A walking holiday in the Orkney Islands - off the northeastern coast of Scotland - will take you along striking coastline to beautiful beaches, along rugged sea cliffs, where the view is neverending, and to wildlife havens and pristine natural areas. Explore 5,000-year-old Neolithic sites and archaeological findings. Windswept, dramatic and heather-clad, the Orkneys were made for walking. Here are some of the top ways for wanderers: 

Old Man of Hoy, Hoy 

Photo by Rab Lawrence on Flickr

Make your way to the red-sandstone sea stack known as the Old Man of Hoy. It’s one of the tallest stacks in the UK and if you’re not on a ferry, on foot is the best way to see it. You’ll start in pretty Rackwick and follow a clear coastal path - it’s about 5.5 miles roundtrip. Feeling energetic? When you get to the Old Man, continue along the coastline to St. John’s Head to stand atop 1,000-foot cliffs. 

Westness Heritage Walk, Rousay 

History buffs will enjoy thousands of years of history along a portion of the 4-mile Westness Heritage Walk. The island is known as the “Egypt of the North” for its approximately 160 archaeological sites. You’ll see evidence of the first Stone Age settlers, the Pictish Iron Age, the time of Viking invasions and the Earls and the crofting clearances of the early 1800s. 

Northwest Coast, Westray 

Birders love the RSPB nature reserve on Noup Cliffs - look for hundreds upon hundreds of seabirds perched here on the cliffs. As you walk along the coastline, you’ll likely spot Arctic tern, guillemot, puffins and kittiwakes. The Noup Head Lighthouse makes for a lovely photo opp. 

North Ronaldsay Circuit, North Ronaldsay 

Make a full day of it and explore the most northerly of the Orkney Islands: North Ronaldsay. There’s a large migratory bird population here, as well as grazing sheep in the interior. A walking loop follows the shoreline outside of an old stone wall (to keep the sheep from eating seaweed!) and leads you through sandy and grassy areas and over a few boulders. It’s a 12-mile loop, which begins at the Ronaldsay airport. 

East Coast Walk, South Ronaldsay 

Breathe in fresh Orkney air and admire diverse landscapes on this route from Kirkhouse to Burwick. The 10-mile route follows cliff edges to dramatic bays and inlets, ancient churches and the Neolithic Tomb of the Eagles. There are birds and views for days, making this a fantastic all-around walking experience in the Orcadian outdoors. 

Mull Head, Deerness

Keep the sea in sight the entire time on the Mull Head walk. Follow clifftop paths to the Gloup - a collapsed sea cave that is separate from the ocean by a landbridge. Feel the ancient history of the islands come alive around you as you traverse bogs and heather patches. Look for the seals and seabirds that will undoubtedly make themselves known. 

How to Go

Interest piqued? Take a self-guided or small-group walking vacation, whether with like-minded travelers or your own private group. Women’s-only departures are often available as well. Here’s what you can expect on a typical walking holiday in the Orkney Islands: 

  • A knowledgeable guide/driver to point out historical sites, geographical features, flora and fauna 
  • Accommodations at thoughtfully chosen, authentic inns and hotels
  • Most meals, which included a strong focus on local Orkney produce (don’t miss the famous Orkney malts and ales) 
  • All private boat and ferry transfers 

Want to learn more? Let’s chat.