Viking settlement at Skara Brae, Orkney islands, Scotland, Uk

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Skara Brae

Top choice in Orkney

Predating Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza, extraordinary Skara Brae is one of the world's most evocative prehistoric sites, and northern Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic village. Even the stone furniture – beds, boxes and dressers – has survived the 5000 years since a community lived and breathed here, giving an incredible insight into everyday Stone Age life.Idyllically situated by a sandy bay 8 miles north of Stromness, the Unesco-listed settlement was hidden until 1850, when waves whipped up by a severe storm eroded the sand and grass above the beach, exposing the houses underneath. It can feel as though the inhabitants have just slipped out to go fishing and could return at any moment.

What can you see there?

There’s an excellent interactive exhibit and short video, arming visitors with facts and theory, which will enhance the impact of the site. You then enter a reconstructed house, giving the excavation (which you head to next) more meaning. Tour the ancient houses before admiring the area's important archaeological artefacts, including jewelry, tools and pottery,  in the visitor center. The official guidebook, available from the visitor center, includes a good self-guided tour.

A series of stone houses built into green mounds of earth on the edge of an island with the grey sea churning nearby
You can walk around Stone Age houses that predate Stonehenge and the pyramids © Pecold / Shutterstock


All visitor tickets have a timed entry slot and must be booked online in advance (this includes members of Historic Scotland). 

In April to October, your ticket also gets you into Skaill House, an important step-gabled Orcadian mansion built for the bishop in 1620. It may feel a bit anticlimactic catapulting straight from the Neolithic to the 1950s decor, but it's an interesting sight in its own right. You can see a smart hidden compartment in the library as well as the bishop's original 17th-century four-poster bed.

How to get to Skara Brae

It’s possible to walk along the coast from Stromness to Skara Brae (9 miles), or it's an easy taxi (£15) or cycle from Stromness. The 8S bus route runs to Skara Brae from Kirkwall and Stromness a few times weekly. Check Traveline Scotland for timetables.

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