Top Historic Sights in Orkney, United Kingdom

Explore the historic highlights of Orkney

Ring of Brodgar

The Ring Of Brodgar Stone Circle And Henge, which is part of The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, is a spectacular stone circle. The ring is surrounded by a large circular ditch or henge. The truly circular layout of the ring is an unusual attribute that singles it out as one of the largest and finest stone circles in the British Isles. The Ring of Brodgar (alternative spelling Brogar) comprises a massive ce ...
Founded: 2500-2000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Italian Chapel

The Italian Chapel is a highly ornate Catholic chapel on Lamb Holm. It was built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war, who were housed on the previously uninhabited island while they constructed the Churchill Barriers to the east of Scapa Flow. Only the concrete foundations of the other buildings of the prisoner-of-war camp survive. It was not completed until after the end of the war, and was restored in the 19 ...
Founded: 1943 | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that th ...
Founded: 500-200 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Standing Stones of Stenness

The Standing Stones of Stenness is a Neolithic monument and may be the oldest henge site in the British Isles. Various traditions associated with the stones survived into the modern era and they form part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. Maeshowe chambered cairn is about 1.2 km to the east of the Standing Stones of Stenness and several other Neolithic monuments also lie in the vicinity, suggesting tha ...
Founded: 3100 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Midhowe Broch

Midhowe Broch is an iron-age structure situated on a narrow promontory between two steep-sided creeks, on the north side of Eynhallow Sound. The broch is part of an ancient settlement, part of which has been lost to coastal erosion. The broch got its name from the fact that it"s the middle of three similar structures that lie grouped within 500 metres of each other and Howe from the Old Norse word haugr meaning mound ...
Founded: 500-200 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Highland Park Distillery

Highland Park distillery is the most northerly whisky distillery in Scotland, half a mile farther north than that at Scapa distillery. The distillery was founded in 1798, presumably by Magnus Eunson. The name of this whisky does not refer to the area of Scotland known as The Highlands, but rather to the fact that the distillery was founded on an area called "High Park" distinguished from a lower area nearby. Hi ...
Founded: 1798 | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Barnhouse Neolithic Settlement

The Neolithic Barnhouse was discovered in 1984 by Colin Richards. Excavations were conducted between 1986 and 1991, over time revealing the base courses of at least 15 houses. The houses have similarities to those of the early phase of the better-known settlement at Skara Brae in that they have central hearths, beds built against the walls and stone dressers, but differ in that the houses seem to have been free-standing. ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Brough of Birsay

A tidal island off the north coast of the Orkney mainland, the Brough of Birsay was intensively settled from the 7th to the 13th centuries AD. The physical remains comprise a 9th-century Viking-Age settlement and 12th-century monastery, together with traces of an earlier Pictish settlement of the 7th and 8th centuries. The buildings and artefacts discovered make the brough one of the most important, and attractive, monume ...
Founded: 7th century AD | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Maeshowe

Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave. It was probably built around 2800 BCE. It gives its name to the Maeshowe type of chambered cairn, which is limited to Orkney. Maeshowe is a significant example of Neolithic craftsmanship. The monuments around Maeshowe, including Skara Brae, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Maeshowe is one of the largest tombs in Orkney; the mound encasing the ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Dwarfie Stane

The Dwarfie Stane is a megalithic chambered tomb carved out of a titanic block of Devonian Old Red Sandstone located in a steep-sided glaciated valley between the settlements of Quoys and Rackwick on Hoy island. The attribution as a tomb was originally based on its resemblance to recognized tombs in southern Europe. The Dwarfie Stane is the only chambered tomb in Orkney that is cut from stone rather than built from stone ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Noltland Castle Ruins

Noltland Castle dates mainly to the later 16th century, although it was never fully completed. In 1560 Adam Bothwell, Bishop of Orkney, granted the lands of Noltland to his brother-in-law Gilbert Balfour, who built the castle. Balfour was Master of the Royal Household to Mary, Queen of Scots, and was involved in the plot to kill her husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. After Mary"s deposition and exile, he continued ...
Founded: 1560 | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Blackhammer Chambered Cairn

