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12 Compelling Reasons to Visit the Orkney Islands, Scotland

Ishaan Govardhan Nov 29, 2019
People have inhabited just 20 of the 70 Orkney Islands, which is why this heavenly archipelago seems to have been untouched by the ravages of time. From its fascinating ties with the ancient Neolithic Age to the small town charm of modern settlements, like Kirkwall and Stromness, Orkney's rich history is fun to trace, as long as you know where to begin.

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The gorgeous dancing spectacle of the glowing Aurora Borealis can be the surreal highlight of your Orkney trip, if you're lucky enough to witness it. This rare sight graces the skies of Northern Orkney during autumn and winter.

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Known locally as "Merry Dancers", the presence of the Northern Lights is not something you can take for granted during your trip. So keep an eye on the AuroraWatch UK website, and be ready to grab your camera and leave at a moment's notice!

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The Old Man of Hoy is perhaps the most iconic bit of postcard-like scenery of Orkney! This dramatic 449 ft sandstone sea stack cliff has been drawing rock climbers since 1964, which is when it was first scaled.
So, crack your fingers and see if you can join the ranks of the experts who have conquered this seaside cliff! The panoramic views waiting for you at the top are well worth the climb.
Swing by the mysterious Ring of Brodgar next. This Neolithic structure is in the form of a circle made of stone henges (27 of which are still standing after thousands of years!). The exact age and meaning of this stone circle is unknown.
Time for a quick detour to the historic Highland Park Whisky Distillery. Be sure to grab a bottle of Highland Park, to find out why it is often dubbed "The Best Spirit in the World" by whiskey enthusiasts.

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The Orkney Islands are blessed with a wealth of undisturbed prehistoric sites and settlements. On your way back from the distillery, stop by the Ness of Brodgar for a guided tour of this active excavation site and the many fascinating ancient artefacts discovered here.
If the Old Man of Hoy was too much to handle, you can try to climb up the Castle of Yesnaby, a smaller, but no less spectacular sea stack cliff. And while you're here, keep an eye out for geysers and areas where the sea is boiling.

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Step back in time at Orkney's greatest archaeological site: the Neolithic village of Skara Brae. Its 8 incredibly well-preserved houses (older than the Stonehenge) will provide you with a snapshot of the ancient lifestyle.
Orkney has many other excavated sites worth exploring: like the majestic Standing Stones of Stenness, the enigmatic Maeshowe Tomb, and the Iron Age village known as the Broch of Gurness.
Shutterbugs will be drawn to this lonely lighthouse on the Brough of Birsay. While you're here, check out the remains of Orkney's Norse-era Viking settlement.

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If you find yourself wondering what to do next, just drive over to the incredibly windy Warbeth Beach for an atypical beach day. The clear rockpools here are always teeming with sea life.

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If you feel like taking a closer look at the marine habitats of Orkney, head over to Scapa Flow Scuba Diving, Orkney's only dive center. 8 of the German Navy's sunken warships can be found at the bottom, where they have been waiting since 1919.

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Back on land, discover the terrain of Orkney Islands on foot. Besides exploring several other wild hiking trails and isolated nature walks, you can set off toward the summit of Ward Hill. At 1,578 ft, it's the highest peak of this archipelago, with the best views.
On your adventures, you'll have a good chance of coming across wild Atlantic Puffins. Known locally as 'tammie norries', these adorable birds have established breeding colonies on the Orkney Archipelago.