Kirkwall, Orkney Isles

Kirkwall, Orkney Isles

The disabled cruiser visiting Kirkwall will discover that the Orkney Community Transport Organization (OCTO) enables disabled individuals in Orkney to get around through running select shuttle bus services, providing transport and provide custom private hires to suit any occasion.

In May 2007, under Scotland’s new Disability Legislation, people and organizations running services and businesses might have to make a “reasonable adjustment” to buildings to make them easily accessible by disabled people.

OCTO also provides Orkney Heritage Tours. These tours are guided by local, Orkney Tourist Guides Association green badge accredited guides. They provide a range of transport solutions from minibus to coach hire. Accessibility is their forte, it is their priority that everyone can get where they need to be. Their drivers are all Minibus Driver Awareness Scheme trained via the Community Transport Association, meaning they are experts in making travel safe and comfortable for all people including wheelchair users.

The Orkney Museum tells the story of Orkney, from the Stone Age, to the Picts and Vikings, right through to the present day. There is a large collection of old photos and activities to amuse younger visitors. The Orkney Museum used to be a house, Tankerness House. For three centuries this house was the home of the Baikie family of Tankerness, whose estate gave the house its name. It opened as a museum in 1968.  Wheelchair access to Orkney Museum is available from Tankerness House Gardens located at the rear of the building entered from Tankerness Lane, between the museum and Royal Bank of Scotland. Ground floor rooms 1, 2 and 3, gift shop and toilet (disabled) accessible.
Individual single stair-lift to first floor on main stairway, wheelchair provided at 1st floor level. Further short stair lift to Medieval and Merchant Lairds galleries with additional wheelchair. Altogether 8 rooms on 1st floor level. 19th and 20th century galleries may be entered from Broad Street with the assistance of on duty Visitor Services Officer.

Kirkwall, Orkney Isles

Kirkwall is the biggest town and capital of the Orkney Islands, off the coast of northern mainland Scotland in the United Kingdom.

Many prehistoric monuments are scattered about the island and these include the Stenness Standing Stones at Finstown, standing around 19ft tall and in Sandwick, the Neolithic village of Skara Brae.

Take a ferry across to Shapinsay and see Balfour Castle, Britain’s most northerly inhabited castle.

Visit St Magnus Cathedral, founded in 1137 or the nearby Earls and Bishops Palaces. Opposite St Magnus Cathedral is the 16th century Tankerness House, which now houses the Orkney museum.

Highland Park Distillery produces finest Single Malt whisky and offers tours and tastings.

The Orkney Islands are a bird watcher’s paradise with puffins, eider ducks and whooper swans among many nesting here during the summer.

Where You’re Docked

Cruise ships can dock at either the piers in Kirkwall or Hatston or alternatively, anchor in Kirkwell Bay and tender passengers ashore. 

Kirkwall Pier: Smaller ships dock at the most convenient spot. After a 400-foot walk on the pier, it’s about 10 minutes walking (slightly uphill) to the cathedral; shops, restaurants and other services begin when you hit the shore.

Hatston Quay: Larger ships dock at this facility two miles outside of town. It’s Scotland’s longest deep-water commercial berth, about a one-minute walk to reach the spot where excursion buses wait. The ferry terminal has toilets, drink-vending machines and a parking lot. For most ships, the town operates a shuttle service to the tourism office in the city center.

Good to Know

St. Magnus Cathedral is a popular spot for weddings, so if you’re exploring the town, we recommend checking it out first to see whether it might be closed for a wedding, so you can plan accordingly.

There can be chilly winds at places like Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar, so you might want to dress in layers.

If you decide to drive, remember that the Scottish drive on the left-hand side of the road. Be particularly careful when you make a right turn, because you have to cross oncoming traffic. Be cautious crossing streets, too.

Getting Around

On Foot: It’s an easy 10-minute walk into the heart of Kirkwall from the Town Dock. Don’t attempt it from Hatston Quay. Once you’re in the town center, all the sites are very walkable, and some of the main shopping streets are pedestrian zones.

By Bus: Stagecoach operates a public bus route, the T11, which is designed to take tourists to Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar, with time to sightsee at each spot before the bus departs again. Catch it at the Kirkwall Travel Center on W. Castle Street near the Visit Scotland tourism office.

By Taxi: Several taxi services operate in Kirkwall. Craigies is the largest operation and can accommodate wheelchair passengers; it also offers mini-vans available for up to eight passengers. We highly recommend booking any taxi tour well in advance of your trip.


The pound is Scotland’s currency. It’s comparable to, and interchangeable with, the British pound. You’ll find convenient ATMs at the Royal Bank of Scotland (1 Victoria Street) and Clydesdale Bank (2 Broad Street), a short walk from the cathedral.


English with a strong Scottish accent is what you’ll hear on Orkney. But you’ll encounter many place names that reflect the Viking heritage. As late as the 19th century, a version of Norse was spoken there, rather than Gaelic.