Blackhammer Chambered Cairn is a Neolithic cairn on Rousay. It is thought to date from around 3000 BC. The structure is a typical stalled cairn, with an interior divided into seven compartments by pairs of upright stone slabs. The cairn has a modern roof, as the cairn originally was only a few feet high. Access is by a hatchway and ladder in the roof, as the original entrance was sealed. There have been finds of bones and ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Burroughston Broch

Burroughston Broch is an Iron Age structure located on the island of Shapinsay. Excavated in the mid 19th century, Burroughston Broch is still well-preserved. The drystone walls are up to four metres thick in some parts and there is a complete chamber intact off the entrance passage. Some remains of stone fittings are evident in the interior. The walls of Burroughston Broch have an external diameter of around 18 metres, ...
Founded: 500-200 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Unstan Chambered Cairn

Unstan is a particularly well preserved Neolithic chambered cairn, and somewhat unusual, example of an Orkney–Cromarty chambered cairn. Tombs of this type are often referred to as 'stalled' cairns due to their distinctive internal structure. Stalled cairns have a central passageway flanked by a series of paired transverse stones that separate the side spaces into compartments that reminded early investigators of hor ...
Founded: 3450 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Mine Howe

Mine Howe is a prehistoric subterranean man-made chamber dug 20 feet deep inside a large mound. The origin of the howe (from Old Norse word haugr meaning barrow) is not perfectly understood. Experts believe that it was built roughly 2000 years ago during the Iron Age. There is some similarity to the well inside the Iron Age Broch of Gurness. Its walls are lined with stones fitted to form an arch over the cavity and 29 st ...
Founded: 100 BC - 100 AD | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn

Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn is a Neolithic chambered cairn, dating back to around 3,000 BCE. It is cairn of similar design to Maeshowe, but on a smaller basis. Cuween Hill was constructed as a burial place by a group of Neolithic farmers. The entry to the tomb is down a narrow passage, partly open to the sky. The main chamber, built on the bedrock, stands well over 2 meters high, and was probably taller before 19th centu ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

St. Magnus Church

The roofless remains of St. Magnus Church stand on the western side of Egilsay – dominating the island on which St Magnus was executed early in the 12th century. Built towards the end of the 12th century, the church is made up of a rectangular nave and a square chancel, with a tall round tower on the western end. Despite the lack of a roof, the remains are still in good condition. The structure lost its roof somet ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Broch of Borwick

The Broch of Borwick is an Iron Age living structure. It has an external diameter of 17 metres and an internal diameter of 8 metres. The walls which are 3.5 to 5 metres thick currently stand to a maximum height of 2.6 metres. The eastern half of the broch and the entrance passage are well preserved, but the western half has been destroyed by erosion. The entrance passage, which is still lintelled over, is 5.6 metres long ...
Founded: 500-200 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Lady Kirk

The Lady Kirk at Pierowall is one of two ruined churches on the island of Westray. It was built in 1674, on the foundations of the 13th-century church. The church is mostly complete with the exception of the roof. Many of the walls stand to a high height, but some of it is 17th century built on the foundations of an earlier church. The south wall of the nave is largely from the original church. The nave altogether is rec ...
Founded: 1674 | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Tomb of the Eagles

The Tomb of the Eagles, or Isbister Chambered Cairn, is a Neolithic chambered tomb. First explored by Ronald Simison, a farmer, when digging flagstones in 1958, he conducted his own excavations at the site in 1976. Alerted by Simison, archaeologist John Hedges then mounted a full study, prepared a technical report and wrote a popular book that cemented the tomb"s name. 16,000 human bones were found at the site, as w ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Westside Church Ruins

Westside Church is a 12th century church located on the island of Westray. It is in ruins, and is maintained by Historic Scotland. There is very little remaining of the church, except for the gable end. It is now roofless.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Balfour Castle

