How to get to Orkney and, once here, explore Scapa Flow

Scotland mapPart of the attraction of Orkney is that it is an island group far away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Getting to Orkney requires some time and a little thought, so the best advice we can give is to make the travelling part of your holiday experience!

Thankfully, Orkney is well-served by a variety of travel options and each have their own merits:

  • By Sea - enjoy views of the spectacular north east coast of Scotland and see Orkney's beautiful island contours slowly coming into view.
  • By Air - swift and handy, but book well in advance to secure any special fares that are available.
  • By Land - travel on some of the best driving roads in Britain, especially quiet off-season, or let the 'train take the strain' - either way, the views are great!

Once you're in Orkney you'll then be able to to explore the areas surrounding Scapa Flow's sheltered waters. See Exploring Scapa Flow for further information.

What you need to know about travelling to Orkney - By Sea - By Air - By Land - Contacts


By Sea

P&O Scottish Ferries operate Ro-Ro (roll-on/roll-off) ferries on routes to Stromness - from Aberdeen and Lerwick and from Scrabster. All routes are return routes, but check with P&O for the arrival/departure timetable on the Aberdeen/Lerwick-Stromness sailing. John O' Groats Ferries operate a summer only passenger service from John O' Groats to Burwick. There is also another similar short sea crossing in development (a local initiative), but this time with Ro-Ro capability - due in 1999 - details will be posted as soon as they are confirmed.

Aberdeen/Lerwick - Stromness
The MV St Sunniva operates from Aberdeen and Lerwick to Stromness. The sailing time is approximately 8 hours, and it can carry 400 passengers, with room for several hundred cars and larger vehicles such as coaches. Cars should be booked in advance. Its schedule includes departures to and from Stromness several times a week. Check with P&O for the latest information.

Scrabster - Stromness
The MV St Ola operates from Scrabster (at the northeast tip of Scotland) to Stromness. The sailing time is just under 2 hours and it can carry 500 passengers and up to 120 cars (or a lower combination of cars and coaches). Cars should be booked in advance. It operates as a daily service, with additional crossings on most weekdays during April-October. Check with P&O for the latest information.

John O' Groats - Burwick
The MV Pentland Venture operates seven days a week during the summer season between the beginning of May and the end of September. Sailing time is approximately 45 minutes with no bookings required. It is a passenger and bicycles service only, capable of carrying 250 passengers.

Bus/Train-Ferry Connections For The John O' Groats Ferry:
A free bus meets up with the afternoon train from Thurso (1430 hours approximately) connecting with the 1600 hours (or 1800 hours) ferry to Orkney (also on Sunday when the train is operating). An express coach called The Orkney Bus operates from Inverness (1420 hours) meeting up with the 1800 hours ferry.

Bus connections operate between Burwick on South Ronaldsay (one of Orkney's 'South Isles') and Kirkwall for all ferry sailings.

By Air

There are many route permutations and connecting services to Kirkwall Airport, but there are no Sunday flights. British Airways Express fly from Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness, with connections from London (Heathrow), Birmingham and Manchester.

Special air fares are available under the 'Highland Rover' promotion on domestic Scottish routes - tickets are on offer outwith Scotland. In addition, British Airways Express also offer short 'Airbridge' flights from Wick to Kirkwall, in addition to the flights available within the Orkney Isles. Loganair operates these services.

It's essential to book well in advance if travelling during the peak season. Away from the summer peak things are considerably quieter, and early spring and late autumn offer another time to visit Orkney in more uncrowded circumstances.

By Land

By Road
The main road to the northeast of Scotland is the A9, which you can get on from the end of the Scottish motorway system heading north. Roads to Wick (for John O' Groats) and Thurso (for Scrabster) are well signposted, but allow plenty of time for your journey as the scenery is spectacular (mainly for your passengers!), and the road is very twisty at times.

COACH: Coach services are available from Scottish Citylink, and connect from all major UK cities via the National Express network. An overnight stop in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Inverness may be required if travelling from England. The Orkney Bus Direct coach service leaves Inverness Bus Station, Stance No.10, every day from May 1 - 5 September at 1420 hours, meeting up with the 1800 hours ferry from John O' Groats (arriving in Kirkwall at 1930 hours). The Orkney Bus Direct leaves Kirkwall every day at 0900 hours, arriving in Inverness at 1345 hours.

By Rail
Connections from many destinations are available across the rail network, and we suggest you contact an enquiry bureau for detailed information. The Scotrail Telephone Enquiry Bureau (0345 484 950 - or 44 141 335 4263 from overseas) will provide information, as will the area rail network information bureaux.


If dialling from overseas please take away the initial '0' and add '44' - e.g. P&O would be 44 1856 850655.

The information above is given in good faith, but it would be wise to check the details before you commit yourself!

© 1999