Some of the biggest draws to Orkney are the world class historic attractions and in particular the sites that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These are probably some of the places that I get asked about the most so I was excited to cover them on the latest Orkney 'See You at the Weekend' itinerary. The heritage sites include the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae, the Standing Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe, along with a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites.
I often get asked by visitors to Scotland why they should include Orkney in their vacation and there are many reasons. However, if ancient history is your thing then I can guarantee you will find nowhere else in the country as rich in significant archaeological attractions as on these islands. It is always a sobering thought to remember that many of these monuments are significantly older than the Egyptian pyramids.
If you want to discover some of the Neolithic highlights then this 1 day itinerary is for you.
ABOUT THE ITINERARY AND MY ADVICE
This itinerary is one of several autumn and spring themed day trip ideas that are being introduced by Destination Orkney over the coming months as part of their 'See You at The Weekend' campaign. I'll be trying them all out so stay tuned for lots more Orkney inspiration from me.
If you intend on following the full World Heritage itinerary then I would advise some advance planning as you will need to take in to consideration opening times and book a place on the Maeshowe tour. Due to these variables it is unlikely that your route will be exactly the same order as mine. I've included a list of the locations below, with a map at the bottom of the page.
ORKNEY WORLD HERITAGE ITINERARY LOCATIONS
Stones of Stenness
One of the best places to start your day is at the Standing Stones of Stenness which may be the earliest henge monument in the British Isles. As there are only four stones remaining, they don't attract as much attention as the nearby Ring of Brodgar despite their massive size. I find this a shame as they form part of what was once a significant site, dating back to 3100 to 2900 BC which precedes the Ring of Brodgar by about 500 years.
The remaining stones were part of an oval-shaped setting that once consisted of up to 12 stones, although it is thought the site was never completed and may have been built over generations. The surrounding ditch is now gone, however the central hearth remains. Evidence recovered shows Neolithic people once cooked and ate at the site.
As for its purpose, the best guesses are that it was used for ceremonies or rituals. With the hearth as a focal point, you can almost imagine the smell of smoke and people gathering around the light and warmth of the flames.
One of the reasons I opted to swap city life for island life is my love of the coast. I could happily potter about beaches and stroll along cliff tops all day long - in fact, that is exactly how I spent last weekend.
When I found out the latest Orkney 'See You at the Weekend' itinerary detailed below was based on local seascapes, with four coastal walks to cover, I was in my element. This was the excuse I had been looking for to ditch mundane household chores and adult responsibilities for the day. Instead, I lost track of time walking along wave battered cliffs, mesmerised by churning seas and feeling revitalised by the brisk sea-breeze.
It would have been easy for me to focus solely on the dramatic scenery but I was intrigued by the physical remnants left behind by the people who lived and worked along these stretches of coast over the centuries. Although each walk took me through a unique and equally stunning landscape, my imagination was in overdrive as I followed in the steps of prehistoric man, Vikings, soldiers and fishermen.
If there is one thing I recommend you do on a visit to Orkney, it would be to include at least one coastal walk in your itinerary.
ABOUT THE ITINERARY AND MY ADVICE
The itinerary is one of several autumn and spring themed day trip ideas that are being introduced by Destination Orkney over the coming months as part of their 'See You at The Weekend' campaign. I'll be trying them all out so stay tuned for lots more Orkney inspiration from me.
The Seascape itinerary involves as much or as little walking as you are comfortable with but I do recommend wearing sturdy, waterproof footwear and be prepared for all seasons in 1 day! Also, please be careful along the cliff walks and keep to the paths. It might be very tempting to snap a photo of you balanced on the cliff edge for Instagram likes, but it is a very long way down in some places and just not worth becoming a statistic.
I also recommend taking a spare bag with you to pick up some of the litter that washes up along the beaches. If we all remove a few bits on our walk, we can make a bigger difference
ORKNEY SEASCAPE ITINERARY LOCATIONS
The walk along the cliffs at Yesnaby is without doubt one of the most dramatic coastal walks on Orkney Mainland. With rugged red crags, sea stacks, arches and geos, there are plenty of striking features to look out for.
The surrounding geology spans hundreds of millions of years and the many layers reveal the history of the landscape dating back to a time when Orkney was located south of the equator. During that period much of Yesnaby formed the bottom of a vast freshwater lake called Lake Orcadie.
On a windy day (of which there are many on Orkney!) the sea below bubbles and churns like a cauldron. The waves crash over rocks and rush through small gaps with ferocious power. On really windy days, sea foam and spray are blown over the cliff tops.
Yesnaby is a great spot if you want to witness the might of Mother Nature.
On my most recent visit to Aberdeen I stayed at the recently opened Sandman Signature Aberdeen Hotel for 2 nights and it is the kind of accommodation the modern traveller to Scotland expects and that the city has been crying out for.
Sitting in the heart of the city centre it is conveniently located for visiting most of the main city attractions and I found exploring on foot really easy with the occasional bus ride to reach places of interest outwith the centre.
If you have a car, you can use the hotel car park although it is on a first come, first served basis. Having your own transport means you can venture further afield in the region, personally I love the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail and exploring the outdoor scenery and castles of Royal Deeside.
I've stayed in a few places locally and this is by far the best which is why I just had to write this review. From the Instagrammable interior (yes, I really did just say Instagrammable, what has my life become!) to the quirky nods to Scotland in the decor, not to mention the superb service, hopefully you will love this place as much as I did.
