Northern Lights - Orkney’s winter charms and events
The Orkney Islands are breathtakingly magical during wintertime. Experience a landscape filled with history and drama made all the more memorable with a dusting of light snow. You are invited to take a winter trip to the Islands and immerse yourself in Orkney's unique atmosphere. Whether it's taking a midnight walk to catch sight of the northern lights or soaking up the majesty of the Standing Stones, you won't be able to resist falling in love with Orkney this winter.
Wonderful Walks in Wild Orkney. You'll be enamoured with Orkney's enchanting coastline
Immerse yourself in the wild and majestic landscape of Orkney by exploring one of the many walks that weave along its 500 miles of coastline. Hear the roar of the waves as they crash against the chiselled rock features that adorn the cliffs and dissolve in a burst of white foam.
Take solace in the peacefulness of an abandoned white beach and look out for the pearly gleam of scattered shells embedded in the sand.
You can admire Orkney's spectacular coastal scenery by following any of the downloadable walking routes suggested on our website.
Get close to Orkney's nature
Nature is all around you in Orkney. Get even closer to the Islands' wildlife population on one of the many walks that weave through the landscape.
Tread quietly and you may hear the rustle of an Orkney vole as it passes through the undergrowth.
Spot the friendly faces of the grey and common seals as they doze on the silver sands of Orkney's beaches. (The pups stand out with their milky white coats.)
In the distance catch sight of a free-spirited dolphin, or porpoises as it makes a leap for the icy skies.
Admire the Islands' sky dwellers
Orkney is known for its excellent bird-watching opportunities. When out and about take a moment to absorb the stillness of your surroundings. You'll be rewarded with sightings of many rare birds that choose to make Orkney their home.
The brilliant white of the whooper swan's coat will stand out amongst the many migrating birds which visit these islands during the crisp winter days and keep your eyes peeled for the snowy plumage of the resident eider.
Be bewitched by the ‘Merry Dancers' of Orkney
During the winter months you may be fortunate enough
to experience the mysterious phenomenon of the northern lights (also known as the aurora borealis).
Wrap up warm and take a night-time stroll to catch the bewitching array of red, green and purple lights that can be seen dancing across the night sky. They've been nicknamed the ‘merry dancers' by locals. Between November and February is when they are most likely to be spotted.
Get closer to Orkney's remarkable scenery with Your Winter White Invite To…enjoy the Islands' splendid natural sights on foot.
A Haven for the Creative Soul
The natural beauty of our Islands has attracted many artistic minds over the years, inspired by the spectacular scenery, unique light and welcoming community.
Bathed in a white winter light you'll see Orkney's creative heritage everywhere: look out for local glassmaking, jewellery and textiles in the numerous galleries and workshops which are open to visitors.
The changing moods of the skies and the variety of natural textures and colours that fill the landscape will be sure to entice your creative side too.
Feel inspired at the Pier Arts Centre
- The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness contains a distinguished collection of 20th Century art including works by Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo among others.
- Nestled in a collection of renovated buildings in the historic harbour, the Centre is an award-winning achievement in itself and won the Andrew Doolan Award for the best building in Scotland in 2007.
As well as its permanent collection you can also admire one-off exhibitions from local and international artists.
Take a unique piece of Orkney home with you
Follow the well signposted Craft Trail to discover Orkney's array of workshops which are dotted across the Islands.
Experience the sumptuous touch of a white woollen jumper against your skin, made from local North Ronaldsay wool.
Watch the dexterity of a local potter or the creation of a chair made from local driftwood and straw.
Be drawn to the sparkle of a traditionally made silver pendant – a token to remind you of your Island memories for years to come.
Celebrate winter at Orkney's Northern Lights Festival
You'll find many hand-made, unique items that will make unforgettable Christmas gifts for friends and family on your visit to Orkney.
Steep yourself in festivity in Kirkwall and Stromness where lights adorn the buildings, shop windows feature seasonal displays and there are atmospheric Christmas shopping evenings.
Gather with locals to experience the lighting of the Norwegian Christmas trees, sent as gifts from Orkney's twin town in Norway. Or experience Hogmanay where the ships in Stromness Harbour whistle in the New Year.
Then celebrate winter in style at the Northern Lights Festival. With winter activities including special shopping evenings, Santa's sleigh, carol singing, pantomimes and more. Download the programme or pick up a copy in a local shop or the Visitorkney Visitor Information Centre.
Fall in love with Orkney's inspiring location and make the most of Your Winter White Invite To… appreciate its unique creativity this wintertime.
A haunting sense of history permeates Orkney
Orkney's ancient history is weaved into the landscape
In 1999 part of Orkney was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of the numerous historical sites that populate the Islands.
Visit the Neolithic monuments clustered around the Ring of Brodgar – an impressive collection of 27 standing stones.
Take a trip to the Tomb of the Eagles and imagine the thoughts of the farmer who unearthed the 30 white skulls which were buried in this cairn.
Feel the imposing presence of the Standing Stones of Stenness which rise up to six metres from the ground and can be seen for miles around.
The Neolithic village by stunning Bay
Be transported to life in Neolithic Orkney at Skara Brae, Northern Europe's best-preserved collection of dwellings from this era.
A stone's throw from the white sands of Orkney's Skaill Bay you can find the remains of this semi-subterranean village complete with rudimentary stone furniture now flecked white with age.
At the nearby Skara Brae Visitor Centre you can see many of the artefacts that were discovered at the site including pottery, jewellery and gaming dice.
Maeshowe is Orkney's most impressive cairn
Beneath this innocent grassy mound lies a prehistoric, monumental tomb which is more than 5000 years old.
For three weeks before and after the winter solstice the white light of the setting winter sun is perfectly aligned so that it floods the passage and lights the back wall of the central chamber.
Several thousand years after the mound was built Norsemen broke into the chamber curious to see what it contained. Their writing on the chamber walls can still be seen today in the form of runic graffiti.
Orkney's recent history is everywhere too
There is evidence of Orkney's more recent history across the Islands too. During the 1940s Italian prisoners of war contained on the Islands built a chapel which still stands today. Its gleaming white facade hides a surprisingly ornate, painted interior.
The seas around Orkney are also steeped in history. Explore the ocean floor on a diving expedition and see the ageing white barnacles that cluster on the remnants of World War One's scuttled German fleet.
Discover more at Lyness Interpretation Centre which details the role the Royal Navy played in Orkney during both World Wars.
With such a vibrant past make the most of Your Winter White Invite To… fall in love with Orkney's colourful history.
To see what's on in Orkney during winter go to visitorkney.com/events or download the Orkney Northern Lights Programme.
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