Kirkwall Cruise Port Guide | 8 Best Things To Do In Kirkwall

Kirkwall panorama

Welcome to Kirkwall, the largest town and the capital of the Orkney Islands, an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland nestled off the north coast of Great Britain. The archipelago consists of 70 islands and is known for its rich history of over 8,500 years old, breathtaking surroundings, and welcoming community.

Kirkwall, tucked between amazing landscapes and rugged coastlines, is known for its well-preserved Neolithic landmarks and archaeological ruins, making it a popular stop in the British Isles cruises. The town itself is small and has around 9,000 residents.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into practical information about the Kirkwall cruise terminal and share the 6 best things to do in Kirkwall port.

Visit also our cruise port guides to NewcastleCork/Cobh, Belfast, Dover, Glasgow (Greenock)Invergordon (Inverness)

Kirkwall Cruise Port

Orkney’s main cruise ship terminal is located at Hatston Pier (aka Kirkwall Orkney Hatston Ferry terminal), located around 2 miles/3,2 km northwest of Kirkwall downtown. This pier has one berth and can accommodate medium/large-sized cruise vessels.

Free Wi-Fi is available. This port also serves ferries connecting Kirkwall to Lerwick and Aberdeen.

A complimentary shuttle bus transporting passengers from Hatston Pier to Kirkwall Travel Center is provided by Orkney Islands Council and the ride takes less than 10 minutes. Wheelchair-accessible buses are available.

You can also reach Kirkwall on foot in about 40 minutes one way.

Smaller vessels may dock at Kirkwall Pier (aka Kirkwall Orkney Ferry Terminal), located right in the heart of the town within a short walk from the shopping area and main attractions.

Lastly, large cruise ships may anchor in Kirkwall Bay, with tenders transporting passengers to Kirkwall Pier, from where they can walk into the town.

Getting Around Kirkwall Orkney Islands

  • Kirkwall Travel Center (also known as VisitScotland Kirkwall iCentre) is the main tourist information center and the main shuttle bus drop-off/pick-up point. It is a great place to get souvenirs, brochures, and transportation information.
  • The Stagecoach bus route T11 is great for visitors who want to explore outside Kirkwall. This open-top double-decker bus includes stops at some of the major sights including the Ring of Brodgar and Stromness. This service runs from May to October (sometimes in April when ships are in port) and costs £18 per person (price from 2023/2024). The bus departs from Kirkwall Travel Center and departures are limited, so make sure to inquire at the Center about updated timetables.
  • You can also use regular public buses. Check the timetables at the official website
  • A limited number of taxis are available at the dock and you can negotiate the price with the driver.
  • Car rental agencies are available on-site but you can also search for the deals online.
  • Wi-Fi is accessible at the Kirkwall Hotel and various restaurants and cafes throughout town.
  • Bridge Street, Albert Street, Broad Street and Victoria Street are the main shopping streets in Kirkwall, featuring souvenir shops, designer boutiques, cafes, restaurants and historic landmarks.
  • Major cruise lines sailing to Kirkwall Scotland include AIDA Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises, Ambassador Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, TUI Cruises, Fred Olden Cruise Lines, Holland America Line and others. Check the cruise schedule at
  • Explore Kirkwall tours and activities
  • Find hotels in Kirkwall

6 Best Things To Do In Kirkwall Cruise Port

1. Kirkwall City Sightseeing

The town of Kirkwall boasts a charming atmosphere, rich history, and several historic landmarks that you can easily visit on foot.

1.1. Earl’s and Bishop’s Palaces

No visit to Kirkwall would be complete without a stop at the Earl’s and Bishop’s Palaces, two iconic landmarks that offer an intriguing glimpse into Orkney’s rich history. You can explore the grand halls of these medieval residences, which once served as the seats of power for Orkney’s ruling elite.

While the Bishop’s Palace dates back to the 12th century and provides an insight into the life of bishops in medieval times, the 17th century Earl’s Palace is a remarkable example of Renaissance architecture in Scotland and offers insights into the history of the Orkney Earls and their influence in the region. Entry to the Bishop’s Palace is free.

Kirkwall - Earl's and Bishop's Palaces
Earl’s and Bishop’s Palaces. Photo source: Canva Pro

1.2. St. Magnus Cathedral

Adjacent to the palaces is St. Magnus Cathedral, a masterpiece of medieval architecture and one of Scotland’s most beautiful cathedrals. The cathedral was built in the 12th century and is dedicated to St. Magnus, the beloved patron saint of Orkney.

As you approach the majestic cathedral, you’ll be greeted by its imposing facade and towering spires, a testament to the craftsmanship of medieval builders. Take your time to explore the cathedral’s interior, admiring the soaring arches, beautiful decorations, and valuable items that have stood the test of time.

Do not miss the opportunity to climb the cathedral’s tower for spectacular panoramic views of Kirkwall and the surrounding Orkney countryside!

Kirkwall -St. Magnus' Cathedral
St. Magnus’ Cathedral. Photo source: Canva Pro

1.3. The Orkney Museum

A stone’s throw from the cathedral, the Orkney Museum is the best place to explore the island’s rich Viking heritage. The museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the island’s Viking past with its rich collection of Viking artifacts, including weapons, tools, and daily goods used by the Norse settlers who formerly lived on Orkney.

One of the highlights of the Orkney Museum is the display dedicated to the famous Kirkwall Ba’, a traditional Viking ball game that has been played in Orkney for centuries. Learn about the origins of the game, its rules, and its significance in Orkney’s cultural heritage.

In addition to the exhibits, the Orkney Museum also offers guided tours and educational programs led by knowledgeable staff, providing visitors with deeper insights into Orkney’s Viking history.

