Top 5 Things to Do in Kirkwall

Welcome to my first blog! To break myself in gently, I have chosen an easy topic; there are so many things to do and see in Kirkwall that the only difficulty is narrowing it down to just 5. 

While we are not allowed to travel right now, I know that many are using this time to plan future sailing adventures. 

For this item, I have decided to focus on things that you can reach without a car. 

So, here goes…if you berthed in Kirkwall Marina, and asked me to recommend my top 5 things to do, this would be my answer – 

1 – Visit our Cathedral

This may seem like a very obvious place to start, a recommendation that you could find for yourself in any guide book, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy. Orcadians are understandably very proud of St Magnus Cathedral. It’s in the centre of the town and life in Kirkwall goes on in and around it every day. At present, it is open for quiet reflection (with restrictions) and I can’t think of a better place to sit and gather your thoughts. 

Although it is not available at the moment, usually I would thoroughly recommend the Cathedral tour – guides show you around the building, including the upper levels which visitors cannot access any other way. The architecture and stories behind the construction of the building are fascinating. 

Be sure to walk around the outside of the building to see it from all angles. 

Throughout the year, weddings, funerals, concerts, festivals and flower shows are all held in our Cathedral. It truly is the heart of Kirkwall. 

2 – Eat in

Any foodies should definitely spend a morning browsing the local food shops; walk from the marina along Bridge Street and round the corner onto Albert Street. The Brig Larder has a great selection including fresh fish and butcher meat, continue on to Broad Street and down a lane opposite the Cathedral to Kirkness and Gorie; they are a specialist food and drink shop selling cheese, wine, whisky, and deli items – you’ll get great advice, they know their stuff! Worth the extra walk, down Victoria Street is ‘Bruce’s Stores’ with a selection of Westray baking (their beremeal loaf is especially good!) and ‘William Shearer’, known locally as Shearer’s. Locals go to Shearer’s for local produce and the things you can’t find anywhere else! They also have a good selection of ingredients for special diets. Take a look in the old-fashioned hardware store in the back of the shop while you’re there.

There are many other local food producers/suppliers throughout Orkney – ask a local on the pontoon for their recommendations! 

3 – Walk

Living in Orkney, visits to Kirkwall are usually for work or for errands. Rarely do we take the time to pause and look around. A few years ago, a friend took a group of us on a walking tour around Kirkwall – it was amazing! She pointed out so many things that we had never taken the time to look at; our history is on display everywhere. You can of course walk around Kirkwall by yourself, admire the historical buildings and read the plaques at your own pace - be sure to visit Tankerness House Gardens to see the ‘Groatie Hoose'- I would recommend using one of the many local tour guides to give you the best experience.  

4 – Visit Orkney Wireless Museum

Orkney Wireless Museum is tiny, but absolutely worth a visit, especially by those interested in wartime history. Walk a couple of minutes along the harbour front from the marina, and around the back of the Sailing Club’s ‘Girnel’ building. The Museum is run entirely by volunteers, and they are glad to share their comprehensive knowledge of the development of wireless radio communications in Orkney. You can try out the many different types of radio equipment and send a message in morse code. They also have an impressive collection of wartime photographs and maps.  This museum is a gem!

5 – Visit the Orkney Library and Archive

You may already know about our Library through their Twitter account – they have quite a following! Walk down the lane beside the St Magnus Cafe, opposite the cathedral, and cross the road to the library. 

The Orkney Room has a large collection of Orkney related material including fiction, magazines, archaeological papers and the Orkneyinga Saga. The photographic archives are a great place to spend a few hours looking through some of the enormous collection of local photographs spanning the last 100 years.   

For anyone interested in tracing Orkney Family History, the Orkney Family History Society has an office in the library too. (You may need to make a booking in advance to see them)

I have missed out some of the more obvious visitor attractions – you’ll easily find those for yourself once you get here. In the meantime, if you need any help planning your trip here, please just ask!  


Kirkwall - Nick McCaffrey