Orkney Day Tour from Inverness

With its astonishing concentration of Neolithic monuments, fascinating plethora of World War I and II sites, unique coastal landscapes and distinct Orcadian culture, a visit to this remote archipelago is high on many visitors' must-see lists.

Rated 5* on TripAdvisor TripAdvisor by more than 1750 happy customers # 1 on TripAdvisor for Scotland tours from Inverness

Tour Highlights

  • See all of the highlights of Orkney in just one day!
  • Experience Skara Brae, The Ring of Brodgar, The Italian Chapel, The Stones of Stenness, Kirkwall plus stop at John O'Groats
  • A carefully crafted combination of coastal scenery, neolithic wonders, WW2 history, culture and stories
Prices£119 per adult
£99 per child
(Min age 6 years)
Times05:30 - 21:00
From April- October
(Departing from Inverness Bus Station)
Free CancellationFree cancellation up to 1 week prior to departure.
UpgradesFront row seat upgrades for £20 pp and extra legroom upgrades for £15 pp.

Itinerary and Map+

Itinerary & Map

1

The Journey to Orkney Begins

The Journey to Orkney Begins
Our Orkney Day Tour starts in the Highland capital of Inverness, with pick up available from either the bus station or selected hotels

You will be greeted by your WOW Scotland guide and will board our mini-coach ready for departure at 5.30am. This early start is essential as it enables us to take the first ferry onto the island, giving us the whole day on Orkney. It is a long journey, so we want to make sure that you experience as many sights as possible when you get there. During the first 90 minutes of the journey your guide will keep his commentary to a minimum, so that you can relax and doze if you wish. For those who are awake and keen to take in the sights, early sunrises in the Scottish Highlands mean that you’ll have plenty to see out the window!

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2

Helmsdale

Helmsdale
We have a quick stop at this historic highland village and grab some breakfast "to go".

At 7am we arrive in Helmsdale, one of the prettiest villages in the Scottish Highlands and home to a wonderful Thomas Telford-designed bridge, built back in 1811. Our friends at a local cafe open up early to serve us coffees, teas and a light breakfast to ensure we’re fuelled up for the exciting day ahead! There is an all-important bathroom stop here too.

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3

North Coast 500

North Coast 500
Our route takes us past rugged mountains and sweeping coastlines on the world famous NC500.

The North Coast 500 has been a runaway success, taking its place on many, “world’s best road trips”, lists.  On this tour we will drive the first 120 miles of the route, on our journey from Inverness to the ferry terminal in Gill’s Bay. The early part of the journey goes through the county of Sutherland, where you will be able to sit back, relax and enjoy views of unspoilt mountainous landscapes out one side of the coach, and stunning seascapes out of the other side.  This is an area of scattered fishing communities, award-winning golf courses, quaint harbours and archaeological wonders, so there is plenty to look out for along the way. 

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4

John O'Groats

John O'Groats
A, "bucket list", stop at the most northerly village in mainland Scotland.

The village of John O’Groats lies on Great Britain’s northeastern tip (although, contrary to popular belief, the honour of being the most northerly point on the mainland goes to nearby Dunnet Head, which we will see from the ferry).  The destination is popular with tourists as it marks one end of the longest route between two inhabited British mainland points; the other point being 874 miles away at Land’s End in Cornwall, England.

A 15 minute stop here will enable you to get your photo taken next to the historic signpost, thought to be one of the most photographed signs in the UK. You can also admire the rainbow-clad buildings which form a unique Nordic-inspired extension to the local hotel.  Looking north you will be rewarded with views of the Isle of Stroma and the Pentland Firth, which we will be crossing soon as it is just a five minute drive to the ferry terminal from here.

Note that, should there be any delays on the journey north, we will stop at John O’Groats on the way back instead.

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5

Ferry to Orkney

Ferry to Orkney
We board the MV Alfred for the short crossing over the Pentland firth to the Orkney Isles.

We travel to and from the islands on the newest and most environmentally-friendly Orkney ferry, MV Alfred, which is operated by locally-owned Pentland Ferries. As the ferry departs you will see the islands of Stroma and Swona in the distance.

Keep your eye out for both common and grey seals, which can often be seen basking on these islands’ shores, as well as for the feral cattle of Swona, which have been roaming free on the island for over 30 years. This Pentland Firth is a haven for birds and you can keep a look out for puffins, fulmars, great skua, razor bills, guillemots and gannets.  Depending on the time of year it is also possible to see orca, dolphins, minke whales and even basking sharks, so bag a window seat, or venture outdoors if you can.

As we sail towards the Orkney island we see the battlements of Hoxa Head, which give a poignant reminder of Orkney’s role during both WWI and WWII. Shortly after this the village of St Margaret’s Hope comes into view and our Orkney adventure begins!

