Orkney's capital is vibrant, busy and the islands' largest town. With great shops, restaurants and bars, it is popular with visitors eager to experience Orkney's unique culture, heritage and traditions.
Orkney's ancient capital can be traced back to Norse times in the 11th century when it was called Kirkjuvagr - the church of the bay. Kirkwall was granted Royal Burgh status by James III of Scotland in 1486. How times change. Back then, the sea lapped the steps of the cathedral. Today, much of the land has been reclaimed and reassuringly Kirkwall retains its charm and original character. It is a key transport hub for bus routes across mainland Orkney and the port for ferries to Aberdeen, Shetland and the North Isles. Kirkwall Airport, with links to Scotland, Shetland and in the summer months Norway, is about three miles from the town.
Kirkwall's skyline is dominated by the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral. Known as The Light of the North, visitors can enjoy guided tours of one of the finest examples of medieval architecture to be found in Britain. Close by, Earl's and Bishop's palaces provide a chilling reminder of Orkney's turbulent past, while at the Orkney Museum in Tankerness House you'll learn much more about the islands' history and enjoy a leisurely stroll in its delightful walled gardens.
A visit to Kirkwall will also give you the opportunity to indulge in one of the nation's favourite pastimes - shopping! However, in Orkney the experience is anything but routine and whether you are looking for essential supplies or that special gift to take home Kirkwall's thriving town centre is alive with character and originality. Orkney remains an inspiration for the island's creative community with local jewellery, arts, crafts and contemporary fashion sold by independent retailers and designers. Orkney's streets are refreshingly free from the usual high street names. Artisan bakeries, quality butchers and privately owned grocery stores ensure visitors and residents alike have a wide choice of the finest local and international produce to enjoy. And with three supermarkets located nearby, Kirkwall caters for everyone!
The town boasts excellent amenities and services, including the Pickaquoy Centre, a multi-purpose sports and leisure arena with a swimming pool, fitness and health suites, squash courts, gym, cinema and cafe. There are also numerous theatre venues, notably at Kirkwall's impressive new grammar school, while live music - Orkney style - can be heard most nights from the many bars that illuminate the town as the sun goes down.