Disney Cruise Line and Its Ports of Call LIVE! Guidebook

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Kirkwall, Scotland

Kirkwall, Scotland

Northern European Itineraries

On an island named Mainland, just off the northeast coast of Scotland, lies Kirkwall, chief town of the windswept Orkney Islands. Trees are few in a rolling countryside covered by pastures and low heath, with placenames that preserve the islands’ long Norse heritage.

Earls Palace in Kirkwall


Sturdy buildings of fieldstone or stucco flank the small port’s narrow streets. Kirkwall’s major sights—St. Magnus Cathedral, the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, and the Orkney Museum, can be found cheek-by-jowl on Broad St. Highland Distillery, Scotland’s most northerly, is a mile to the south. Some of Europe’s best-preserved neolithic sites are here in a World Heritage Site that includes the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, the chambered tomb Maeshowe, and the village of Skara Brae. Stromness, 15 miles from Kirkwall, is the Orkney’s second-largest town, with a winding, stone-paved main street that, if anything, is more charming than Kirkwall’s. Balfour Castle (more great house than fortress), a short ferry ride away on Shapinsay (“ay” is Old Norse for “island”) is open only to excursion groups. The Italian Chapel turns Scottish austerity on its head. Built by Italian prisoners during WWII, the ornate church is a popular tour stop.


The Orkneys have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years. The Norse settled and ruled from 875-1472. Then rule passed to King James III of Scotland, in lieu of his Norwegian bride’s dowery. Scapa Flow, just south of Kirkwall, was a famed naval base during both World Wars. The “Churchill Barriers” that restricted German submarine attack are now causeways linking The Mainland to other islands.


Size: 1.4 sq. mi. (3.6 sq. km.) town 380 sq. mi. (990 sq. km.) Orkney Islands
Climate: Maritime Temperatures: 50°F (10°C) to 61°F (16°C)
Population 8,686/21,000 Busy Season Summer
Language: English Money: British Pound (£)
Time Zone: Greenwich Transportation: Walking, taxis
Phones: Dial 011 44 1856 from the US, dial 999 for emergencies
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