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6

Italian Chapel

Italian Chapel
Our first stop is at this remarkable chapel, built by prisoners of war during WWII.

During WWII a shortage of manpower to build the Churchill Barriers coincided with the capture of thousands of Italian soldiers in North Africa.  It was therefore decided to transport these prisoners of war to camps in Orkney, where they were permitted to build their own chapel. The building started out as two disused Nissen huts but, due to the ingenuity of the parishioners, and in particular the artist Domenico Chiocchetti, the resulting building is a beautiful chapel, which is now a major draw for tourists from all over the world.

Visits to the chapel are conducted in 20 minute slots. Entrance is payable separately and costs £3.50 for adults (children under 12 are free). You can pre-pay this when booking the tour.

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7

Kirkwall

Kirkwall
Orkney’s vibrant and thriving capital will appeal to fans of culture, history, and even shopping!

With independent shops, cute cafes and no shortage of historic sights, it is no wonder that this town is immensely popular with visitors keen to experience the Orkney islands’ unique culture and heritage. We would recommend a visit to St Magnus Cathedral; one of the most impressive examples of medieval architecture anywhere in the UK.  Just a stone’s throw from here are the Earl’s and Bishop’s palaces, which provide a thought-provoking reminder of Orkney’s turbulent past. If it’s shopping you are after, Kirkwall’s thriving town centre is bustling with character, and indeed remains an inspiration for the island’s creative folk as independent retailers offer their locally-made jewellery, arts, crafts, fashion, knitwear and unique souvenirs. For those who would prefer to relax with a coffee and some local delicacies (be it cheese, ice-cream, sweet treats or seafood) Orkney can produce their own version, and produce it exceedingly well! There are a number of noteworthy cafes in the town, and your guide will be on hand to offer recommendations.

You will have one hour at your leisure in Kirkwall.  To enable you to make the most out of your time we will take pre-orders for freshly made lunches from Jolly’s of Orkney, which will be delivered to you upon your return to the bus.

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8

Skara Brae

Skara Brae
A visit to this 5000 year old prehistoric village is a real tour highlight.

At over 5000 years old, the level of preservation at Skara Brae is unparalleled for a prehistoric settlement in Northern Europe, due to the fact that it was covered by sand for over 4000 years.   It was only during a ferocious storm in 1850 that the site became partially uncovered, although the village as we see it today wasn’t fully excavated until the 1920s. Skara Brae survives as eight dwellings, linked together by a series of low, covered passages.  The walls are still intact, the alleyways are roofed with original stone slabs, and even the interior fittings of the houses give a fascinating insight into life in Neolithic Orkney.   You will have the opportunity to walk around the settlement and also to step inside a complete replica house, to give you a greater insight into the lives of the farmers and fishermen who lived here (long before Stonehenge or even the Eygptian Pyramids were built!).  There is also a visitor centre here, displaying many artefacts, as well as a cafe and gift shop.

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9

Skail House

Skail House
Explore Orkney's finest 17th Century mansion.

Included in the ticket price for Skara Brae is entry to this nearby 17th Century manor, which was home to the laird who unearthed Skara Brae back in 1850.  The house has been carefully restored and gives a fascinating insight into Orkney’s diverse past.

We will spend a total of around 1 1/4 hours at Skara Brae and Skaill House.  Entrance is payable separately, costs £9 for adults (£5.40 for children, £7.20 for concessions) and is free for Historic Scotland members. To save time, the entrance fee can be pre-paid at the time of booking (if you don’t prepay or have membership, you entry to the site may be delayed at busy times, so we would recommend pre-paying).

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10

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar
If there is one iconic symbol which represents Orkney’s ancient heritage, this is surely it.

As the third largest standing circle in the UK,  The Ring of Brodgar is also one of four monuments in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage site, and is referred to by this organisation as, “unquestionably among the most important Neolithic sites in Western Europe”. This jewel in Orkney’s archaeological crown was built over 4000 years ago, and originally encompassed 60 stones. Today half of these four metre high megaliths have survived more-or-less intact, and you can also see 13 burial mounds and a large rock cut ditch surrounding the site. Whether the stones were used for astrological purposes, as a religious shrine or place of ritual, we will probably never know.  You will have around 45 minutes to explore, and to draw your own conclusions.

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11

Standing Stones of Stenness

Standing Stones of Stenness
These ancient megaliths may be the oldest stone circle in the British Isles.

Dating back over 5000 years, there are only four of the original 12 stones still standing today.  However,  it is still possible to get a sense of the sheer scale and importance of this site which, it is thought, took over 5000 man days to build. We will have a short stop here of around 10 minutes. As the stones are right next to where we park there is plenty of time to admire them and get some great photos.