Orkney is a center for fine crafts, and the Orkney Craft Trail offers an online guide to artists around the island. We would have loved to take home a traditional Orkney Chair, made of wood and woven straw. Alas, these hand-crafted masterpieces sell for thousands of dollars.There is a variety of local arts and crafts shops selling handcrafted jewelry, Scottish knitwear and local food and drink. Orkney is also renowned for its local quality fish and meat products.

Locally caught lobster, crabs, scallops and fish, along with local beef and lamb feature highly on menus. A popular delicacy are ‘spoots’ (razor clams). There’s a bounty of great ingredients in Orkney, including beef and sustainably fished crab, lobster, scallops and salmon. Add to it a tradition of high-quality dairy products, and you know you can dine well. Add to the mix award-winning beers, several cheese-makers, local ice cream, oatcakes (we even found a sundried-tomato version) and Orkney Fudge. The fudge comes in several flavors, including one with Highland Park whisky. You’ll find it in gift shops. Be sure to duck into a bakery, too, to check out the vast array of tempting goodies.

Points of Interest

  • Skara Brae – This Neolithic village dates back 5,000 years and has such well-preserved features, including beds and dressers in the houses. This monument is part of Orkney’s World Heritage site, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. The first thing the Disabled Cruiser will see is a film informing you about the village. You then proceed on to a reconstruction of one of the houses that you can go in and explore. It’s done very well and is fully wheelchair accessible. You then walk/roll along the shore for a few hundred yards, again, fully accessible. The village is fascinating. About half of it is wheelchair accessible, but you can see most of it from that side.
  • Italian Chapel – A lovely chapel simply constructed with two nissen huts during World War II, is a symbol of peace and reconciliation. Built by Italian prisoners of war, among them, an artist and sculptor named Domenico Chiocchetti who stayed to finish it once the war ended. Access is very good for the Disabled Cruiser, however, there are no restrooms available.
  • Scapa Flow – This stretch of water links the North Sea to the Atlantic and is famous for its role in both World Wars as a natural harbor offering shelter for the British naval fleet.
  • St. Magnus Cathedral – Known as the “Light in the North,” this cathedral was founded in 1137 by Viking Earl Rognvald in honor of his uncle St. Magnus. The Disabled Cruiser will discover that while there are steps up to the main entrance at the front of the building, there is a level surface approach to a side door which is signposted and is suitable for wheelchairs. While not every place was accessible in the Cathedral, most of it was. 
  • Ring of Brodgar – Perhaps, once used to study the stars, this perfect circle of immense standing stones is an impressive vision and one of Orkney’s most a popular attractions. This monument is part of Orkney’s World Heritage site, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. The Disabled Cruiser will find the Car Park is about 100 yards away but can be access by a wheelchair by a wooden plank path, however, you are unable to go round the stones.
  • Maeshowe – Dating back to prehistoric times, this chambered tomb hidden beneath a grassy mound is a marvel of ancient architecture. It also contains the largest concentration or runic writing (Viking “graffiti”) outside of Scandinavia. This monument is part of Orkney’s World Heritage site, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. The Disabled Cruiser will have a short walk on well made path to Maeshowe suitable for wheelchairs, they have two wheelchairs available which fit into the narrow and low entrance into the “tomb”. Once you reach the site you have to go down into old “moat” and then up again to the entrance door. If you are pushing a wheel chair you will need help and may be best to go backwards. The entrance “tunnel” floor is rough so the wheels get caught, you will need to tip the chair back to get the front wheels moving. Easier with one at front and one behind.
  • Distillery – Highland Park is the most northerly Scotch whisky distillery in Scotland and produces arguably the most respected single malt in the world. The Disabled Cruiser visiting the Highland Park Distillery will enjoy access for wheelchair users to all areas of the distillery that form a regular part of their tours. 
  • Balfour Castle – Britain’s most northerly inhabited castle and its two-acre Victorian gardens form part of the private Balfour Estate on the Island of Shapinsay. Magnificent Balfour Castle has stood overlooking Kirkwall Bay for more than 160 years.

Kirkwall Accessible Excursions

Kirkwall is the capital of the Orkney Islands, and is a major regional seaport located off the northern coast of Scotland. The Cathedral of St. Magnus, a red sandstone structure, is the town’s most prominent landmark. Other architectural specimens, such as Earl’s Palace, Bishop’s Palace, and Tankerness House, add to Kirkwall’s picturesque quality.

There are no organized accessible shore excursions for Kirkwall. The following is wheelchair accessible.

Orkney Highlights Private Tour

This 8 hour accessible Orkney Highlights Private Tour begins with your tour guide meeting you on the cruise dock in a wheelchair accessible vehicle.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and known as the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney”, there is a variety of attractions all guaranteed to make this trip something of wonder and beauty, where the sky, land and water converge together. On this tour you visit all 4 major sites of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, Skara Brae, Maeshowe, Ring of Brodgar and Standing Stones of Stenness.

Included is a visit to the peculiar and characteristic Italian Chapel, built by Italian prisoners during the course of WW2. You will also pass by the famous Churchill Barriers, which are fundamental for protecting the British Navy.