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Kirkwall Local Information: 10 top things to know... more

  • 1. History

    Kirkwall was founded in 1035 by the Earl of Orkney, Rognvald Brusason. The town of Kirkwall was first mentioned in 1046 in the Norse Orkneyinga saga as the residence of Earl Rognvald Brusason. In 1486, King James III of Scotland named Kirkwall as a royal burgh and road signs in Kirkwall today still say ‘The City and Royal Burgh of Kirkwall.’

  • 2. Now

    Kirkwall is the capital and biggest town in Orkney, an island off the coast of northern Scotland. Kirkwall is known for having one of the best preserved and maintained examples of an ancient Norse town.

  • 3. Events

    One of the biggest annual events in Kirkwall is the Ba Game, which is held every Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The game takes place between the Uppies and the Doonies and each team represents one half of the town. The St Magnus festival is an arts festival that happens in mid summer and sees musical performances from choirs, orchestras, ensembles and dance groups.

  • 4. Attractions

    Kirkwall is a great place to visit for history buffs as it has a prehistoric ancient monument still intact, the Grain Earth House. It is a small pillared underground chamber and is a must see for anyone who is keen to learn more about the history of Kirkwall and Orkney.

  • 5. Things To Do

    Kirkwall has two museums, Tankerness House Museum and the Orkney Wireless Museum. Tankerness House Museum is in one of Scotland’s best preserved sixteenth century town-houses. It contains prehistoric, Pictish and Viking collections and also displays items of local historical importance. Orkney Wireless Museum traces the history of early domestic radio and wartime communicati...Read moreons. There are exhibitions of wartime memorabilia and photographs documenting the history of radio and recorded sound. Read less

  • 6. Business

    Kirkwall acts as the main departure point for ferries to other islands in Orkney and is the best place to stock up on supplies before your journey. It has the only large supermarket in Orkney and is an important retail and administrative centre for the other islands. With its stunning landscapes and historical attractions, Kirkwall is a popular destination for tourists.

  • 7. Transport

    Kirkwall has both a harbour and an airport and is the transport hub of the Orkney Islands. Ferries to and from Shetland and Aberdeen, cruise ships and ships to the other smaller Orkney Islands all depart from Kirkwall’s port. Flights from Kirkwall airport fly to major cities in Scotland, Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands and Bergen in Norway.

  • 8. Entertainment

    Kirkwall is a great place for traditional entertainment and in the local pubs you can drink delicious Orkney ale and listen to local music. Even though it is a small town, there is still great after hours entertainment with a nightclub where you can dance the night away.

  • 9. Famous Landmarks

    St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall was built between by Earl Rognvald Kali in memory of Saint Magnus Erlendsson who was the Earl of Orkney from 1108 to 1117. The magnificent sandstone cathedral is considered by many to be the finest medieval building in northern Scotland.

  • 10. Interesting Fact

    The town’s name of Kirkwall originates from the Norse name Kirkjuvagr, which means Church Bay.


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