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12

Churchill Barriers

Churchill Barriers
Originally built as WW2 naval defences, these causeways facilitate everyday life in Orkney today.

The Churchill Barriers are a series of four causeways which link the islands of South Ronaldsay, Burray, Glims Holm and Lamb Holm.  They were commissioned by Winston Churchill during WWII to protect the anchorage at Scapa Flow, after the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak while it lay at harbour there in 1939. The construction was described by one of the civil engineers who was instrumental in it as, “one of the most significant and complex civil engineering achievements of the 20th century, more so considering it took place during World Ward II“. As construction was not completed until after the war had ended  (incidentally, 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the completion) their lasting legacy was the linking of these five islands.

It is courtesy of these causeways that we can quickly island hop back to the ferry. We will have at least one photo stop to admire the Churchill Barriers  on our journey back to St Margaret’s Hope.

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13

The Journey Back to Inverness

The Journey Back to Inverness
Sit back, relax and enjoy the wonderful scenery on the way home

The one hour ferry crossing at 5.30pm will return us to the Scottish mainland, where we will begin our drive back to Inverness. We’ll have a short stop again in Helmsdale before embarking on the last leg of the journey. Along the way your guide will point out the many varied and interesting sites, such as: Carn Liath Broch; Dunrobin Castle; Loch Fleet; the Dornoch Firth; and the Fyrish monument.

You will arrive back in Inverness around 9pm with memories to last a lifetime!

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FAQs+

Tour FAQs

What is included in the price?+

The tour price includes guiding, coach transportation and all ferry fees.

The tour price does not include entrance to the Italian Chapel (£3.50 per adult, children under 12 are free) or Skara Brae (£9 for adults (£5.40 for children, £7.20 for concessions, free for Historic Scotland members).  Meals, snacks and optional gratuities are not included either and we would recommend budgeting around £20 – £40 per person for this.

Can children come on the Orkney Tour?+

Yes, children are welcome to come on the Orkney Day Tour and, as such, benefit from a reduced price.  Note that there is a lot of time spent on the coach at the start and end of the day (it is approx. three hours each way between Inverness and the ferry ports) but, on Orkney itself, there are frequent stops for kids to get out and run around!

What should I wear?+

On both ferry journeys you have the opportunity to go out onto the deck, and this is certainly something we would recommend for the awesome views! However, please be aware that, regardless of the time of year, it will be cold and windy on deck.  Consequently, we would strongly recommend bringing/wearing layers (e.g. t-shirt, fleece, warm jacket), a hat, gloves and a waterproof jacket (waterproof trousers can also come in useful if you have them!).

On Orkney itself there is some walking involved and most of the sights are outdoors, with Ring of Brodgar in particular being in quite an exposed location, where the ground can be muddy and slippery. We would definitely recommend that you wear hiking boots or, as an absolute minimum, sensible shoes/trainers/sneakers which have good grip and which are suited to this type of terrain.

Even if the sun is shining brightly when you leave Inverness, they do say that you only really experience Scotland when you see four seasons in one day, so please be prepared – it’s better to leave extra layers on the coach unused than to feel cold and wet on such a long day!

Where will we be stopping for coffee/snacks enroute?+

There will be opportunities to purchase snacks and/or hot drinks at the following places;

Helmsdale (cafe for light breakfast)

Gills Bay (ferry terminal cafe)

Ferry from Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope  (on-board coffee shop)

Kirkwall (various coffee shops, pubs and restaurants)

On-board WOW mini-coach (we will take pre-orders for sandwich lunches from a local deli – Jolly’s of Orkney)

Skara Brae (coffee shop)

Ferry from Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope  (on-board coffee shop)

You are also welcome to bring your own cold snacks and drinks with you.

Where will we be stopping for dinner?+

Dinner arrangements for 2021 are still to be confirmed. Please check back in March 2021 for further information.

Where will we be stopping for lunch?+

We are delighted to be working with Jolly’s of Orkney to offer packed lunches. We will take orders and cash (only) in the morning then we will deliver the meals to you at lunch time, to be eaten on the coach.

To see the full lunch menu please go to our Orkney Lunch Menu page here.

How often are bathroom/toilet stops+

On this tour there are bathrooms on the ferries and at most of the attractions we visit (with the exceptions of the Italian Chapel, Ring of Brodgar and Standing Stones of Stenness).  To give you an idea, after leaving your hotel or the bus station (where there are public toilets) at 0530 there will be bathroom stops at approximately 0700, 0855 (ferry terminal), 0930 – 1030 (on ferry), 1130-1230 (Kirkwall), 1300-1415 (Skara Brae), 1630 – 1800 (on ferry) and at around 1915 (Helmsdale) on the way home.

