Heading to the Orkney Islands? These are our recommendations for the best shopping, dining, drinking, and lodging.
Buy a bottle of Highland Park new make spirit at the distillery to experience this dram ‘unplugged,’ ($26 for a 350ml bottle). For the flight home, Highland Park offers a Carry-on Cocktail Kit ($10) containing everything (except the whisky) needed to make two smoky Old-Fashioned cocktails at 30,000 feet.
Opt for an elusive 21 year old Cask Strength Edition bottle of Scapa, exclusive to Chivas’ visitor centers ($175 for a 500ml bottle).
Go to Orkney Brewery’s visitor center at Quoyloo, near Stromness and pick up some Dark Island Reserve—a rich, strong ale finished in whisky casks. Delightfully indulgent ($11).
The excellent Brig Larder in the center of Kirkwall offers Jolly’s of Orkney Highland Park Whisky Smoked Salmon—prices from $11.50. Also sample some Orkney Smoked Cheddar Cheese flavored with Highland Park ($5.40), and the superb hand-made Grimbister Orkney Farmhouse Cheese (from $5.70).
Visit The Orcadian Bookshop in central Kirkwall, publisher of The Orcadian, the local weekly newspaper. Lose yourself in the poems of Orkney’s greatest writer, George Mackay Brown, or pick up a collection of his short stories, such as A Time to Keep. Beautiful, lyrical writing, and a great window on Orkney’s heritage.
Orkney is famed for its crafts; stunning jewelry is a specialty in the islands. Orkney’s unique Craft Trail, which links the workshops, studios, and shops of local artisans is a great way to experience what’s on offer. Over 20 businesses—covering everything from jewelry, ceramics, and artwork, to textiles, tapestry, and traditional Orkney chair making—participate in the trail.
The Foveran, St Ola
The Foveran is located in St Ola, with spectacular views across Scapa Flow. It is described as “a restaurant with rooms,” and when it comes to food, seasonal and local are The Foveran’s watchwords. Orkney-raised beef and lamb are recommended here, as is the varying catch of the day.
Skerries Bistro, St Margaret’s Hope
Specializing in local shellfish and line-caught fish, the all-glass Bistro stands close to the Pentland Firth, and in additon to conventional meals, there is also an exclusive Dining Pod that seats eight people and offers a mouth-watering seafood tasting menu.
The Missing Bell, South Ronaldsay
Part of Eastward House Bed & Breakfast, The Missing Bell boasts international cuisine and a number of themed dining experiences. There are no fewer than fifteen gourmet breakfast options, and the prevailing philosophy is “slow food, fair trade, salt free, ocean friendly, allergy friendly, home cooking.” missingbell.com
Lynnfield House Hotel, Kirkwall
Close to Highland Park Distillery, the Lynnfield offers the best selection of whiskies on Orkney, with over 300 bottles to choose from. Every conceivable expression of Highland Park and Scapa whiskies is available, with some real old rarities including vintage expressions of Highland Park distilled during the 1960s, a house bottling of 8 year old Highland Park from the 1980s, and a Gordon & MacPhail 8 year old Scapa from the same era. Relax in the country house atmosphere of the lounge over a dram of something intriguing.
The Stromness Hotel dates from 1901 and is situated close to the harbor and Northlink mainland ferry terminal. Over 100 whiskies and Orkney ales are offered in the Stillroom Whisky Bar. Alternatively, try a cocktail made with Orkney’s very own Kirkjuvagr gin.
The Ferry Inn, Stromness
One of the best places in Orkney for cask ales, The Ferry Inn at Stromness is a convivial harborside pub offering beers from both Orkney Ales and Swannay Brewery. It’s the place for local live music, and a real hot spot during local festivals, when The Ferry operates a popular outdoor bar featuring barbecued fresh local seafood.
The Orkney Hotel, Kirkwall
This upscale hotel and former merchant’s house dates back to 1670 and is located close to the center of Kirkwall, just a short walk from St Magnus Cathedral, the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, and the town’s main shopping streets. More than 500 whiskies are on offer at the recently renovated bar.
Bellevue Inn, South Ronaldsay
An affordable and enchanting B&B, Bellevue Inn enjoys a great location on the harbor front of St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay, close to the Pentland Ferries terminal that connects Orkney to the mainland county of Caithness. In addition to suites, accommodations are also available in two apartments and three self-catering cottages close to the inn.
Merkister Hotel, Harray
Located on the shores of Harray Loch, between Kirkwall and Stromness, the Merkister Hotel offers award-winning cuisine and a friendly bar, along with opportunities for bird-watching and fishing. Indeed, fishing is the Merkister’s specialty, and the staff will arrange everything if you fancy trying your hand at catching some of the loch’s celebrated hard-fighting trout.