Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Scotland is filled with fascinating historic sites that take you back in time to before written history, but none are as packed to the brim with things to do as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the richest surviving Neolithic landscapes in the world, featuring two sets of standing stones (the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness), a chambered tomb (Maeshowe), and prehistoric village (Skara Brae).

It’s undoubtedly one of the most unique places to see in Scotland and Northern Europe, too! We’ll cover everything you need to know during your visit, from its fascinating history to how to get there to the fantastic attractions you can look forward to.

How to Get to Orkney

If you plan to visit the Isle of Orkney to see its numerous historic attractions, there are two ways to reach the islands – by plane or by ferry. Since Neolithic Orkney lies so far north of Scotland, it’s not possible to drive directly to Orkney proper.

By Plane

The most direct way to reach the picturesque Orkney Islands is by plane. The leading airline that serves passage to the Isles is Loganair, which has flights from all over Scotland and the greater United Kingdom region.

Catch a flight from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, or the nearby Shetland Islands and visit Orkney in minutes. Flight duration tends to last between 40 minutes to 2 hours (depending on where you leave from), which makes it a stellar way to reach the Heart of Neolithic Orkney if you want to see other sights while you’re there.

By Ferry

If you are okay with taking a more leisurely route to the Orkney Islands, then passage by ferry is an excellent option. Northlink ferries offer passage to Stromness or Kirkwall from the Scottish Mainland towns of Aberdeen and Lerwick. If you want to continue to the Shetland Isles, you’ll be able to take a ferry from there, too.

Attractions at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney presents thousands of years of human history, with extraordinary physical evidence showing how humans lived during that time. From prehistoric villages to standing stones and burial ritual monuments, it’s a feast for the senses that you can’t find anywhere else in Western Europe.

Let’s dive into the attractions you can look forward to while you’re here.

See Incredible Neolithic Monuments

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney has several large ceremonial monuments to check out on your visit. It’s a rich archaeological landscape with so much to look forward to.

Skara Brae

Skara Brae

Skara Brae is undoubtedly one of the most unique attractions in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. Taking a stroll through the World Heritage Site is nothing shy of magical. Each Neolithic house at Skara Brae stokes the imagination to imagine a time before phones, cars, and even medicine.

The Neolithic humans of Skara Brae had many items of furniture that we’d expect in homes today, and you can see stone beds, cupboards, dressers, and even indoor toilets with a fully functioning drainage system!

You can see nine houses from the path. If you peek through the narrow doorway, you’ll be able to see the furniture that was likely used over 5000 years ago! What surprises many people on their visit is the intimate size of the square houses, which rarely exceed 40 square metres.

Historians believe that roughly only about 50 people ever lived in the ancient homes of Skara Brae at any time! It’s one of the first significant ceremonial monuments collected together all in one place.



Maeshowe is a chambered tomb that offers a very early example of burial rituals for prehistoric people. The site is also an example of Neolithic architectural genius during one particular time of year. During the midwinter solstice, the setting sun aligns directly with the main chambered cairn of Maeshowe, offering a once-a-year experience you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

Keep in mind that there are only guided tours on offer for Maeshowe, so it’s best to book ahead of time if you’re planning on touring the site in the present-day during your visit to Neolithic Orkney.

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar

When you first step into the Ring of Brodgar, something magical in the atmosphere immediately becomes apparent. 

These giant megaliths on the Isle of Orkney are one of the most popular attractions for visitors and form part of a massive prehistoric structure called the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. Although only 27 of the 60 original sockets have stone behemoths, this world heritage site is enormously impressive amongst the surrounding landscape.

After the Ring of Brodgar was created by Neolithic humans, it was adopted by the Nordic settlers of Orkney. The stone ring continued as a site of rituals for the Norse gods. The Ring of Brodgar was called the Temple of the Sun, while the nearby Standing Stones of Stenness were called the Temple of the Moon.

Worshippers would move from one stone setting to another for various rites, including when new couples would be betrothed. The Odin Stone was where a couple’s unions would be complete, but the stone was knocked down in the 19th century.

The stone ring of Brodgar stills maintains a few Nordic rune carvings, including the name “Bjorn”, an anvil, and a cross.

Standing Stones of Stenness

Standing Stoness of Stenness

As one of the earliest stone circles, even older than the Stone Henge Monument, taking a visit to the Stones of Stenness without taking a picture to commemorate the occasion is like you weren’t there at all!

The site includes only four megaliths of the original twelve, with the fifth being the large prone stone nearby. There are several angles and ways to capture the towering structures. And with a maximum height of six metres, you can play around with perspective and size to your heart’s content.

Explore the Orkney Islands

Explore the Orkney Islands

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is only a fraction of the things to do while you’re on the Orkney islands, and there are plenty more extraordinary monuments to visit outside of the Neolithic Orkney sites. Some of our favourites include

Orcadian Whisky Distilleries

Scotland is often mentioned in the same breath as whiskey, and a unique culture of distilleries exists on the Orkney Mainland. The beautiful landscape, crystal clear waters, and Orcadian determination pair remarkably well to form a whiskey for the ages.

Scapa Flow

Calling all scuba divers and historians, come to Scapa Flow in Orkney for a trip you’ll always remember. The expansive waters of Scapa Flow are located on the southern end of Orkney and hold the remains of several battleships.

There are chances to scuba dive and see the wreckage or pass through the most picturesque locations on the Mainland. The choice is yours!

Bishop & Earl’s Palaces

Orkney has a rich cultural history that’s intertwined with Nordic and Scottish routes. In Kirkwall, you’ll be able to see remnants of Medieval Orkney with the Bishop and Earl’s Palace, close to the St Magnus Cathedral. These behemoths present a view of Scotland in the 16th century and are easy to add to a day of activities while in Kirkwall.

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