Kirkwall

The sparkling Orkney’s capital
The St Magnus Cathedral
The old harbour

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Kirkwall/Orkney Is.

The mystic Stones of Stenness

Sail on an MSC cruise to the unique and fiercely independent archipelago of Orkney! For an Orcadian, the Mainland means the largest island in Orkney rather than the rest of Scotland, and their history is inextricably linked with Scandinavia.
 
Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital, has one great redeeming feature – its sandstone cathedral, without doubt the finest medieval building in the north of Scotland. Nowadays, the town is divided into two main focal points: the old harbour, at the north end of the town, where inter-island ferries come and go all year round, and the flagstoned main street, which changes its name four times as it twists its way south from the harbour past the cathedral.

Standing at the very heart of Kirkwall, St Magnus Cathedral is the town’s most compelling sight. This beautiful red sandstone building was begun in 1137 by the Viking Earl Rognvald, who built the cathedral in honour of his uncle Magnus, killed on the orders of his cousin Håkon in 1117.

To the south of the cathedral are the ruined remains of the Bishop’s Palace, residence of the Bishop of Orkney since the twelfth century. Most of what you see now, however, dates from the time of Bishop Robert Reid, sixteenth-century founder of Edinburgh University.

A narrow spiral staircase takes you to the top for a good view over the cathedral and Kirkwall’s rooftops. MSC Northern Europe cruises also offer excursions to the heart of Orkney’s most important Neolithic ceremonial complex. The most visible part is the Stones of Stenness, originally a circle of twelve rock slabs, now just four, the tallest of which is more than 16ft high and remarkable for its incredible thinness.

Must see places in Kirkwall

Discover our excursions

6 results found

  • KIRKWALL WALKING TOUR

    CITY TOUR

    KWL01

    This walking tour offers an opportunity to explore some of the most fascinating architectural sites on the Orkney Isles on foot. Transfer to Kirkwall town and then start at Kirkwall pier a leisurely stroll will take you through the historical old town of Kirkwall, the Viking capital of the Orkney Islands. The magnificent 12th-century, red sandstone cathedral of St. Magnus, known locally as the “Light of the North”, is the first stop on the tour. Nearby there are many narrow, winding streets and lanes, which have hardly altered at all over the centuries. Afterwards, the tour continues to the ruined Bishop’s Palace and then to the Earl’s Palace, one of Scotland’s most elegant Renaissance buildings. The tour concludes at Tankerness House Gardens, where you will have time to visit the museum or take a stroll around the town before returning to the ship. Please note: limited number of guides in languages other than English. Should a tour guide for your language be unavailable, the tour will be in English only. On special events or in case of religious celebrations, the visit to the Cathedral may be cancelled; guides will give information outside the venue. Conservative attire recommended for visiting sites of religious importance. This tour is not suitable for guests with walking difficulties or using a wheelchair. The Museum is closed on Sunday.
    • Limited seats

    • Active excursions recommended only for guests in good physical health

      Difficulty Level
      Strenuous

    • Duration
      2:30 h

    • AdultsR562Price per person

    • ChildrenR385Price per person

  • ITALIAN CHAPEL & SCAPA FLOW

    CULTURE AND HISTORY

    KWL06

    Take in some of the beautiful sights found on Orkney’s Mainland and four of the pretty neighbouring isles on this 2-hour coach-based tour. Called the Churchill Barriers, the causeways linking Mainland with these four islands were originally constructed in the 1940s as naval defences, but now serve as regular connecting roads. As you make your way through the pastoral landscape, you will see vestiges of WWI and WWII at the body of water known as Scapa Flow. Your guide will share some of the dramatic wartime stories that went to make this one of the best known stretches of water in the world. Next up is the hand-painted Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm, a Roman Catholic church built by Italian POWs during WWII and continues to be preserved to this day. Then it is on to South Ronaldsay and the lovely seaside village of St Margaret's Hope. After a stop to explore the excellent craft workshop or to take a stroll through the village, you will return to Kirkwall and your ship. Please note: the number of guides in languages other than English is limited. Should a tour guide for your language be unavailable, the tour will be in English only. A helper to get on/off the coach must accompany wheelchair guests. Wheelchairs must be foldable, as the coach has no ramps or lifts. Once onboard, please contact Excursions Desk staff promptly so they can help make arrangements.
    • Wheelchair and disabled-friendly tour – Wheelchair guests must be accompanied by their own helper to get on/off the coach. Wheelchairs must be foldable as the coach is not provided with ramps or lifts. Once onboard, please contact Excursions Desk staff promptly so they can help make arrangements.

