned or check yet because I don’t want to get my hopes up yet. I wait till end of 2021 to see how things are doing.

We are doing a tour to Orkney and Shetland in July 2022.

I have been to Shetland in 2010. We flew into Aberdeen , took taxi to ferry. Took ferry over night to lerwick. Rented car in Lerwick.

North link ferry goes to both island from Aberdeen.

Don’t know if you can catch ferry from a more northern city. I suggest going to north link website


Posted by
5221 posts

I have no experience with this either, but Northlink Ferries seems to be the place to look. They sail from Scrabster, near Thurso, as well as from Aberdeen. Rome2rio can help you figure out the best choices and answer the questions you asked. I'm sure Covid is impacting service now and will for some time, but hopefully won't be a year from now. I can't imagine that these services will be stopping "forever," they're too important to the islands.

I suggest borrowing a good guidebook or two from your public library for basic research purposes. Guidebooks won't have current Covid-related information, but they can help you plan. As your trip date approaches, you might invest in a new one if available.

Posted by
767 posts

Are you familiar with the Bradt Guides books? We used their outer Hebrides book for our trip in 2019. It was extremely useful for everything from ferry tickets to restaurants. They have an Orkney book, too, Prices are listed in pounds but I think I got mine through Amazon.

Posted by
5539 posts

Is flying something you might want to consider? Our trip several years ago started in Edinburgh, then we flew up to Shetland (renting and returning a car in Lerwick), then 6+ hour ferry to Orkney (renting a car in downtown Kirkwall and returning it at the Kirkwall airport), then flying on flybe Airline to Inverness, where we picked up another rental car for the remainder of the Scotland vacation. The woman at Kirkwall was absolutely the nicest airport security person I’ve ever encountered, the airport is small, and you don’t need to arrive super early, and it’s very quick to go through. Flight between Orkney and Inverness was just 45 minutes. Although flybe shut down a year ago, they might resume under a new owner, or another airline, like Loganair, could be flying the route in 2022 for a price making flying worth considering.

Maybe you’ll have gotten a great deal for a single term car rental, or maybe you want one vehicle the whole time, or perhaps taking a car ferry is part of your anticipated experience. But it was quick and easy getting a separate car for separate legs of our trip. We got great rates each car - different rental company each time. Cheap, fast flight between Orkney and Inverness worked great. Having our own wheels on Orkney was a key part of the visit, but we didn’t have to ferry a car from the mainland to do it.

Posted by
5486 posts

I hope you have good sea legs if you are proposing a March ferry crossing. In strong seas, the ferry will get cancelled, not uncommon in the winter. I went to Orkney as a day tripper on an organised tour from John o’Groats. The sea was millpond flat on the way out but by the 6pm return, the boat only just made it back, with many green looking people onboard!

The Northlink website is the place to look at the route options, although the timings will be affected by Covid.

Check that you would be permitted to take your hire car on a ferry - some won’t permit this and you would invalidate your insurance.

You can fly with Loganair from all major Scottish airports. Again, cancellations aren’t unheard of, particularly in bad weather.

The website will answer any queries you may have about getting there, getting around etc.

Posted by
442 posts

Forget the guide books at the moment as they can't keep up with all the developments as a result of coronavirus.... Your best source of information is the web or Orklney Tourist Office. I have found them extrememely helpful and they have the answer to every question you might think of. Details of contacting them here.

There is information about getting to Orkney here.

There are two main ferry companies, North Link and Pentland. At the moment, services are restricted to essential travel only. February and March are low season and boats are removed from service for scheduled maintenance, resulting in fewer sailings.

If you are in Abderdeen on a Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, you can catch the North Link Ferry which leaves Aberdeen at 5pm and arrives in Kirkwall at 11pm. DON'T worry about the late arrival as hotels, B&B and s/c properties are quite used to guest arriving at this time! Make sure you have a taxi booked to collect you from the ferry terminal.

An alternative is to drive north to Scrabster (near Thurso) and catch the North Link ferry from there to Stromness. However this would either mean the 6.30am ferry or one departing at 8.45pm...

Timetables for both here.

Tariffs here (But these are for 2021, so may well increase for 2022).

Pentland ferries sail from Gill's Bay, near John o Groats to St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay which is at the southern end of the Orkney islands. It is the shortest crossing. Boats depart Gill's Bay at 9.30am, 1.30pm and 6.45pm. At the moment the 1.30pm service is suspended as one of their boats is in dry dock for maintenmance.

Timetable here.

Tariffs here.

Posted by
442 posts

Scrap the comment about a taxi from the ferry terminal - you have a car!!

Check the hire company lets you taske a hire car on nthe ferry - it shouldn't be a problem, but is best to find out before booking....

Also make sure you hire through a reputable company. Arnold Clarke are recommended. Avoid Green Motion which is cheap but gets horrendous reviews on Trip Advisor for ripping people off.

Posted by
10989 posts

I traveled to the Orkneys via Loganair. They have picked up much of Flybe's routes in Scotland as well as most of the UK.

Posted by
5668 posts

The last time we went to Orkney we flew straight there from the US. It was a long trip, but it worked for us. We rented a car on Orkney and then turned it in and took the ferry and bus down to Inverness where we rented another car that we ultimately dropped off in Edinburgh. It really worked well for us and didn't have to worry about getting the car on the ferry. We took Northlink to Scrabster and Thurso which connects by bus and train to Inverness.

Posted by
1341 posts

The ferry companies are still operating as there is a public service remit, especially with the main Northlink ferries from Scrabster to Stromness. There has been a reduced schedule for all of Scotland's ferries due to the pandemic, as there has been reduced usage, but they are still running.

Northlink sails to Orkney from Scrabster near Thurso which is also the northern most bit of the rail network. The only issue is it can be a hefty journey up from Inverness to Thurso but it is a scenic road.

If you hire a car on Orkney it will almost certainly be via W R Tullock & Sons in one of their guises, who are the UK's oldest Ford dealership and will be celebrating 110 years as such in August 2022. If you know European model Fords, and are in Orkney this is not that surprising.

Posted by
5668 posts

My sister has a great story about renting a Tulloch Car. She and her husband had driven south to the tip of South Ronaldsay to visit the Eagles Tomb. They had a great time, saw the tomb walked back along the cliffs to the little museum/store and then headed out. It's a family owned site. I don't what part of the beautiful view caught Ted's attention or whether it was spotting the dog along side or something Vicki said but the next thing they new they were in the ditch shy of getting to the main road. It was a bit of hike back to the store for help. But they noticed that the dog had vanished. They were starting to head back for help when they saw the farmer owner headed down the road on his tractor. The dog had gone to fetch him. Ted is all apologetic, but the farmer just respond's, "That's one of Ronnie's cars. It's been in that ditch before so no worries." Orkney is a wonderful small place.

Posted by
5539 posts

We picked up our car at Tulloch’s in downtown Kirkwall, having made a reservation before ever leaving the U.S.A., although it took some time for them to find a person to get us set up with the car. Returning it was really easy, though. At the airport for our departing flight to Inverness, we parked the car in a random, open space in the parking lot, and dropped the keys off at the unmanned desk inside the terminal.

Posted by
1341 posts

Orkney is one of those places where people don't need to lock their doors at night. Mainly because it is a group of islands. A few years back a group of teens from IIRC the Central Belt stole a car.

All the police had to do was shadow them until they ran out of petrol. It always reminds me of a time when I was on Iona waiting for the ferry, one of the locals drove to the quay, checked the car for something, and on not finding it walked home leaving the keys in the ignition.

Where are you going to take the stolen car?