Maeshowe is a historical monument situated on the stunning Orkney islands. It forms part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO Heritage Site, alongside other fantastic attractions like the Standing Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar, and Skara Brae Neolithic village. If you’re interested in the history of Scotland before history even began, then the Maeshowe is one of the Neolithic sites that need your attention!

Read through this blog to learn about the new Maeshowe visitor centre, the intricate history of the site, and what else you can look forward to while you’re here.

Maeshowe History


The monumental chambered tomb of Maeshowe is simply the finest Neolithic building in northwest Europe. Built around 5,000 years ago, it is a masterpiece of Neolithic design and stonework construction, not least for its use of massive individual stones. Creating such monumental architecture must have presented a major challenge to our remote ancestors, working without the benefit of metal tools or powered machinery. It also clearly represents a tremendous social commitment by them.

Maeshowe sits in one of the richest Neolithic landscapes in Europe. A place of stone circles, villages and burial monuments where people lived, worshipped and honoured their dead. Alongside Maeshowe are other incredible survivals from that far-off age, including most notably the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the village of Skara Brae. This richness was formally recognised in 1999 when these monuments were inscribed upon the World Heritage List as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

The site is now managed by Historic Environment Scotland and is one of the most unique attractions to see during your visit to the Orkney Islands.

Maeshowe Tickets and Opening Times

Maeshowe is a hot commodity attraction that is usually quite busy. If you want to be sure to visit Maeshowe, then visit online to guarantee entry and avoid disappointment. Here are the prices during your visit to Maeshowe:

  • Adult Tickets cost £10.
  • Child Tickets cost £6.
  • Family tickets from £20 – £34.

Historic Scotland members enter for free at Maeshowe. The ticket includes a guided tour through the chambered cairn, which has plenty of information about the history of the site. The tour departs from the Stones of Stenness Visitor Centre, and it’s recommended that you arrive 15 minutes before your tour.

Opening Times

Maeshowe is open all year round, although opening times differ depending on when you visit. Between 29 March and 30 September, the historic site is open daily between 9.30 am and 5.30 pm. Tour times: 10 am, 12 noon, 2 pm and 4 pm.

Then, between 1 October and 28 March, it’s open daily between 10 am and 4 pm. Tour times: 10 am, 11 am, 1 pm, and 2 pm.

Remember to arrive 15 minutes early if you’ve booked a tour.

How to Get to Maeshowe

The most direct ways to reach Maeshowe on the Orkney Islands are via ferry and by plane since you can’t reach the Isle with a car. Here’s how you can reach this destination quickly and easily.

By Ferry

North Link Ferries provide transport over the North Sea towards the Orkney Isles from all over Scotland. There are ferries from Aberdeen, Scrabster, and Lerwick. There is also a direct link to Stromness, which offers a closer port of call to Maeshowe.

Ferries run fairly regularly and can provide passage for both cars and people! If you want to enjoy a scenic drive through Stromness, then taking a trip via ferry is the way to go.

Prices for ferries to Kirkwall vary throughout the year, but you can expect to pay between £19.45 – £22.65 per passenger and £63 – £70 per car. Motorhomes and other large vehicles are costlier, find out more about prices and fares from Northlink Ferries.

By Plane

Kirkwall Airport is buzzing with activity for those who want an expedient trip to the Maeshowe. There are several flights from all over the Scottish Mainland that offer direct access to the Orkney Isles in an hour or two.

Scotland’s main cities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Inverness have regular flights to Kirkwall. Average flight times are around 55 minutes, but the further you are from the Isle, the longer you can expect to travel. If you’re looking for cheap flights to Kirkwall, then August offers the lowest rates.

Kirkwall Airport also accommodates flights from Scotland’s northern isles, including Sumburgh, Papa Westray, North Ronaldsay, and more.

Best Time to Visit Maeshowe

While summer may be the obvious choice for visiting Maeshowe, there’s a unique time of the year that actually presents a rare opportunity to communicate with Neolithic builders. Underneath the midwinter sun, Maeshowe comes alive with a strange and phenomenal occurrence.

One time of year was particularly special for the people who used Maeshowe. The gently sloping passage is carefully aligned so that at sunset during the three weeks before and after the shortest day of the year (around 21 December), the light of the setting sun shines straight down the passage and illuminates the back of the central chamber.

This unique moment during the winter solstice was undoubtedly a Neolithic ritual to celebrate a pivotal moment during the year, although the exact details are unknown to historians.

Best Things to Do Maeshowe

Maeshowe is undoubtedly one of the finest Neolithic buildings in Scotland, surrounded by other Neolithic sites like the Barnhouse Stone, Stone Circle of Stenness, and Ring of Brodgar. Here are the best things to look forward to during your visit to Maeshowe.

Take a Guided Tour of Maeshowe

Guided Tour of Maeshowe

Visits to Maeshowe are completed through a guided tour only, which leaves from the Standing Stone of Stenness Visitor Centre. A guided tour takes you through the low and long passageway that leaves of Maeshowe chambered cairn. Maeshowe’s expert guides outline the easy-to-miss details around the cairn, including how the Vikings managed to break into the cairn and the interpretations of the symbols and carvings that be found throughout.

Learn about the Chambered Cairn

Maeshowe hides its monumentality, for externally, it appears just like a large grassy mound. Only when you enter the single portal and walk stoopingly along its long stone passage and into the central, stone-built chamber, do you become overawed by its atmosphere.

The central chamber is quite small, only 4.7m across, but everything else is monumental. Forming most of each wall of the 10m-long passage is a single, gigantic sandstone slab weighing anything up to three tonnes. At each corner of the central chamber is a magnificent upright standing stone. Off the central chamber are three side cells, the floors, back walls and ceiling, which are single stone slabs.

Discover the Sites of the Orkney Islands

Ring of Brodgar

Maeshowe is only a part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site complex, with plenty of other neolithic sites in the close surrounding area/ Here are some of our favourites:

Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar is one of the finest stone circles of the British Isles, but its history is surprisingly unknown. The site was rarely excavated, but historians speculate that the massive Ring of Brodgar was created around 2700 BCE.

Skara Brae

Skara Brae is a Neolithic village with well-preserved houses within. Taking a stroll through the World Heritage Site is nothing shy of magical. Each Neolithic house stokes the imagination to imagine a time before phones, cars, and even medicine, with period-accurate representations of furniture.

Standing Stones of Stenness

The Stones of Stenness are four towering megaliths stretching six metres into the sky and surrounded by the gorgeous Orcadian landscape. These standing stones are even older than the famous Stonehenge, stretching back 5,400 – 4,500 years to prehistoric Scotland. And while only four of the twelve remain to the modern day, they’re incredibly impressive.

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