    • Limited seats

    • May involve a limited quantity of steps, uneven surfaces and/or periods of standing

      Difficulty Level
      Easy

    • Duration
      2 h

    • AdultsR789Price per person

    • ChildrenR562Price per person

  • SKARA BRAE & SKAILL HOUSE

    CULTURE AND HISTORY

    KWL05

    Come and discover the beautiful west coast of Orkney’s Mainland and a major prehistoric site: Skara Brae. The scenic coach ride to this UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of the best preserved Neolithic villages in Northern Europe that even predates Stonehenge – will take you through rich farmland, rolling hills and stark moors. Occupied from c. 3,180 B.C. to 2,500 B.C., Skara Brae remained hidden under a large knoll until a severe storm in 1850 uncovered the outline of several roofless buildings. The collection of Skara Brae artefacts displayed at the visitors’ centre includes tools, beads, pottery and objects made of whalebone that reflect the region’s tough seafaring economy. The site still affords a good idea of how the village must once have looked, while the houses themselves illustrate the rigours of prehistoric life. The next stop will then see you visit the nearby Skaill House, a lovely residence built in 1620. You will also pass the great Neolithic henge called the Ring of Brodgar en route to a photo stop at the ancient Standing Stones of Stenness, another Neolithic monument that was erected more than 5,000 years ago. Your prehistoric tour ends with your return to the ship and all the comforts of modern life. Please note: the number of guides in languages other than English is limited. Should a tour guide for your language be unavailable, the tour will be in English only. This tour is not suitable for guests using a wheelchair. The walk from the coach car park to Skara Brae and back from Skaill House is around 1,000 m on a fairly good path, although it is sometimes exposed to the harsh weather.
    • Limited seats

    • May involve inclines, steps, uneven surfaces and/or extended periods of standing

      Difficulty Level
      Moderate

    • Duration
      3 h

    • AdultsR1035Price per person

    • ChildrenR735Price per person

  • ORKNEY SIGHTSEEING TOUR

    NATURAL WONDERS

    KWL02

    Experience a haven of wildlife, breathtaking panoramas and fascinating history during this scenic island exploration. On leaving Kirkwall, you will head north via Finstown and the Parish of Evie to then enjoy stunning views across Eynhallow Sound to the island of Rousay. Skirting the nearby Birsay Moors RSPB Reserve (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), the next stop is the sandy beach at Birsay Bay with views of the imposing cliffs at Marwick head and, if you are lucky, you may even spot some of the seals in the bay! Travelling inland we make our way to the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney”, which was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. The tour concludes by taking you along the beautiful coastline of the historical bay of Scapa Flow while your guide relates the sort of dramatic wartime stories that have made this one of the best known stretches of water in the world. You will then return to Kirkwall and your ship. Please note: limited number of guides in languages other than English. Should a tour guide for your language be unavailable, the tour will be in English only. A helper to get on/off the coach must accompany wheelchair guests. Wheelchairs must be foldable, as the coach has no ramps or lifts. Once onboard, please contact Excursions Desk staff promptly so they can help make arrangements.
    • Wheelchair and disabled-friendly tour – Wheelchair guests must be accompanied by their own helper to get on/off the coach. Wheelchairs must be foldable as the coach is not provided with ramps or lifts. Once onboard, please contact Excursions Desk staff promptly so they can help make arrangements.

    • Limited seats

    • May involve a limited quantity of steps, uneven surfaces and/or periods of standing

      Difficulty Level
      Easy

    • Duration
      3:30 h

    • AdultsR735Price per person

    • ChildrenR562Price per person

  • ANCIENT STANDING STONES & DRAMATIC CLIFFS

    SCENIC ROUTE

    KWL07

    Treat yourself to an exciting tour that will take you to discover some of Orkney’s natural wonders and UNESCO World Heritage Sites – from wild cliff-top seascapes to ancient stone circles set within the peaceful countryside. On leaving the quayside in Kirkwall, your tour begins with a panoramic drive through the pastoral landscape along the west coast of Mainland, the largest of the Orkney Islands, to reach the magnificent red sandstone cliffs of Yesnaby. Some of the island’s most spectacular scenery can be enjoyed from this vantage point high above the rugged coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day, the sea stack known as the “Old Man of Hoy” and even the Scottish mainland can be seen in the distance. Continuing on to the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” – an area designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 – you will first pay a visit to the huge ceremonial stone circle known as the Ring of Brodgar, which is situated on a strip of land separating Lochs Harray and Stenness that is known as the Ness of Brodgar. This astonishing Neolithic monument is the third-largest of its kind in the British Isles and was created roughly 4,500 years ago. Once thought to have formed a perfect circle made up of 60 stones, the 27 remaining stones are an impressive reminder of the ingenuity and endeavour of these ancient islanders. On the return drive back to Kirkwall and your ship, you will also pass the imposing Standing Stones of Stenness, one of the earliest henges in Britain dating back around 5,000 years. Please note: the number of guides in languages other than English is limited. Should a tour guide for your language be unavailable, the tour will be in English only. A helper to get on/off the coach must accompany wheelchair guests. Wheelchairs must be foldable, as the coach has no ramps or lifts. Once onboard, please contact Excursions Desk staff promptly so they can help make arrangements.
    • Limited seats