From the outside, the hotel is a sprawling granite building, very in keeping with Aberdeen's grand architectural style. Previously it was part of the Robert Gordon University campus and I can't imagine many businesses would be able to take on a structure this size so I'm glad it has been preserved and given a new lease of life.
When I first walked through the entrance I was wowed by the interior, a mix of grand, colourful, funky and Scottish. Did I also mention that it is very Instagrammable! The seating area is super comfy and conveniently has wireless phone charging pads on the tables.
My check-in was super easy and friendly. I arrived quite early so I could drop off my suitcase at reception while I explored Aberdeen. When I returned later in the day to check in properly I was impressed to find that my suitcase had already been taken to my room for me.
As I made my way across the thistle carpet to my room I realised just how big the hotel is on the inside as the corridors seemed to go on forever. There are 218 guest rooms in total of various styles and I was booked in to Corporate King Room with a sofa bed.
The room was a good size and the decor had an industrial warehouse feel thanks to the copper lights, old school radiators and exposed brickwork in the bathroom. However, there was no mistaking I was in a Scottish hotel thanks to the tartan throw and funky Highland Coo and stag cushions. Photographs of local Aberdeenshire landmarks also added a regional touch.
From a smart tv to a microwave, the room was well equipped and most importantly the bed was super comfy. At my age a good night's sleep is essential so I'm becoming increasingly fussy about my hotel bed standards and I'm pleased to say this one rated highly.
Until this year I hadn't really spent any proper time in Aberdeen, my bad!
However, after visiting twice this year, I finally feel like I'm getting to know the place. I'm also going to make a bold statement - Aberdeen is on the rise as a Scottish city tourist destination and I predict over the next few years it will be competing with Edinburgh, Glasgow and now Dundee.
I made the same prediction about Dundee well before it was on the radar of the glossy magazines and before the V&A took any shape - I'd say I got that one right...
Until recently Aberdeen didn't have to think too much about tourism, it was a city that thrived thanks to the money from the oil and gas industry. After a downturn in the sector, it is having to reinvent itself and gaining a slice of the increasing Scottish tourism pie seems to be on the agenda.
As I discovered on my latest visit, there are even plenty of things to do on a rainy day in Aberdeen. I should add that there are even more things to do if the sun is shining which it did on my last visit. However, this blog concentrates on some of the best places to hide out if the weather turns driech, which it often does in Scotland!
Things to do in Aberdeen on a rainy day
David Welch Winter Gardens
I actually can't think of a better place to visit on a dreich day in Aberdeen than the winter gardens in Duthie Park. The minute you enter the giant glasshouse you are transported to a tropical climate thanks to a wave of warm air and a vision of exotic greenness.
I was really surprised at the size of the glasshouse, it is way bigger than anything in Glasgow or Edinburgh. In fact it is one of Europe’s largest indoor gardens and Scotland’s third most visited gardens which makes me ashamed to say I had never heard of it before my latest visit to the city. It is now on my list of favourite things to do in Aberdeen.
The glasshouse complex is divided up in to different areas including the Fern House, Perfume Corridor, Victorian Corridor and Tropical House among others. It also has one of the largest collections of cacti in Britain where you will also find 'Spike' the taking cactus!
There are plenty of benches dotted around the gardens along with a coffee shop which makes this the perfect place to sit and while away the hours sheltered from the weather.
Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Museums are always a great wet weather option and the Aberdeen Maritime Museum will keep family members of all ages entertained. There are loads of interesting exhibits to see and during my visit I learned a lot about the various periods of local maritime history that have helped shape the city.
A cleverly designed glass window overlooking the busy Aberdeen working harbour, makes the ever moving boats and machinery a part of the museum's story. However, what really makes the museum unique, is the display on the North Sea oil and gas industry, the only one in the UK.
The building sits on the historic Shiprow which was once one of the most important streets in Aberdeen and was first mentioned in documents in 1281. The museum also incorporates Provost Ross's House which was built in 1593.
I really enjoyed my visit here and definitely recommend it to anyone touring Aberdeen.
The Tolbooth Museum
The Tolbooth Museum is a short walk from the Maritime Museum so it is easy to combine a visit to both. Situated in one of the oldest buildings in Aberdeen, this is also one of the best preserved 17th century gaols in Scotland with original cells, doors and barred windows. It served as the prison of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire for over 200 years.
Built between 1616 and 1629, it is an atmospheric building and I found the historical displays and stories of some of the people locked up here particularly fascinating . For those interested in Jacobite history, this place will be of special interest as almost 100 known or suspected Jacobites were held here to be questioned after Culloden.
However, over the years the gaol housed a wide range of prisoners from debtors to witches and even Quakers. Poor old farm hand Charles Duff was charged with wearing tartan, contrary to the Dress Act of 1746, introduced after Culloden. The punishment was 6 months imprisonment and repeat offenders could be transported overseas to work on a plantation for 7 years.
If you do visit, try not to go alone as the Tolbooth is also said to be haunted!
St Machar's Cathedral
The Cathedral Church of St Machar can be found in Old Aberdeen, an area which is well worth walking around on a pleasant day. The church is thought to be situated on or near to the site of a previous place of worship which was founded around 580 AD by Machar, a companion of St Columba.
The first cathedral was built here around 1165, although a succession of events saw it being partially demolished, destroyed and rebuilt over the following centuries. The present building mainly dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, although damage, restoration and additional work has occurred since.
It is the oldest building still active in Aberdeen today and I found the unique heraldic ceiling dating from 1520 particularly impressive. It is also said that after William Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered in 1305, his left arm was sent to Aberdeen and is now interred within the cathedral walls.
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