Though built around an older structure that dates at least from the 18th century, the present Balfour Castle was built in 1847, commissioned by Colonel David Balfour, and designed by Edinburgh architect David Bryce. Today Balfour castle is a hotel.
Founded: 1847 | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Quoyness Chambered Cairn

The Quoyness chambered cairn is located on Sanday in Orkney. It is approximately 5,000 years old and is located on the shoreside. The cairn is about 4 metres high and can be accessed by crawling through the entrance passage, itself 9 metres long. Only half the entrance passage is roofed. A stone platform surrounds the cairn, and when originally built the cairn would have looked like Maeshowe today. Bones from 10 adults a ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

St Mary's Chapel Ruins

St. Mary"s Chapel is a chapel dating from the 12th century on the island of Wyre. Little is known about this chapel, which presumably was founded by Kolbein Hruga or his son Bjarni. The chapel consists of a rectangular room with the entrance to the chapel on a short side facing west. A smaller room, which is almost square in shape, is attached to the east side of the chapel. This area is only accessible from the firs ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Cubbie Roo's Castle Ruins

Cubbie Roo"s Castle, built about 1150, is one of the oldest castles in Scotland and was mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. It takes its name from Kolbein Hruga who was said to have lived there. In King Haakon"s saga, it is mentioned that after the last Norse Earl of Orkney, Earl John, was murdered in Thurso, his killers fled to Wyre. They took refuge in the castle, which was so strong that the besiegers had to th ...
Founded: c. 1150 | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Castle Bloody

Castle Bloody is a prehistoric feature on the island of Shapinsay, Orkney, Scotland. Hogan observes that while the feature is marked as a chambered mound on the UK Ordnance Survey map, the structure is more properly and specifically classified as a souterrain or earth house. Slightly to the north is located the ruined historic Linton Chapel.
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Eynhallow Church Ruins

Eynhallow Church is probably the ruin of a 12th-century Benedicitne monastery. Because of the name of the isle it is likely that Eynhallow was an important religious centre. Eyin-Helha is Old Norse for Holy Isle. Eynhallow Church was deserted before the reformation (circa 1560). The church was converted into dwellings in the 16th century. In 1851 the inhabitants of Eynhallow were transferred elsewhere and the church and ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Broch of Ayre

Broch of Ayre, also known as St. Mary"s Broch, is an Iron Age structure in Orkney. It was first excavated in December 1901 and then again in the summer of 1909. Little now survives, though part of the broch wall is still extant. The excavations revealed traces of internal architecture and external, probably later, structures. The 1901 excavations revealed that the broch wall survived to over a metre in height in par ...
Founded: 500-200 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Broch of Burrian

The Broch of Burrian is an Iron Age structure, which stands on a small headland next to a rocky shoreline. It is separated from the hinterland by a series of defensive earthworks. The broch has an external diameter of 18 metres and an internal diameter of 9.5 metres. The entrance passage is on the southeast side, and the walls are solid. There is a small room in the inner wall of the broch on the northeast side. The broc ...
Founded: 500-200 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Kisimul Castle

Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that dominates the rocky islet, and in its shadow a crew house for his personal galley and crew. The sea coursed through Macneil veins, and a descendant, Ruari ‘the Turbulent’, was arrested for piracy of an English ship during King James VI’s reign in the later 16th century.

Heavy debts eventually forced the Macneil chiefs to sell Barra in 1838. However, a descendant, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, repurchased the estate in 1937, and set about restoring his ancestral seat. It passed into Historic Scotland’s care in 2000.

The castle dates essentially from the 15th century. It takes the form of a three-storey tower house. This formed the residence of the clan chief. An associated curtain wall fringed the small rock on which the castle stood, and enclosed a small courtyard in which there are ancillary buildings. These comprised a feasting hall, a chapel, a tanist’s house and a watchman’s house. Most were restored in the 20th century, the tanist’s house serving as the family home of the Macneils. A well near the postern gate is fed with fresh water from an underground seam. Outside the curtain wall, beside the original landing-place, are the foundations of the crew house, where the sailors manning their chief’s galley had their quarters.