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Cruises to Kirkwall

Kirkwall (Photo:johnbraid/Shutterstock)
Kirkwall (Photo:johnbraid/Shutterstock)

About Kirkwall

Situated on what's known as the "Mainland" of the Orkney archipelago, Kirkwall is the capital of a group of about 70 islands north of Scotland. The town was founded around 1035, and was declared a Royal Burgh in 1486 by King James III. Kirkwall's most famous landmark is nearly the 900-year old St. Magnus Cathedral, built from beautiful pink and yellow sandstone. Its towering spire dominates the town, even from the water.

Settlements on Orkney's mainland go back to 3000 BC. You can see remains of that civilization at Skara Brae, as well as cairns (man-made piles of stone), Bronze Age stone circles and Iron Age roundhouses, at different sites around the island. The richness of the Orkney's Neolithic past has earned it UNESCO World Heritage status.

Vikings arrived in the eighth and ninth centuries and left their mark, too. The name Kirkwall is derived from the old Norse name Kirkjuvagr, which means "Church Bay." The original town is considered to be one of the best-preserved examples of an ancient Norse settlement.

Follow the streets, which snake around this town built of gray stone, and you'll find shopping, dining, banks and more, as well as a museum and historic sites.

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9 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
Dublin, Liverpool ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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DAY 1: Bayonne

14 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Bayonne
Visiting:
Halifax, Qaqortoq ...
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Cruise Line:
Celebrity Cruises
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DAY 1: Amsterdam

12 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Amsterdam
Visiting:
Edinburgh, Invergordon ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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10 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
Isle of Portland, Cobh ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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14 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
Kirkwall, Akureyri ...
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Cruise Line:
Celebrity Cruises
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8 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Dublin
Visiting:
Douglas, Isle Of Man, Portrush ...
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Cruise Line:
Windstar Cruises
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11 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
Edinburgh, Kirkwall ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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10 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
Isle of Portland, Cobh ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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59 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Stockholm
Visiting:
Helsinki, St. Petersburg ...
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Cruise Line:
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
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12 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
St. Peter Port, Cobh ...
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Cruise Line:
Princess Cruises
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30 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
Skagen, Klaipeda ...
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Cruise Line:
Princess Cruises
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13 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
St. Peter Port, Liverpool ...
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Cruise Line:
Cunard Line
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10 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
Isle of Portland, Cobh ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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18 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Halifax, Akureyri ...
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Cruise Line:
Princess Cruises
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12 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Paris
Visiting:
Southampton, St. Peter Port ...
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Cruise Line:
Princess Cruises
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34 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Halifax, Akureyri ...
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Cruise Line:
Princess Cruises
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14 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
St. Peter Port, Cobh ...
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Cruise Line:
Princess Cruises
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12 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
St. Peter Port, Cobh ...
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Cruise Line:
Princess Cruises
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10 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Amsterdam
Visiting:
Brugge, Edinburgh ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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10 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
Isle of Portland, Cork ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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14 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
London
Visiting:
Dover, Dublin ...
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Cruise Line:
Viking Ocean Cruises
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10 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Hamburg
Visiting:
Cobh, Belfast ...
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Cruise Line:
MSC Cruises
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12 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Southampton
Visiting:
Newcastle, Newhaven ...
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Cruise Line:
Oceania Cruises
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11 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Dublin
Visiting:
Iona, Tobermory ...
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Cruise Line:
Ponant
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16 Night
Cruise to Kirkwall

Leaving:
Copenhagen
Visiting:
Fredericia, Kristiansund ...
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Cruise Line:
Princess Cruises
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Why go to Kirkwall?

Pros:

This ancient town is abundant with beautiful historical sites, from the 900-year-old St. Magnus Cathedral to neolithic stone circles

Cons:

Chilly winds are common here, so bring a sweater

Bottom Line:

Catch a lunch of local seafood in town, then take a tour to nearby Skara Brae or Maes Howe

Kirkwall Cruise Port Facilities?

A scattering of restaurants are located just up from Kirkwall Pier, at the intersection of Bridge, Shore and Harbor streets. A pub called Helgi's (14 Harbour Street; open 11 a.m. until late) serves local brews. There's not much to be found around Hatston Quay.

