Day trip activities in Kirkwall and Stornoway Scotland
March 7, 2019 5:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm going on a cruise around Scotland in May with some friends and we are looking for fun things to do on our Kirkwall and Stornoway stops.

We will be in Kirkwall Scotland and Stornoway Scotland on consecutive days at the end of May. The ship is only in port for 9 hours at each stop. The list of excursions from the cruise line (Holland) is a little underwhelming. Does anyone have any recommendations for fun things to do? We are a group of 4 adults, 2 over 65 so nothing terribly strenuous please. We like good food and drink, will there be places to try local Scotch/whiskey? Interesting museums, castles, tours, other local sites that shouldn't be missed? Thanks in advance!
posted by BigVACub to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (4 answers total)
Be mindful of which days you are making landfall. If you visit Stornoway on a Sunday, you might struggle a bit due to religious observance of the Sabbath. Take that into account when planning to visit places (incl. shops and restaurants).
posted by kariebookish at 5:44 AM on March 7

I spent a few days in Kirkwall last year and I thought it wasn’t exceptional for food - one or two pleasant pubs. There will of course be single malt whisky (no ‘e’ for scotch whisky) everywhere and Highland Park distillery in Kirkwall does tours. Local gin is a thing these days, too.

Kirkwall is OK but the most interesting stuff is elsewhere on Mainland (which confusingly is the name of the biggest island in Orkney). I don’t know whether you can find time for trips (though obvs nothing is that far away) An extraordinary, world class site is Skara Brae, a stone built village older than the pyramids. You’d maybe need to get a taxi to take you there if there’s no organised trip. Maeshowe is almost as amazing.
posted by Segundus at 7:20 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]

The Ring of Brodgar is IMHO - the most interesting and spectacular stone circle in the British Isles - much more atmospheric than Stonehenge. It goes along with Maeshowe and Skara Brae thematically. On a cruise ship day all of these places are going to firmly on the popular visit list - and possibly a lot more busy than normal - so you might want to time your visit with care - maybe arrive by taxi rather than 50 seater bus.

Personally, I like The Italian Chapel. And Highland Park distillery is a particularly interesting visit as (I believe) they still produce their own malt on site.

To get away from things a little - there are some great beaches with a chance to see seals, sea birds etc.

Finally - I like the story of Orcadian explorer John Rae - who's one of a kind memorial statue you can find in St Magnus' cathedral.
posted by rongorongo at 7:37 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]

As karieboosh says, if you arrive in Stornoway on a Sunday your options are pretty limited. You'll find a few Sabbath-breaking bars open in some of the local hotels but that's about it. Unless you want to find a local church and discretely enjoy some Gaelic psalm singing (which is beautiful btw). Stornoway is a small harbour town with little to keep you entertained for 9 hours even on the other six days of the week, so if you can arrange some chauffeuring or transport of your own from Car Hire Hebrides then it's a game changer. In Stornoway itself I'd pay a visit to An Lanntair to see an exhibition and get some decent food. Go to MacNeil's pub for some malt whisky by an open fire or get a real taste of a no-frills local pub at The Criterion or The Star. Take a walk to Lews Castle to see the museum and Lewis Chessmen (or take a taxi if the over 65s are less able to walk, ask anyone local to point you to the nearest rank.) Go to the Harris Tweed Authority Exhibition in the Town Hall and then go and browse the Harris Tweed Hebrides shop nearby to buy some nice tweed goods. You can get good coffee and cake at The Blue Lobster, Artizan, Delights or Kopi Java. You could also take a boat trip with Stornoway Seafari from the harbour to see nearby islands and wildlife. I'd highly recommend getting out of the town though. I assume your cruise tour will be heading to the west coast to the Callanish Stones etc but if you don't fancy that then get a bus to Tarbert in Harris from the Stornoway bus station. The drive is super scenic and you can visit the excellent Isle of Harris Distillery, take a tour, sample whisky and gin, eat some good food and get some souvenirs. Better still give these guys a call and see more of Harris, the beaches, wildlife etc. Or head to beautiful Uig in the north-west where the Abhainn Dearg distillery is and the new Uig Sands restaurant. Again, you'll need transport of your own, or a prearranged driver. Google is your friend for all the stuff mentioned above!
posted by Caskeum at 9:15 AM on March 10

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