Kirkwall – often described as a modern-day Viking town, it is the main town in the Northern Isles and serves as the capital of Orkney, an archipelago located to the North of mainland Scotland. Famous for its 12th-century skyline dominated by the Norse Cathedral of St. Magnus, Kirkwall is visited for its Old English meets Viking culture vibe.
From a seven-century-old Cathedral to a palace down to the shores, Kirkwall is a vibrant town that is perfect for those looking to have a unique experience that is a mix of Norse culture, Old England mashed with modern mores of today’s civilization.
Let’s take a trip around Kirkwall and discover the best things that this small vibrant town as to offer.
Things to Do in Kirkwall
1. Visit the St. Magnus Cathedral
The St. Magnus Cathedral is what Kirkwall is named after. Kirkwall comes from the word, “Kirkjuvagr”, coined by the Norse adventurers who found settlement in the town. It means “church by the bay”, pertaining to the great St. Magnus Cathedral founded by the Viking Earl Rognvald in 1137.
Described as “a place of stillness, inspiration, of warmth and is steeped in the presence of God”, Kirkwall is one of the most historic sites in Orkney best known for it’s serene, quite and relaxing atmosphere – where, you can practice your faith and rediscover your relationship with God.
Aside from tourism, the one thing that draws visitors into the Cathedral is worship and praise as it has long since been a place of worship even during the early ancient times.
Aside from the Cathedral itself, there is also the St. Magnus Centre, which is not just a church hall but is also a meeting place, a hub that caters to visitors, an arts venue, and a place for concentration, contemplation and strengthening your salvation.
There are also tours for the upper levels of the Cathedral that are offered on April to June.
The St. Magnus Cathedral has its doors open for everyone. However, the tours for the upper levels will cost you depending on your visit.
For the Year 2019:
Summer opening: From April 1 to September 30
9AM-6PM on Mondays to Saturdays
1PM-6PM on Sundays
Winter opening: From October 1 to March 31
9AM-1PM and 2PM-5PM for Mondays to Saturdays (The Cathedral is closed for lunch on 1PM-2PM.)
Upper level tours (April to June):
11AM and 2PM on Tuesdays
11AM and 2PM on Thursdays
2PM and 3:45PM on Sundays
Address: St. Magnus Cathedral, Broad Street, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1NX
Phone: 01856 874894
2.Dine at The Foveran
Described to be “the place to relax, unwind, and savor the taste of Orkney,” the Foveran is just three miles down Ophir road and is famed for being one of the best restaurants in Orkney. It truly is the best place to dine and taste the uniquely cultural cuisine Orkney has to offer, right in the center of Orkey’s capital, in Kirkwall.
Overlooking the sea across the historic Scapa Floor, it is the restaurant to enjoy fine Scottish dining while enjoying and relaxing away from the stressful hustle and bustle of the cities. The menu features classic Orcadian dishes of steak, haggis (savory pudding made from sheep’s liver, lungs and heart), drizzled over with delicious whiskey sauce made from the best Scottish whiskey and North Ronaldsay lamb that comes in four, delicious tender cuts.
Aside from the stunning views of the sea, this family-run restaurant offers special ‘dining rooms’ – eight comfortable en suite rooms where you can enjoy delicious local food served and prepared by the award-winning chef, Chef Paul Doull, and his team.
The ambiance of the place is a bit modern and trendy, straying away from the “old school” Norse vibes felt in the Ophir road. You are sure to enjoy the food that is being served, while enjoy the overall experience itself.
Food items from the menu can run anywhere from 35 GBP to 80 GBP.
Best and Breakfast Rates
Single: 65 GBP per night
Double or twin: 125 GBP per night
Dinner is available seven nights of the week from mid May to mid September. For the rest of the year, they are open; however, nights vary so it is best to contact them to check for the availability of the night you are planning to visit.
Check in times for their rooms are from 4:30 PM onwards every day.
They do not serve lunch while breakfast is only served for those staying in their rooms. The restaurant can get pretty booked heavily for a week ahead, however, last minute cancellations aren’t unheard of. Therefore, it is always best to always contact them to check for the availability of rooms/tables.
Address : A964, Kirkwall KW15 1SF, UK
Phone: +44 (0)1856 872389
3. Stop Over the Highland Park Distillery
There is no trip to Kirkwall completed without a stopover to the Highland Park Distillery – one of the best and most iconic distilleries in Orkney. Despite being rebranded into a dodgy Viking trademark, it is a serious distillery that malts its own barley.
As stated in their website, the history of this distillery is rich and colorful as it is the distillery that it is today due to its unusual location and inhabitants of the islands who were Vikings from 1000 years ago. All of these factors have contributed to the present situation of the Highland Park Distillery today. Learn more about the history of this distillery by participating in one of their tours.
There are five ‘hero’ whiskeys – 10 year old, 12 year old, Valkyrie, Magnus and Dragon Legend. The standard 12 year old is soft, balanced malt and perfect for novices and aficionados alike, while the Dragon Legend is one of the world’s finest whiskeys to have ever been brewed.
The entrance fee is 10 GBP per person, this is different from the fees to be paid for the specialized tours which can range anywhere from 20 GBP to 75 GBP, depending on the inclusions and specializations. Only 14 year olds and above are allowed to enter inside, while the drams are available only for those over 18 years old.
April to October: Open every day and every hour from 10AM to 4PM
November to March: Open every Monday to Friday only for every hour from 10AM to 4PM
Address: Highland Park Holm Rd, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, KW15 1SU
Phone: 01856 874619
4. Stroll through the Earl’s Palace
Known as the finest example of French Renaissance architecture in Scotland, the Earl’s Palace is now the ruins of what once was the fine building of architecture that it used to be. It is located near St. Magnus Cathedral, right in the heart of Kirkwall. It’s largely known to have been built by forced labor but that history is a vast contrast to the ruins being open to everyone today.
Described as having the air of elegant yet a massive structure, a stroll through the Earl’s Palace will give you a good idea of what it was like during the 1600s, as well as provide a glimpse of the dark history that surrounds the construction of this palace. Its owner, who built the palace through forced labor was Patrick, Earl of Orkney, who was beheaded for treason in Edinburgh, leading to the halt of the construction of the palace, leaving it to be unfinished forever.
The admission to the Earl’s Palace also includes admission for the nearby Bishop’s Palace, located opposite of St. Magnus Cathedral and now the ruined palace of the 12th century Bishop the Old. The tower of Bishop’s Palace provides a good view of the Cathedral and nearby sceneries.
Member/Explorer Pass holder: FREE
Adult: 6 GBP
Concession: 4.80 GBP
Child aged 5-15: 3.80 GBP
Child under 5: FREE
Please take note that children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult. The concession price only applies if you show proof that you are 60 years and above or unemployed.
From April 1 to September 30 – 9:30AM to 5:30PM
Last entry: 5PM
Closed from October 1 to March 31
The Palace may be closed for lunch time, and during extreme weather conditions that may lead to unsafe exploration.
Address Watergate, Kirkwall, KW15 1PD, UK
Phone +44 1856 871918
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