Orkney & Shetland

Orkney and Shetland

Where is it?

Both Orkney and Shetland lie in the North Sea, off the northern coast of mainland Scotland. Orkney can be seen from the mainland on a clear day but Shetland is closer to Norway than Edinburgh.

Both are vastly different, with Orkney being home to many neolithic sites, and Shetland being more closely associated with vikings. 

Why visit?

To explore some of Scotland’s most remote areas with dramatic scenery and unique historical sites. Both Orkney and Shetland are perfect for those looking to experience the lesser visited, but no less stunning, parts of Scotland.

There are plenty of beautiful beaches and wide-open spaces to explore and relax in. Wildlife watching and historical sites like stone circles and ancient tombs are just a few of the things to do. Orkney and Shetland have many more places like these in close proximity than on the mainland. 

Major towns:

Lerwick, Shetland

The capital of Shetland, where the ferries and cruise ships dock. A great jumping point to explore more of mainland Shetland and more of its islands. 

Kirkwall, Orkney

The largest town and site of the 12th century Norse Cathedral of St Magnus and the perfect base for exploring more of Orkney mainland, and other Orkney islands. 

Known for

Standing Stones and Pictish Sites

Orkney has several important historic sites relating to the Picts, the Celtic speaking people who originally lived in these isles.

The Ring of Brodgar is a large stone circle, close to the huge Standing Stones of Stenness, and also located near the Ness of Brodgar which is still being excavated every summer. 

Stunning beaches and huge seacliffs 

Both isles have a wide expanse of sandy beaches, often without another soul on them! The cliffs are Eshaness in Shetland are particuarly well known, as is the Old Man of Hoy, a seastack in Orkney. 


Puffins are found every spring through summer season at Sumburgh Lighthouse, at the south of Mainland Shetland. It’s one of the most accessible places to see puffins, as long as you’re in Shetland! 

You can also regularly spot Orca, seals, and more!

Orkney & Shetland Guides