Orkney & Shetland self drive holiday, Scotland

“A week long holiday to the unique and ancient Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland, following a tailor made, self-drive itinerary.”

Highlights

Scrabster | Orkney | Kirkwall | Orphir | Skara Brae | Birsay | Evie | Ring of Brodgar | Standing stones of Stenness | South Ronaldsay | Italian Chapel and Tomb of the Eagles | Shetland | Lerwick | Seabirds & Seals Boat Trip | Noss Nature Reserve | Mousa | Jarlshof

Description of Orkney & Shetland self drive holiday, Scotland

Orkney and Shetland holidays can feel a little overwhelming as they are so far away, and also there are so many things to see it is hard to know where to start. Which is why we created this itinerary for a self-drive holiday, with three days in Orkney and two full days on Shetland. On our Orkney and Shetland holidays there are also options to discover some of the other smaller islands such as Hoy, Westray, or Stronsay off Orkney, or Unst and Yell off Shetland, as this is a tailor made holiday, so we can fit it around your interests and wishlists.

Orkney

The trip starts in Scrabster on the mainland west coast, where you catch the ferry to Orkney, a ninety minute journey. Head to the islandís capital, Kirkwall, to check into your hotel. With a few days to enjoy the island, we recommend Orphir as an excellent starting point, where the pretty round church and Viking interpretive centre, known as "Orkneyinga", are perfect places to introduce you to the ancient history of this island. A history that goes back a long way as you will see, for example, on the islandís west coast at Skara Brae, one of the best-preserved Neolithic settlements in Europe.

Other natural highlights on your road trip around Orkney include Evie and the broch of Gurness, a broch being the Scottish word for a prehistoric circular stone tower. Another must see is the Neolithic cairn and passage grave at Maes Howe, as well as the standing stones of Stenness. One of our favourite spots is the famous Italian chapel, a tiny and highly ornate church at Lamb Holm, built during WWII by Italian prisoners of war who were on the island with the given task to build the Churchill Barriers. These are four causeways that link different islands in the chain.

You may also want to take some time to ferry out to one of the small Orkney Islands such as Hoy, a much more rugged island famous for its sea stack Ė the Old Man of Hoy. Each island offers something special, however, and we are happy to advise on each.

Shetland


You will spend two days on Shetland, accessible by overnight ferry, but arriving in time for breakfast on board the ship, and then leaving you all day to enjoy this second island adventure. Your base is in the islandís capital, Lerwick, and the first adventure will be an afternoonís wildlife boat trip. Thousands of seabirds including gannets, guillemots and kittiwakes nest and feed in the Noss Nature Reserve. As you sail below, the screeching is deafening, and youíll feel very outnumbered, a stranger invading their territory. Meanwhile seals laze on rocks beneath the cliffs or nose around the boat. It is a wonderful way to get a real feel for both the culture and the wildlife of these islands, with knowledgeable guides on hand to inform.
From your base in Lerwick, you will have plenty of time to explore other parts of the island, drive around its coastal magnificence, not missing the beaches at St. Ninianís or the stunning prehistoric archaeological site at Jarlshof. More historic remains are to be found on a quick boat ride to Mousa, where birds and seals are the only stewards left to guard the magnificent ancient broch here.

Your return journey is by ferry from Lerwick to Aberdeen, travelling Cruise Class in an outer cabin, and arriving in time for breakfast.



Travel Team

If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. The Travel Team.

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Departure information

This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
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Responsible tourism

Orkney & Shetland self drive holiday, Scotland

Carbon reduction

Your holiday will help support local people and conservation. We must also reduce CO2. Learn about the CO2 emissions of this holiday and how to reduce them.

Environment

We are committed to helping our clients 'see Scotland differently', and thatís why we take great pride in showcasing the natural beauty and rich heritage of each of these magical islands as well as the inhabiting wildlife on both Orkney and Shetland.

On the 'seals and seabirds' trip whilst on Shetland, guests will not only view wildlife in a responsible way but will benefit from first-hand knowledge from expert - Dr. Jonathan Wills who will be on hand to share his in depth knowledge of some of the islandsí most spectacular wildlife; from gannets to seals.

Moreover, as much of the long distance travel is by boat (rather than plane or car for example), it's a more sustainable way to travel and gives employment to local ferry companies.

It is the history and incredible Neolithic sites which make the Orkney Islands very special. The main island (Mainland) of Orkney hosts a UNESCO World Heritage site which includes the breath-taking Standing Stones of Stenness, some up to 6 metres high. The nearby Neolithic Ring of Brodgar is particularly magical in the evening light. We include a Historic Scotland Explorer pass in the price of this holiday, which covers entrance to managed sites on Orkney, including Skara Brae and Maes Howe. This means that our clients can experience first-hand these wonderful, historical sites and contribute to their continued preservation by supporting the local communities involved in promoting them.

Community

For us, true sustainability means promoting and helping to maintain a way of life, where the economic benefit from tourism can make a genuine difference. Thatís why we work almost exclusively with local, family-run businesses, not with large corporate organisations. We build close and lasting relationships with our business partners, based on mutual trust and an unerring commitment to customer satisfaction. We carefully select these partners to ensure that they share our values of sustainable and responsible travel.

