Why go to Kirkwall?
This ancient town is abundant with beautiful historical sites, from the 900-year-old St. Magnus Cathedral to neolithic stone circles
Chilly winds are common here, so bring a sweater
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.
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.
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.