For the most scenic walk in town, providing views of Kirkwall and the North Isles, head up Wideford Hill, about 3km (1 3/4 miles) west of town. On the western slope of this hill, 4km (2 1/2 miles) west of Kirkwall, is the Wideford Hill Cairn, a trio of concentric walls built around a passage and a megalithic chamber.
The "Pride of Orkney" is St. Magnus Cathedral, on Broad Street (tel. 01856/874-894). Jarl Rognvald, nephew of the martyred St. Magnus, the island chain's patron saint, founded the cathedral to honor him in 1137, and the remains of the saint and Rognvald were interred between the two large East Choir piers. The cathedral is a "Norman" building, constructed of gray and pinkish rose sandstone. Work went on over centuries, and additions were made in the transitional and very early Gothic styles. It's still in regular use as a church. You can visit from April to September, Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm and Sunday 2 to 6pm; and October to March, Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm.
Across from the cathedral are the ruins of a 12th-century Bishop's Palace, Broad Street (tel. 01856/875-461), with a round tower from the 16th century. King Haakon came here to die in 1263, following the Battle of Largs and his attempt to invade Scotland. The palace was originally constructed for William the Old, a bishop who died in 1168. An easy scenic walk will take you to the impressive ruins of Earl Patrick's Palace, on Watergate (tel. 01856/721-205). Built in 1607, it has been called the most mature and accomplished piece of Renaissance architecture left in Scotland. Earl Patrick Stewart was the son of the illegitimate brother of Mary Queen of Scots, and the palace figured in Sir Walter Scott's The Pirate. Both the Bishop's Palace and Earl Patrick's Palace are open April through September, daily from 9:30am to 6:30pm. Admission covering both palaces is £2 for adults, £1.50 for seniors and students, and 75p for children 5 to 16.
Nearby is the 1574 Tankerness House (also known as the Orkney Museum), on Broad Street (tel. 01856/873-191), an example of a merchant laird's mansion, with crow-stepped gables, a courtyard, and gardens. The museum depicts life in the Orkneys over the past 5,000 years. Exhibits range from the bones of the earliest prehistoric inhabitants and Neolithic pottery to Pictish stone symbols and domestic utensils. It's open Monday to Saturday 10:30am to 5pm. Admission is free, though donations are welcome.
Orkney Wireless Museum, Kiln Corner, Junction Road (tel. 01856/871-400), is a museum of wartime communications used at Scapa Flow, which was a major naval anchorage in both world wars. Today, this sea area, enclosed by Mainland and several other islands, has developed as a pipeline landfall and tanker terminal for North Sea oil. You can also see a large collection of early domestic radios. It's open from April to September, Monday to Saturday 10am to 4:30pm and Sunday 2:20 to 4:30pm. Admission is £3 for adults and £2 for children 5 to 15.
In the environs are the Grain Earth Houses at Hatson, near Kirkwall. This is an Iron Age souterrain (underground cellar), with stairs leading down to the chamber. Another Iron Age souterrain, Rennibister Earth House, is about 7km (4 1/3 miles) northwest of Kirkwall. This excavation also has an underground chamber with supporting roof pillars.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.