village in United Kingdom



second largest town in Orkney, Scotland



Earl's Palace, Birsay

The masonry shell of the palace of Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney, built in the late 16th century, and a ruin by the 18th. Robert was the first Earl; his son Patrick the second Earl built the palace at Kirkwall.

Brough of Birsay

This tidal island, run by Historic Scotland, holds Norse ruins from the 9th to 13th century; a Pictish settlement was here from the 7th century. Original artefacts have been moved to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and replicas placed here, and the island has been reinforced to prevent sea erosion of the sites. There's also a 1925 lighthouse and sea-bird colonies. The causeway is passable for two hours either side of low tide: check times online from "Easytide", using Stromness or Tingwall as the reference port.

Broch of Gurness

Remains of a village settled from 500-200 BC, the Iron Age. Plus artefacts in the Visitor Centre.

Skara Brae

archaeological site


village in United Kingdom


One of the Orkney Islands



guide to


Birsay is a small village on the north coast of Orkney Mainland. It's the site of the ruined Earl's Palace, and just offshore is the Brough of Birsay with medieval Norse remains. The surrounding farmland is dotted with ancient standing stones, some incorporated into fence-posts.


By car

From Kirkwall, take the A965 towards Stromness. The direct route is to turn right at Stenness onto A986, which at Twatt becomes A967, keep following it north to the junction of A966. You're now at Birsay, with the palace just left.

A slow scenic route is to turn off A965 earlier at Finstown onto A966, and follow this round the north coast past Tingwall and Broch of Gurness to meet A967 at Birsay.

From Stromness, take the A965 out of town, and after a mile fork left onto A967. Branch left onto either B-road if you want to visit Skara Brae, otherwise continue north. A987 is joined by A986 around Twatt, continue north to Birsay.

By bus

Henry Hudson, Cook, Frobisher: so many ill-fated expeditions have passed through the Orkneys. And then there’s the bus service to Birsay and Skara Brae.

There’s nothing on Sunday. The options Mon-Sat are:

Bus 6 from Kirkwall at 07:00 and 17:10 to Birsay, 45 min, back 07:50 and 18:00. This runs along the north coast via Tingwall (for Rousay ferry) and Evie (for Broch of Gurness) but doesn’t serve Skara Brae.

Bus 7 from Kirkwall at 13:40 and 17:30 to Birsay, with the earlier bus heading back to Kirkwall at 14:10 while the later bus continues at 18:10 to Stromness. It doesn’t pass Skara Brae, but you can get off at Sandwick 2 miles away. The reverse service from Stromness only runs at 06:30 and 07:30.

Bus 8S from Kirkwall at 09:15 via Stenness to Skara Brae (1 hr) then into Stromness, from there at 10:30 to Skara Brae, at 10:50 on to Birsay, and return to Kirkwall by noon. It also runs from Kirkwall at 13:15 and 16:45 via Stromness to Skara Brae (50 min), Birsay and back to Kirkwall.

A tour bus T11 is advertised but doesn't appear to be running in 2018.

More information available on Wikivoyage

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