Nestled in the North of Scotland, overlooking the harsh yet spectacular North Sea, Orkney is a unique blend of untouched rural landscapes, rich historical treasures, and a close-knit community life.

In our area guide, we traverse through the tranquil lanes of this archipelago, neighbouring the Scottish mainland. We'll delve into the historical intrigues of Orkney, its commanding landmarks, and the appeal of its serene lifestyle. From detailed insights into the local schools, transport facilities, to coveted residential areas and activities, this guide aims to provide an encompassing view about life in picturesque Orkney.

History of Orkney

Orkney's history is as mysterious as its landscapes are breathtaking. The archipelago has been inhabited for at least 8,500 years, initially by Mesolithic and then Neolithic tribes. The mystical Standing Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe testify to Orkney's Neolithic past. In the 1st century AD, the Romans discovered thriving Pictish communities here. The islands were invaded by Vikings in the late 8th century, whose impact is still visible in Orkney's architecture and culture. In more recent centuries, Orkney played a significant role in both World Wars, and remnants of wartime activities continue to dot the landscape.


The Orkney Islands are graced with a plethora of remarkable landmarks. The Ring of Brodgar, one of the finest stone circles in the world, stands as a mystical reminder of the archipelago's rich prehistoric heritage. St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, a marvellously preserved Norse cathedral, is Orkney's architectural pride. The Italian Chapel, built by Italian POWs during WWII, is a powerful symbol of hope and resilience.

Landmarks we love

  • Skara Brae: Located near the sandy beach of the Bay of Skaill, Skara Brae is an impressively well-preserved Neolithic village. Discovered after a severe storm exposed it in 1850, it offers a unique window into ancient life on the islands.
  • Museum of Orkney: Located in Kirkwall, the museum offers a magnificent repertoire of artifacts showcasing Orkney's social and cultural history, from Neolithic times to the current day.
  • The Old Man of Hoy: An impressive sea stack standing at an imposing 450 feet, this landmark is beloved by climbers and birdwatchers.
  • Rousay: Known as "Egypt of the North," this isle is home to a concentrated collection of archaeological sites, including the Midhowe Broch and Cairn.
  • Earl's Palace, Birsay: This is a compelling, albeit ruined, example of Renaissance architecture with a dark history connected to the tyrannical Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney.

Top 10 things to do in Orkney

  • Visit the Maeshowe Chambered Cairn: A Neolithic marvel, this ancient chamber aligns with the setting sun on the Winter Solstice.
  • Explore Kirkwall: Visit St. Magnus Cathedral, enjoy local pubs, and explore local shops selling Orkney’s local crafts.
  • Travel to the island of Hoy: The wilderness here is stunning, and you can explore the Dwarfie Stane, a unique rock-cut tomb.
  • Try local food: Taste North Ronaldsay lamb, or the famous Orkney cheese and ice cream.
  • Enjoy wildlife watching: Puffins, seals, and even orcas can be spotted around Orkney’s coasts.
  • Visit Stromness Museum: For a unique insight into Orkney’s seafaring and natural history, this can't be missed.
  • Explore Skara Brae and the Bay of Skaill: One of the best-preserved Neolithic settlements in Europe.
  • Scuba dive in Scapa Flow: Wreck-diving in these waters is considered some of the best in Europe.
  • Visit Orkney Brewery: Try the local brew of this award-winning brewery.
  • Go hiking: The Wideford Hill offers stunning panoramic views of the Mainland.

Our recommended areas to live in Orkney

  • Kirkwall: The largest town in Orkney, Kirkwall, offers a mix of contemporary amenities while retaining its historical charm. With its vibrant community life, excellent schools, and high-quality healthcare, this is a desirable place to settle.
  • Stromness: An artistic hub and a thriving centre for renewable energy, Stromness has a lot to offer. Its quiet lanes, beautiful waterfront, and proximity to several natural beauties make it an irresistible choice.
  • St Margaret's Hope: Known for its creative community, St Margaret's Hope offers a peaceful and picturesque life. With excellent local amenities and a tranquil bay, it's a perfect spot for relaxation.
  • Evie: For those craving country living, Evie provides pristine beaches, birdwatching spots, and some of the best hillwalks in Orkney. Enjoy rural bliss with essential amenities close at hand.
  • Birsay: A historical village by the coast, Birsay offers an enchanting rural life. With its fresh seafood, wildlife, and extraordinary sunsets, life here is laid back and harmonious.

Best schools in Orkney

Education in Orkney is renowned for its high standards. Primary education is offered in several of the smaller islands and rural districts, providing a nurturing, community-based experience for younger children. Firth Primary School, St Andrews Primary School, and Hope Primary School are some worthy mentions. Kirkwall Grammar School offers excellent secondary education; with broad-based curriculum choices and outstanding faculty, it is one of Scotland's top-ranking schools. Further education is offered by Orkney College, part of the University of Highlands and Islands, providing various degree and apprenticeship programs.

Transport links in Orkney

Getting around Orkney is relatively easy thanks to its well-maintained roads and efficient public transport system. Most of the inhabited islands are accessible through causeways or regular ferry services. The Orkney Bus provides frequent services across the Mainland and the connected islands. Orkney also boasts two airports, in Kirkwall and Westray, providing daily flights to several main Scottish cities. Inter-island flights are an adventure themselves, with one being the world's shortest scheduled flight!

Embracing the windswept charm of Orkney, you become a part of a vibrant, welcoming community that cherishes its rich heritage and the tranquillity of its rural living. Whether you are a history enthusiast, a nature lover, a foodie, or simply in search of a peaceful life surrounded by stunning landscapes, Orkney opens its arms and welcomes you to its timeless shores. From the moment you step on its soil, you will start to feel its ancient spirits whispering the tales of time, and you'll know, you are home.

Buy A Home

With thousands of homes for sale, find your RealMove today.

Buy A Home in Orkney

Rent A Home

With thousands of homes for Rent, find your RealMove today.

Rent A Home in Orkney

Create alerts and save properties & searches

We've created a new tool to help you easily find the areas that match your budget and needs.

Creat an Account


Whether you're looking to buy your dream home, rent your very first apartment or want home design inspiration, we have everything you’re looking for just one click away.

Latest property news

Everything you need to know about the housing market, explained by our experts.

Subscribe for Newsletter

We've created a new tool to help you easily find the areas that match your budget and needs.