With unparalleled beauty, majestic standing stones and amazing historical sites from the neolithic period, it’s little surprise camping in Orkney is becoming more popular every year. This archipelago located off Scotland’s northeastern coast also boasts some of the UK’s most captivating sandstone cliffs and birdwatching sites! In essence, Orkney combines natural beauty, history and wildlife into just one place.
Whether you are planning to hike, cycle, sleep under the stars, or are just looking for an inexpensive way to see as much of Orkney as possible, camping can be a cost effective and fun way to do that. It’s also a truly unique opportunity to lose yourself in the quiet scenery that makes this place so special.
We give you some of our favourite campsites in Orkney below, but wild camping in Orkney is legal and well tolerated too – thanks to Scotland’s Right to Roam Act.
We talk more about the campsites, as well as offer some tips and our favourite wild camping spots in Orkney, further down in this article.
Camping in Orkney
Made up of over 70 islands and islets, of which around 20 are inhabited, Orkney is brimming with breathtaking landscapes, moorland, beautiful sea cliffs, unspoilt wetlands and pristine walks. With island-hopping opportunities and golden beaches too, expect a very special camping experience here.
There are some great campsites to choose from that are located close to some of the main walking, hiking and cycling routes in Orkney – we give some of our favourites below.
A good quality walking in Orkney book – like this one which has dozens of trails – can help you plan what area you may want to visit and walk in, and therefore what campsites might be of interest to you.
If wild camping, then we would highly recommend a map – like this one – which will be an invaluable resource for finding the perfect spot, away from roads and rural enough so you can enjoy the peace and quiet.
However if you’re looking for some great campsite recommendations, below we share some of our favourite campsites in Orkney, before looking at wild camping in Orkney:
Camping in Orkney: Some of the best campsites in Orkney
Point of Ness Caravan & Camping Site
This 3 star campsite is beautifully located on the Stromness shoreline, and boasts dramatic views over the hills of Hoy.
Located just one mile west of the pier head and ferry, this campsite is a great base to explore the area, and has many lovely walks nearby. Open from the beginning of April to the end of September, Point of Ness is ideal for reconnecting with nature thanks to its peaceful location away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
However the fenced-in site is still just a few minutes walk from amenities and the ferry terminal, so is especially convenient for late arrival sailings or early departures.
We recommend trying the nice walk up to Ness Battery for a relaxing stroll with pretty views.
Orkney Caravan Park at The Pickaquoy Centre
If you are looking for a nice campsite close to landmarks and fun activities, Orkney Caravan Park could be the one for you.
Known as Orkney’s largest campsite, this 4 star spot is located just a short walk from the centre of Kirkwall, and is also adjacent to The Pickaquoy Centre complex which is brimming with an array of leisure facilities.
If staying here you can easily walk to shops, supermarkets, restaurants and even explore the beauty of nearby St Magnus Cathedral, Earl’s Palace and Kirkwall Harbour.
The site offers great accommodation options too, including two Camping Pods able to sleep up to 6 people – great for a family getaway!
Ideally located in Evie, west of Vishall Hill, this well-maintained site gives you a rustic camping experience surrounded in rural faming Orkney.
We loved waking up to the tranquil and pristine sea view here, and also enjoyed spending time looking out for owls and kestrels. However it was the sunset here that really made this site so special.
As it’s situated 15 miles from Kirkwall and Stromness, and about a mile away from a small shop and pub, there’s amenities close by. There’s also some very nice walking and cycling trails in the area too.
Birsay Outdoor Centre Campsite
Operational from April to September, Birsay Outdoor Centre Campsite is a 3 star campsite set in a rural location. The facilities are very clean and the atmosphere incredibly friendly.
It’s quite a back to basics campsite, but that works really well with its location just outside Birsay on the mainland. The surrounding area is pretty, peaceful and remote. A great place for romantic strolls along the coast.
Wild camping in Orkney
With some magnificent islands and breathtaking wildlife, as well as island-hopping and bird watching opportunities, Orkney is ideal for a multi-day wild camping adventure!
Thankfully wild camping is permitted and legal in Orkney thanks to Scotland’s Right to Roam Act. However authorities ask campers to “tread lightly” and to respect a few guidelines:
- You should camp away from enclosed fields, and pitch your tent away from buildings, roads, and historic structures.
- Campers should be vigilant in order to avoid disturbing wildlife such as great skua , short-eared owls, fulmars, puffins and guillemots.
- When wild camping in Orkney, do not light fires as wild fires are a danger. It is recommended to use a stove or storm cooker. The Swedish brand Trangia make great camping storm cookers that are safe and virtually indestructible.