Your hotel on Shetland for example dates from the 1500ís, thus is a real historical cornerstone in the area in which it is situated. Moreover, this hotel prides itself in using only the best, locally sourced produce in its restaurant.

This holiday also offers clients the opportunity to visit some of Shetland's most remote, rural villages on the islands of Unst and Yell as well as other locations. This gives clients the opportunity to positively impact these local communities in terms of bringing tourism to these lesser known areas.

All of our holiday packs include "Robert's Recommendations", our specific tips on places to visit, places to eat and places to shop locally, all of which have been researched by us, and many of which are off-the-beaten track. For example, the quirky bus shelter on Unst is well worth a visit!

9 Reviews of Orkney & Shetland self drive holiday, Scotland

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Reviewed on 13 Aug 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The boat trip to see birds and seals, but all of it was great.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


It really doesn't always rain in Orkney and Shetland. Sundays are a bit quiet in Lerwick, though.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


I would hope so. We travelled by train, ferry and (er..) car.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent

Reviewed on 31 Jul 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Orkney: Ring of Brodcar, Broch of Gurness, Skara Brae, Kirkwal Cathedral.
Shetland: Noss bird reserve

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Orkney mileages are a bit more accessable, Shetland is misty icaland mag wilderness, though mileages will be greater. There is much to see within 30 miles of Lerwick.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Wildlife conservation and archaeological findings are supported by tourism and using bicycles to travel creates less environmental impact. It may influence others to try this approach.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Marvellous.

Reviewed on 16 Jul 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Low cloud on single track roads with passing places

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Take a good variety of clothes I had to buy a jumper as it was so cold then the next day the sun came out!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes by providing employment not only on holiday trade but numerous little
craft./ engineering exhibits hotels

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Taking the weather into account have had better holidays. However we thoroughly enjoyed meeting the people who were proud to show us their skills. Scenery would have looked better without low cloud. Would love to return but itís a long way from home and we are both getting older . Great for younger people

Reviewed on 15 Jul 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The archeology and history in both Orkneys and Shetlands. The Noss boat outing and Sumburgh Head photo opportunities with puffins.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Do it!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Local independent hotels were used which used local produce in catering; ferries used rather than flying, a boat trip was included with a very experienced and knowledgable pair of local guides.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Wonderful holiday. We were given excellent information by the operator who answered all our questions . They also contacted us while on holiday when a boat trip had to be cancelled because of bad weather and rearranged it for the following day.

Reviewed on 12 Aug 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Firstly the flights from Manchester to Aberdeen then Aberdeen to Sumburgh were very smooth, my wife and I had not flown for over 17 years! Manchester
was very busy, even at 6.45am on Monday morning but Aberdeen and Sumburgh were much calmer/quieter. Busta House was our first hotel for 3 nights, very
nice, food and staff excellent, Aald Harbour our B & B in Lerwick was also very nice, breakfasts lovely, Lynette very helpful. The tour with Allen Fraser was
very good and flexible

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Stay longer than 6 nights ! We had a tour on day 2 but only south of Shetland, we would like to see Yell and Unst if we go again. Lerwick can be very busy at
weekend so maybe stay out of town if you prefer a quieter night! Highly recommend Gurkha Kitchen [best curry !] Da Steak Hoose [massive meals] and The String [book as very small/busy]

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Considering everything we did quite a bit, our daughter had a horse ride / kayaking booked which went well, we were lucky with the weather, a few days with rain/wind but generally better than expected.

Reviewed on 21 May 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Orkney historical sites

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Research as much as you can

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Not sure

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


very informative - I would have liked conversation with more locals

Read the operator's response here:

This holiday includes stays at locally-owned and operated hotels in Orkney and Shetland, typical of the type of accommodation we use and both of which we have worked with for many years. The customer was also booked on a local wildlife boat trip but unfortunately this did not operate due to adverse weather conditions. We always strive to ensure that economic benefit from visitors contributes directly to the local community.

Reviewed on 25 Jul 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


We enjoyed the whole trip but most of all we liked the archeology - it was easily accessible and everywhere.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make a special trip to the Skerries Bistro and enjoy not just a wonderful meal but also a multi-chambered cairn in the car park. We had the personal services of an archeologist on a tour of the Tomb of the Otters for a small fee.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


We tried to support local crafters and museums.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


An excellent holiday which was quite an adventure.

Reviewed on 04 Sep 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Day trip to Papa Westray

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


If you want a good restaurant you need to book before you leave home.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes. We went late in the season and people such as the Spiggie Hotel, the boat out to see whales etc would have been empty otherwise.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent

Reviewed on 25 Oct 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Getting to travel around both Isles and seeing how beauiful they are and getting to fuss wild Shetland Ponies

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


For the time of year we went, which was mid October, make sure you have got warm, thermal clothing. If you are wanting to see the Puffins, Dolphins etc to go before September.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Absolutely, because some of the local areas rely on tourism, the local people are some welcoming and enjoy speaking with tourists. Also any donatins are ploughed stright into the local areas to help keep local tourist sights in a good condition and to preserve them.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


It was fantastic to see the contrast in both Isles and to see the nature, unspoilt beauty. The wealth of wildlife and to see them in a nature environment.
The wealth of history and to see how the areas have evolved throughout the years. Also the possibilty of seeing the northern lights.

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