What are the options for a guided tour exploring Viking settlements in the Orkney Islands?

With its dramatic cliffs, windswept moors, and ancient ruins, Scotland's Orkney Islands are a magnet for history buffs and nature lovers alike. The archipelago is particularly famed for its Viking heritage, offering visitors the chance to step back into a far-off time when these Norse seafarers ruled the waves. For those willing to explore, a multitude of guided tours are available, each one offering a distinct perspective on the Viking past.

Day Tours from Kirkwall

Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Isles, is the starting point for many day tours. As you step off the ferry, you will be greeted by a charming town, steeped in history, and serving as a gateway to the Viking settlements on the islands.

Day tours often begin with a visit to the historic Kirkwall Cathedral, a stunning example of Romanesque architecture dating back to the 12th century. From there, tours may head to the Brough of Birsay, a tidal island with the remains of a Viking settlement.

Prices for these tours vary, but you can typically expect to pay between 50 and 100 GBP, depending on the length of the trip and the inclusions. Some tours may also include lunch and entry to various attractions.

Multi-Day Tours

For those with more time, multi-day tours offer a deeper exploration of the Orkney Islands' Viking heritage. These tours typically depart from Inverness and involve a ferry trip to the islands.

An overnight stay in a local accommodation allows you to immerse yourself in the island's atmosphere. You will have the opportunity to visit UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Skara Brae, a stone-built Neolithic settlement, and Maeshowe, a chambered cairn and passage grave.

These tours also provide ample opportunity to explore the rugged natural beauty of the islands, with walks along the dramatic coastline offering stunning views. Expect to pay between 200 and 400 GBP for these multi-day tours, which usually include accommodation and some meals.

Special Interest Tours

Perhaps you're a history aficionado wishing to delve deeper into the Viking era, or a photographer keen to capture the islands' dramatic landscapes and archaeological wonders. In these cases, a special interest tour may be your best bet.

These tours, often led by experts in their respective fields, offer a more in-depth look at specific aspects of the Orkney Islands. For example, an archaeology-focused tour may include visits to lesser-known Viking sites, while a photography tour might guide you to the most scenic viewpoints at the best times of day.

Prices for special interest tours can vary widely, depending on the length of the tour and the level of expertise provided. However, expect to pay a premium for these bespoke experiences.

Self-Guided Tours

If you prefer to explore at your own pace, a self-guided tour may be the option for you. Numerous companies provide detailed itineraries, maps, and background information, allowing you to discover the Viking sites of the Orkney Islands on your own.

Many self-guided tours also include accommodation bookings, and some even offer luggage transfer between overnight stops. This kind of tour gives you the flexibility to spend as long as you like at each site, and to explore off the beaten path if you choose.

Prices for self-guided tours depend largely on the level of service provided. However, they typically fall in the mid-range, making them an affordable option for independent travellers.

Virtual Tours

As we navigate the new normal brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual tours have emerged as a popular and safe way to explore destinations around the world. The Orkney Islands are no exception, with a range of virtual tours allowing you to explore the Viking heritage from the comfort of your own home.

Through a combination of video footage, 360-degree photos, and expert commentary, these tours bring the Viking settlements of the Orkney Islands to life. While they can't fully replicate the experience of being there, they offer a taste of what's in store for future visits.

As a bonus, virtual tours are typically very affordable, making them a great option for those on a budget or unable to travel.

In conclusion, the Orkney Islands offer a wealth of options for exploring their Viking heritage. Whether you prefer a guided day tour, a multi-day adventure, a special interest exploration, a self-guided jaunt, or a virtual visit, there is a tour to suit your needs and interests. Happy exploring!

Archaeology Tours

Archaeology tours are for tourists who wish to delve deeper into the history of the Orkney Isles. They offer unique experiences to learn more about the Viking settlements and the remnants they left behind, with professional archaeologists as guides. Visitors get the chance to explore renowned sites such as Skara Brae, Maeshowe, and the Ring of Brodgar.

These tours often include hands-on experiences, such as flint knapping workshops or archaeological digs, offering tourists a chance to roll up their sleeves and learn about the Vikings in a very tangible way. Some tours may also include visits to local museums, where visitors can view artefacts from the Viking era up close.

Prices for archaeology tours can vary depending on the level of expertise and the unique experiences included in the tour. However, these tours usually fall into the mid-range price bracket.

Private Tours

If you're looking for a more personalized experience, consider a private tour. These tours can be customized according to your interests and schedule. They provide a more intimate exploration of the Orkney Islands' Viking heritage, away from the crowds.

Private tours offer the flexibility to focus on areas of personal interest, whether that's delving into the history of the Orkney Isles, capturing stunning photographs of the Standing Stones, or discovering hidden gems off the beaten path.

Private tours often come with a dedicated guide, who can provide detailed insights into the Viking era and the sites you visit. Whether it's the Magnus Cathedral or the Italian Chapel, your guide can offer context and stories that bring these sites to life.

The cost of private tours can be significantly higher than group tours, but the personalized service and flexibility they offer can be worth the extra expense.


Exploring the Viking settlements in the Orkney Islands is not just a walk through historical sites; it's journeying back in time to a vibrant era filled with rich history and fascinating stories. Whether you're a history buff, nature lover, or just someone seeking a unique travel experience, there's a guided tour for you.

From day tours that offer a snapshot of Viking history to multi-day tours that allow for a deeper immersion, from special interest tours that cater to personal passions and hobbies to private tours that offer a personalized experience—the options are as diverse as they are exciting. Not forgetting the advantage of virtual tours that let you explore from the comfort of your home.

Regardless of the tour you choose, one thing is guaranteed: a trip to the Orkney Islands is a memorable adventure that will leave you with a deeper appreciation of the Viking era and a longing to return. So why wait? Book your tour and accommodation today, and get ready for a journey you'll never forget. From Loch Ness to the Isle of Skye, from the Highlands of Scotland to the day tours in London Greenwich, make your Scottish adventure an epic one. Happy journeying!

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