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Cruises to Kirkwall

192 Reviews
1 Award
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.

  • More about Kirkwall

  • Why go to Kirkwall?

  • Kirkwall Cruise Port Facilities?

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Marina
Marina

10 Night
Europe - Northern CruiseDetails

730 Reviews
Leaving:Oslo
Cruise Line:Oceania Cruises
Jul 1, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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MSC Preziosa
MSC Preziosa

10 Night
Europe - Northern CruiseDetails

379 Reviews
Leaving:Hamburg
Cruise Line:MSC Cruises
May 7, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Norwegian Dawn
Norwegian Dawn

10 Night
Europe - British IslesDetails

2,901 Reviews
Leaving:Southampton
Cruise Line:Norwegian Cruise Line
Jun 3, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Nautica
Nautica

25 Night
World CruiseDetails

361 Reviews
Leaving:Edinburgh
Cruise Line:Oceania Cruises
Aug 24, 2024
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Virgin Voyages

10 Night
Europe - British IslesDetails

2,901 Reviews
Leaving:Copenhagen
Cruise Line:Norwegian Cruise Line
Aug 24, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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10 Night
Europe - British IslesDetails

2,901 Reviews
Leaving:Copenhagen
Cruise Line:Norwegian Cruise Line
Jul 2, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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10 Night
Europe - British IslesDetails

2,901 Reviews
Leaving:Southampton
Cruise Line:Norwegian Cruise Line
May 4, 2023
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14 Night
Into The Midnight SunDetails

95 Reviews
Leaving:Bergen
Cruise Line:Viking Ocean Cruises
May 31, 2024
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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8 Night
Gaelic Explorer 8d Dlg-le1Details

114 Reviews
Leaving:Dublin
Cruise Line:Windstar Cruises
Jul 3, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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12 Night
Scotland Intensive VoyageDetails

794 Reviews
Leaving:Amsterdam
Cruise Line:Azamara
Aug 17, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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23 Night
World CruiseDetails

244 Reviews
Leaving:Dublin
Cruise Line:Oceania Cruises
Jun 14, 2024
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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12 Night
Europe - OtherDetails

2,493 Reviews
Leaving:Southampton
Cruise Line:Norwegian Cruise Line
May 31, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Cruise Critic Favorite

12 Night
Europe - Western CruiseDetails

1,713 Reviews
Leaving:Southampton
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises
Jul 31, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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14 Night
British Isles ExplorerDetails

333 Reviews
Leaving:Greenwich
Cruise Line:Viking Ocean Cruises
Aug 23, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Cruise Critic Favorite

12 Night
Europe - Western CruiseDetails

1,713 Reviews
Leaving:Southampton
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises
Aug 24, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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More about Kirkwall

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.


Kirkwall Cruise Reviews
Took an organized tour from NCL Very picturesque scenery It reminded us of the Ireland countryside. Again we got a number of good pictures.Read More
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Stancruiser
Very friendly and welcoming community. They thanked us sincerely for coming. There was a free shuttle into the town centre and they have everything you need and want.Read More
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DanielLL
The Ring of Brodgar is the main attraction in the Orkney Islands. While the Ring is impressive, it is younger than Stonehenge. Other standing stones in other locations, however, pre-dated Stonehenge. The guide oveRead More
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Knyght1
Brilliant island, port authorities not up to muchRead More
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Yorkshire Mike

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