Good to Know?

St. Magnus Cathedral is a popular spot for weddings, so if you're exploring the town, we recommend checking it out first to see whether it might be closed for a wedding, so you can plan accordingly.

There can be chilly winds at places like Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar, so you might want to dress in layers.

If you decide to drive, remember that the Scottish drive on the left-hand side of the road. Be particularly careful when you make a right turn, because you have to cross oncoming traffic. Be cautious crossing streets, too.

Getting Around?

On Foot: It's an easy 10-minute walk into the heart of Kirkwall from the Town Dock. Don't attempt it from Hatston Quay. Once you're in the town center, all the sites are very walkable, and some of the main shopping streets are pedestrian zones.

By Bus: Stagecoach operates a public bus route, the T11, which is designed to take tourists to Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar, with time to sightsee at each spot before the bus departs again. Catch it at the Kirkwall Travel Centre on W. Castle Street near the VisitScotland tourism office.

By Taxi: Several taxi services operate in Kirkwall, including Craigies (+44 (0)1856 878787), Bob's (+44 (0)1856 876543) and Kirkwall Taxi (+44 (0)1856 876972). Craigies is the largest operation and can accommodate wheelchair passengers; it also offers mini-vans available for up to eight passengers. We highly recommend booking any taxi tour well in advance of your trip.

By Rental Car: Many travelers to Orkney prefer to drive themselves, so it's essential to book ahead if you're planning to rent a car. W.R. Tullock (Castle Street; +44 (0)1856 873212) is the agent for Avis, National and Europecar, with downtown pickup available. Orkney Car Hire also has rentals available in town (Junction Road, not far from the tourist office; +44 (0)1856 872866)

By Bike: Orkney Cycle on Tankerness Lane, rents bikes at a reasonable rate.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money?

The pound is Scotland's currency. It's comparable to -- and interchangeable with -- the British pound. You'll find convenient ATMs at the Royal Bank of Scotland (1 Victoria Street) and Clydesdale Bank (2 Broad Street) -- a short walk from the cathedral. For currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.

Language?

English with a strong Scottish accent is what you'll hear on Orkney. But you'll encounter many place names that reflect the Viking heritage. As late as the 19th century, a version of Norse was spoken there, rather than Gaelic.

Where You're Docked?

You'll end up in any of three locations:

Kirkwall Pier: Smaller ships dock at the most convenient spot. After a 400-foot walk on the pier, it's about 10 minutes walking (slightly uphill) to the cathedral; shops, restaurants and other services begin when you hit the shore.

Hatston Quay: Larger ships dock at this facility two miles outside of town. It's Scotland's longest deep-water commercial berth, about a one-minute walk to reach the spot where excursion buses wait. The ferry terminal has toilets, drink-vending machines and a parking lot. For most ships, the town operates a shuttle service to the tourism office in the city center.

Anchored: If berths aren't available, some lines anchor in the bay and use tenders to serve the port. It amounts to about 15 percent of all cruise ships.

For a list of ships stopping at Kirkwall and where they will dock or anchor, check the Orkney Islands Council Marine Services website.


Awards and Recognition

Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Destination

  • 2018 Top-Rated British Isles & Western Europe Destinations

Kirkwall Cruise Reviews

Viking Jupiter
Derysland
Sail Date: Jul 2019
Kirkwall was a great port. We really enjoyed stop.... Read More
tony the magnificent
Sail Date: Aug 2019
After driving to the Standing Stones of Stenness, three tall stones from the Neolithic period, we walked around the neolithic Ring of Brodgar, Not as impressive as Stonehenge, but older. If the rain had let up... Read More
Pacific Princess
MostlyLegal
Sail Date: Sep 2019
We had previously been to Kirkwall and toured Skara Brae (a fascinating archeological site) so this time we ventured on our own. We were fortunate to be docked and the city provided a free shuttle into Kirkwall. (We... Read More
Viking Jupiter
swengcruiser
Sail Date: Jul 2019
One of my favorite stops was the Orkney Islands. The standard tour was to the Ring of Brodgar and having an archaeologist as a guide was great. We also took the bus into the town of Kirkwall and had fun exploring... Read More
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