1.4. Shopping and Dining

The main shopping streets in Kirkwall include Albert Street, Bridge Street, and Broad Street.

  • Albert Street is a bustling thoroughfare lined with a variety of shops, boutiques, and cafes, offering a mix of local crafts, clothing, and souvenirs.
  • Bridge Street, as the name suggests, spans the River Kirkwall and features a blend of shops, galleries, and eateries.
  • Broad Street is known for its charming cobblestone pavement and historic buildings, housing a range of shops selling jewelry, gifts, and traditional Orkney products.

Explore Kirkwall tours and activities

2. Highland Park Whiskey Distillery

Whisky enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a chance to visit the Highland Park Distillery, one of Scotland’s oldest whiskey distilleries.

Located 2 miles/3.2 km south of Kirkwall Pier and easily accessible by foot (35 minutes) or taxi (less than 10 minutes), the renowned distillery provides an immersive journey into the art of whiskey production.

During the tour, you can learn about the whisky-making process, from malted barley to cask maturation, guided by experts. Visitors can explore the historic distillery and learn about the unique techniques that give Highland Park whisky its distinctive flavor profile.

Finish the tour with a tasting of their renowned single malt Scotch whisky, savoring the rich aromas and complex flavors that have made Highland Park a favorite among whisky enthusiasts worldwide.

3. Explore Neolithic Settlements

Kirkwall is home to fascinating Neolithic settlements that offer a glimpse into ancient history.

One notable site is Skara Brae Prehistoric Village, a well-preserved Neolithic village dating back over 5,000 years. These intriguing remains, located within a 30-minute drive from Kirkwall cruise port, feature stone-built houses, passageways, and communal spaces, providing valuable insights into prehistoric life in Orkney.

The two other remarkable Neolithic sites, the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness are located on the road between Scara Brae and Kirkwall, within a 20-minute drive from the port of Kirkwall.

The Ring of Brodgar is a circular stone arrangement with 27 standing stones, while the Standing Stones of Stenness feature a smaller but equally intriguing set of stones, both dating back thousands of years and believed to have had ceremonial or ritualistic significance.

For a deeper understanding of these Neolithic ruins, consider joining a guided tour led by knowledgeable local guides. You can reach these locations by T11 bus, taxi, or on a guided tour.

Explore Kirkwall shore excursions

Kirkwall - Skara Brae Prehistoric Village
Skara Brae Prehistoric Village. Photo source: Canva Pro

4. Scapa Flow

Scapa Flow is a vast natural harbor off the northeast coast of Scotland. It is one of the largest and deepest natural harbors in the world known for its strategic importance in maritime history.

Scapa Flow has been used as a naval base since the time of the Vikings and played a significant role during both World Wars as a base for the British Royal Navy.

Today, it remains a popular destination for diving enthusiasts due to the numerous shipwrecks submerged in its waters, among which four battle cruisers and three battleships still resting on the seabed, ranging from depths of 45 to 12 meters beneath the surface.

To reach Scapa Flow from the docking port, you can join a guided boat tour departing from Kirkwall Harbor or explore on your own, either by car, taxi, or bus tour.

The harbor is about a 20-minute drive from Kirkwall port. Upon arrival, visitors can park their cars and take picturesque walks along the shore, taking in panoramic views of Scapa Flow.

5. Island Hopping

Make the most of Kirkwall’s central location in the Orkney archipelago by joining an exciting island-hopping adventure. Kirkwall’s well-connected ferry connections make it an ideal starting point for exploring nearby islands like Hoy and Rousay.

The island of Hoy is known for its dramatic cliffs, breathtaking coastal sceneries, and historic sites. The highlight of the destination is the iconic sea stack known as the Old Man of Hoy. You can explore ancient sites such as the Dwarfie Stane and the impressive Rackwick Bay, where you can embark on scenic hikes and witness the island’s natural wonders up close.

Another must-visit island is Rousay, also known as the “Egypt of the North” due to its rich archaeological heritage, with ancient sites such as the Midhowe Broch and Taversoe Tuick. Rousay is the sixth-largest island of the Orkney archipelago and is home to more than 100 archaeological sites.

The best way to visit these islands is by ferry and there are regular ferry services to both islands. Once on Hoy or Rousay, you can further explore the islands’ attractions using local transportation options like buses or rental cars.

Kirkwall - Hoy island, the Old Man of Hoy
The Old Man of Hoy, Hoy Island. Photo source: Canva Pro

6. Sample Orkney Cuisine

A cruise to Kirkwall wouldn’t be complete without tasting the local food! Start with a taste of Orkney’s famed cheese, which is made from the milk of grass-fed cows, and sample varieties such as Orkney Cheddar, or Orkney Smoked Cheddar.

Orkney is renowned for its fresh seafood directly sourced from the waters of the North Sea. Make sure to try delicious Orkney scallops, sweet langoustines, smoked salmon, and mussels. If you’re a meat lover – go for traditional Orcadian dishes and try tender cuts of beef and lamb.

And, of course, you must try the traditional Scottish delicacies like haggis, neeps, and tatties, often served together. Pair it with a good Scotch whisky to top off your culinary experience!

Wrapping Up

There are so many things to see and do in the Kirkwall cruise port and based on your priorities and preferences, make sure you plan your day to get the most out of it!

Visit also our cruise port guide to Liverpool, Dover, Dublin, Reykjavik, Bergen, Geirangerfjord, Cherbourg, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Le Havre

You may also like our cruise port guides to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Western Europe, Baltic & Scandinavia, USA & Canada, Australia & New Zealand

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