What time does the tour start and finish?+

The Orkney Day Tour departs from the Inverness Bus Station at 5.30am (0530).  Please ensure that you are ready to board the bus at 5.20am (0520) as we will leave promptly at 5.30am (0530), and are unable to wait for any latecomers.  The tour will return to Inverness city centre at approximately 9.30pm (2130).  It is possible that we may return a bit later than this, as we are dependent on the ferries running to time; generally they do, unless there is severe weather. 

Hotel pick-up and drop-off is also available from selected Inverness hotels – a list is available when booking. 

What sort of vehicle do you use? +

Here at WOW Scotland we only have two coaches, both of which were built to our precise specifications, to ensure the highest levels of passenger comfort.  The vehicles have 30-seats and are very well-appointed with panoramic windows, comfortable reclining seats, USB ports under every seat and on-board WiFi.  You can rest assured that you will be able to relax and enjoy the majestic scenery in complete comfort.  You can read more about our coaches here.

Can I reserve seats on the tour?+

Yes. Due to customer demand, we have a booking system for the following seats;

  • 4 front row seats – these give you unparalleled views out of the front windows, and the opportunity to disembark first at every stop.  Our most popular seats.
  • 4 second row seats – many guests prefer to sit near the front of the coach, or be reassured that you will be seated together if they are a couple/group, both of which you get with this option.  These seats also have a little more legroom than these front row seats.  These are available on some tours only.
  • 2 extra legroom seats – these are situated near the back of the coach and have approximately 50% more legroom than regular seats.  They are particularly suited to those who are tall, or like to stretch out.
  • 4 back row seats – these are ideal for groups who wish to sit together.  Unlike on most other coaches we have removed the fifth/middle seat so the seats are spaced further apart, giving you more elbow room.

The price of the upgrades vary depending on which tour you are on, with prices between £2.50 and £22.50 per person.  If they are available, upgrades will be given as an option when booking.

Please note that it does not make any difference which side of the coach you sit on, so we don’t take requests for specific sides.

The rest of our seating works on a first-come-first-served basis, as we feel that this is the fairest system of allocating seats. It is not possible to reserve window seats, or seats together if you are travelling as part of a group but, if you do wish to choose your seat, we would recommend arriving early at the bus stop (i.e. a few minutes before check-in closes). If you are unhappy with your seat please let your tour guide know and he will do his best to accommodate your requests, although obviously many guests would prefer a window seat so it is not possible for everyone to have these!

 

Note that any fees paid for seat upgrades are non-refundable if you cancel your tour.

Where is the pick-up point in Inverness?+

We pick-up from Stance 7 at Inverness Bus Station, Margaret Street, Inverness, IV1 1LT.  We also pick up from selected Inverness hotels – you can see the available list when booking your tour.

Look out for the kilted WOW guide and WOW-branded coach and you won’t miss us!

Orkney Tour Lunch Menu+

Your guide will take your order and cash later this morning. The meals will be delivered to you at lunch time, to be eaten on the coach. 

Lunch Options

Peedie packed lunch: White roll (or gluten free white roll) with your choice of filling, crisps and a bottle of water – £5.50

Standard packed lunch: White roll (or gluten free white roll) with your choice of filling, crisps, Orkney tray bake, piece of fruit and a bottle of water – £7.00

Choose from the following fillings:

  • Roast beef, with salad cream, lettuce, cucumber and tomato
  • Ham salad (ham, lettuce, tomato, cucumber)
  • Hot-cured salmon, with lemon mayonnaise, lettuce, cucumber and tomato
  • Cheese and ham
  • Cheese and pickle, with lettuce, cucumber and tomato (Vegetarian)
  • Hummus, with lettuce, cucumber and tomato, no spread (Vegan)

You may be interested to know that…

We work with Jolly’s of Orkney, who make our lunches to order every day. The money you pay goes straight back to this fantastic local business.

Jolly’s pride themselves in their fine products; they source their rolls and tray bakes from the local bakery and all of their cheese, beef and salmon comes from Orkney too.

We think the food is delicious, and we hope you do too!

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Meet your guides

Gordon Pearson

Founder & Tour Guide

  560 Reviews

Gordon founded WOW Scotland in 2010 and hasn’t looked back since. He loves talking about the Scottish Highlands, both on tour and on the TV and radio.

Robert Carr

Tour Guide

  85 Reviews

Prior to being a tour guide, Rob ran successful food and tourism businesses in Edinburgh and Perthshire. He has now been in the Highlands for 16 years, where he loves to indulge in his joint passions of golf and hiking.

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