- Take any rubbish with you, and leave your camping spot exactly the way you found it.
The Right to Roam Act also gives access to most of Scotland’s land and inland water, as long as it does not encroach on someone’s privacy and private land.
Here is a list of what the Right to Roam Act doesn’t give you access to, and therefore what you should avoid:
Where you must avoid:
- Walking in and going through buildings. An exception would be bothies – small mountain and rural huts that can be used by walkers and hikers.
- Land clearly attached to a building (private garden, backyard).
- Sports fields.
- Schools and school land.
- Building sites.
- Working quarries (disused quarries are fine, but be extremely cautious and stick to known and safe paths).
Now you know you’re allowed to legally camp in Orkney, and where to avoid, here’s some of our favourite wild camping spots!
Some of the best wild camping spots in Orkney
Eday island lies over 20km from the Orkney mainland, but the trip out here is worth the distance.
It’s peaceful, has unspoiled pristine beaches, many walks, and some of the best birdwatching opportunities across the archipelago.
Known as ‘Orkney in miniature’ a night on one of the beaches here is a special experience. Expect only the sounds of the waves and the sight of the stars.
Seal spotting and shell collecting – that’s what to expect if you stay here for a day or two. However there’s also an old Iron Age broch nearby to discover, as well as some great walks in the vicinity.
If wild camping here, do make sure you camp above the high water mark. There’s a small car park with a public toilets too, so you’ll be wild camping with facilities!
Brough of Deerness
A windy coastal path will take you to this hidden gem on Orkney’s mainland – the pretty Brough of Deerness.
The peninsula almost looks cut off from the mainland, and offers spectacular views across the North Sea towards the island of Copinsay. If you do decide to wild camp here, make sure you camp away from the main path and in a sheltered spot.
The history here is pretty special too. There’s an 11th century Norse chapel perched on the top of the Brough, whilst scattered around are other ruins, some that date back over 2500 years.
We had to recommend Hoy for wild camping in Orkney as it’s one of Scotland’s most spectacular islands.
The sweeping moorland, stunning beaches, and the spectacular Old Man of Hoy – a sea stack that rises out of the North Sea – make this place a real ‘back-to-nature’ experience.
The surroundings are special but the weather can be windy and a little wild. But that’s also wild camping at it’s most fun!
Tips for wild camping in Orkney:
- As a matter of courtesy, it’s best not to camp in the same place for longer than a night if camping beside a popular hiking route.
- It’s always best to camp quite far from buildings, both residential and farm. Although you have the “right to roam” and therefore wild camp, the odd grumpy local exists and if they look out their window and see someone – or a group – camping nearby, you might spend your relaxing countryside evening arguing that “right” to roam!
- Keep an eye out for cow and sheep poo – if there’s a lot, then that perfect camping spot you’ve found may end up being a sheep congregation at 6am in the morning.
- There are many different water sources in Orkney, but try and make sure you pinpoint a few on your route before leaving. Take plenty of water, but remember to top up at any streams you find – a space-saving collapsible water bottle would be a good purchase.
- Go to the toilet at least 30-50 meters away from water sources, such as rivers. Make sure to use a trowel (like this folding one) to bury any human waste – don’t just leave it out in the open.
- Make sure your tent is midge-proof. These tiny blood-sucking flies (much smaller than mosquitos) come in swarms. A mosquito-proof tent is not always a midge-proof tent – we can’t emphasize that enough!
Camping in Orkney: The weather and best months to visit Orkney
Summer is the sunniest period to visit as although the weather can be windy and cold at times, it is the best time to spot amazing wildlife! Averaging 13°C to a maximum of 17°C on the warmest days, summer is also a perfect time to undertake relaxing walking trails as the land should be dry and walkers can enjoy the long daylight hours.
With mild to warm temperatures, spring is a lovely time to visit Orkney as kids and families can make the most of a full day exploring the historic towns. Temperatures range from 2°C to 12°C, and visitors can see flowers in full bloom and wildlife can be spotted during walks. You can even enjoy the renowned Folk Festival during the month of May!
With milder temperatures during autumn, it’s a good time to avoid the peak summer tourist season, go on hikes, take in the majestic coastal views, and enjoy the autumnal colours at the spectacular neolithic stone circle, the Ring of Brodgar.
Winter brings the shortest daylight hours and coolest temperatures, but visitors can enjoy the crisp air during walks on the different trails on the islands. You are also more likely to see the famous northern lights in Orkney between September and March as daylight hours are reduced giving more opportunities to spot the the colours of the aurora.