Travelling to Orkney is well worth the effort and there are plenty of options:
Flights to Kirkwall (KOI) are operated by Loganair & FlyBE from Glasgow (80 minutes), Edinburgh (80 minutes), Inverness (45 minutes), Aberdeen (50 minutes) and Shetland (35 minutes); most have good links to other national airports. There are two or three flights a day and flights arrive in Kirkwall seven days a week. Check www.flybe.com or www.loganair.co.uk. Prices can be steep, so book ahead.
There are three main vehicle ferry routes to and from Orkney. NorthLink Ferries sail from the ferry ports of Aberdeen and Scrabster, to the Orkney ports of Kirkwall and Stromness respectively:
- The Aberdeen route takes 6 hours and leaves Tuesdays (summertime) and all year round Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 17:00 (check in at least an hour before!) arriving in Kirkwall at 23:00. The ferry is well equipped with a restaurant, a grill, a bar, a gift shop, a cinema and cabins. The Southbound route is also 3 days a week and leaves Mondays (summertime) and Wednesdays and Fridays at 23:45 arriving the following morning at 07:00, so a cabin is advisable. http://www.northlinkferries.co.uk
- The Scrabster route takes only 90 minutes and leaves 2 - 3 times a day, 7 days a week. The ferry is also well equipped with a gift shop, a grill and bar. Again check in at least an hour before. Last sailing is at 19:00 http://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/
- A quicker option again is the Pentland Ferries catamaran, which sails between Gill’s Bay, near John o’ Groats to St Margaret’s Hope in South Ronaldsay, 3 or 4 times a day depending on season. Last sailing north is usually 18:30. The ferry takes just over 1 hour and has a lounge and a small food kiosk. http://www.pentlandferries.co.uk/
- For those who like to spend the least time at sea, a passenger only ferry runs from John O'Groats (passenger only, May-September). www.jogferry.co.uk
If you wish to drive, head north to the ferry ports of either Aberdeen, Scrabster (via Thurso), Gills Bay (via Wick or Thurso). Aberdeen is obviously the closest port, but the A9 drive to Thurso can be stunning, routing through the Scottish Highlands, Inverness and the Far North. Roads are mainly A-Road with some dual carriageways and drive safely at all times.
Citylink buses run to Aberdeen, Thurso and Gills Bay, with ongoing ferry connections to Orkney. The Orkney Bus, which travels direct from Inverness to Kirkwall and utilises the John O' Groats passenger ferry link, runs between June and the start of September.