St Magnus Cathedral

Top choice in Kirkwall

Constructed from local red sandstone, Kirkwall's centrepiece, dating from the early 12th century, is among Scotland's most interesting cathedrals. The powerful atmosphere of an ancient faith pervades the impressive interior. Lyrical and melodramatic epitaphs of the dead line the walls and emphasise the serious business of 17th- and 18th-century bereavement. Tours of the upper level (£8) run on Tuesday and Thursday; phone to book.

Earl Rognvald Brusason commissioned the cathedral in 1137 in the name of his martyred uncle, Magnus Erlendsson, who was killed by Earl Hakon Paulsson on Egilsay in 1117. Magnus' remains are entombed in an interior pillar. Another notable interment is that of the Arctic explorer John Rae.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Kirkwall attractions

1. Orkney Museum

0.04 MILES

This labyrinthine display in a former merchant’s house gives an overview of Orcadian history and prehistory, including Pictish carvings and a display on…

2. Bishop's Palace

0.04 MILES

Right opposite St Magnus Cathedral, the ruined but attractive Bishop’s Palace was built in the mid-12th century for Bishop William the Old. There’s a good…

3. Earl's Palace

0.07 MILES

The intriguing Earl’s Palace was once known as the finest example of French Renaissance architecture in Scotland. One room features an interesting history…

4. Orkney Wireless Museum

0.21 MILES

This curious little museum is jam-packed with old radios and war memorabilia. Mostly local in character, it's an impressive collection.

5. Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin

0.22 MILES

Opened in 2018, this distillery and visitor centre on the waterfront is a new showcase for this tasty Orkney spirit. Tours run for an hour and include an…

6. Highland Park Distillery

0.92 MILES

This distillery, South of Kirkwall's centre, is great to visit. Despite a dodgy Viking rebrand, it's a serious distillery that malts its own barley; see…

7. Scapa

1.54 MILES

Two miles south of Kirkwall's centre, on the shores of Scapa Flow, this is one of two Orcadian whisky distilleries and, though less famous than Highland…

8. Mine Howe

4.88 MILES

On a farm at Tankerness, the mysterious Iron Age site of Mine Howe is an eerie underground chamber, about 1.5m in diameter and 4m high. Its function is…