    • May involve a limited quantity of steps, uneven surfaces and/or periods of standing

      Difficulty Level
      Easy

    • Duration
      2:30 h

    • AdultsR859Price per person

    • ChildrenR615Price per person

  • SAGAS, WAR STORIES & WHISKY

    SOMETHING SPECIAL

    KWL03

    The first stop on this tour is the northernmost producer of Scotch whisky, the Highland Park Distillery founded in 1798. From humble beginnings as an illicit still, Highland Park has grown from strength to strength producing its prize-winning spirits. The guided tour of this distillery includes a brief film presentation and fittingly concludes with a traditional “peedie” dram. A scenic drive along Scapa Flow then follows while your guide relates wartime stories of the time when Scapa Flow was the chief base of the British naval fleet in World Wars I and II. You will also cross the first of the four Churchill Barriers. These causeways were built during WWII to protect Scapa Flow to the east and connect the South Isles to the Orkney mainland. You will also visit the lovely hand-painted chapel on the tiny island of Lamb Holm. Built by Italian prisoners of war during WWII, the chapel stands as a symbol of peace and Orkney’s enduring friendship with the soldiers from Italy. You will also have time to explore Orkney’s capital of Kirkwall, which is dominated by the magnificent 12th-century St. Magnus’ Cathedral, known as the “Light of the North”. You will then return to the ship. Please note: limited number of guides in languages other than English. Should a tour guide for your language be unavailable, the tour will be in English only. On special events, the visit to the Italian Chapel might be cancelled. During calls falling from July to mid-August, the production of whisky is stopped at Highland Park Distillery; guests will enjoy a short film. Guiding inside the distillery is only in English. This tour is not suitable for guests using a wheelchair. Guests must be 18 years old to take part in this tour.
    • Drink included

    • Limited seats

    • May involve inclines, steps, uneven surfaces and/or extended periods of standing

      Difficulty Level
      Moderate

    • Duration
      3:30 h

    • AdultsR1209Price per person

    • ChildrenNot available

The excursions in the programme above are intended to provide MSC Guests with an idea of the different tours that can be arranged in each port of call; this programme is merely a guide and confirmation of each excursion and its description and prices will be made during your cruise. 
Shore excursions programs and itineraries may vary depending on local conditions and/or any unforeseen events in relation to the timing on the day of the tour.
 
Some excursions are very popular and therefore availability cannot always be guaranteed, it is advisable to book in advance to avoid disappointment. The guides are guaranteed in English. Only for South America cruises, the guides are guaranteed in Brazilian Portuguese. Narration in other languages depends on the availability of guides. Please note that the final language of the tour will be confirmed on board during the cruise.

United Kingdom

God Save the Queen
God Save the Queen

The United Kingdom is not just one country but four – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – and a multitude of cultural identities: God forbid you should call a Scot or a Welshman English for example.


Don’t miss the true London experience during your holiday to the United Kingdom; the capital is the one place that features on everyone’s itinerary. 

Brighton and Canterbury offer contrasting diversions – the former a lively seaside resort, the latter one of Britain’s finest medieval cities. 


The southwest of England holds the rugged moorlands of Devon, the rocky coastline of Cornwall, and the historic spa city of Bath, while the chief attractions of central England are the university cities of Oxford and Cambridge

Further north, the former industrial cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle are lively, rejuvenated places, and York has splendid historical treasures, but the landscape, especially the uplands of the Lake District, is the biggest magnet. 


The finest of Scotland’s lochs, glens and peaks, and the magnificent scenery of the West Coast islands, can be reached easily from Glasgow and Edinburgh – the latter perhaps Britain’s most attractive urban landscape. Finally, a cruise to the United Kingdom isn’t complete without a stop in Northern Ireland with its capital city Belfast and the spectacular Giant’s Causeway.