The most distinctive feature of this small, flat island – in fact, the name comes from the Norse for 'flat island' – is the 68m-tall flare stack rising from the oil terminal in the north of the island like a medieval beacon. As a result of the oil industry, Flotta is fairly industrialised – since 1976 the island has been one of the pipeline terminals for bringing North Sea oil ashore – but there are wartime remains dotted around the island, and pleasantly rural corners.

As the island commands the main entrance channel into Scapa Flow, it was heavily fortified during the two World Wars. Major relics include a sprawling WWII rocket battery on the northern peninsula, and the Buchanan and NEB coastal defence batteries in the south. The Peerie Museum, next to the island's post office (and only shop), houses a jumble of military memorabilia collected from the island over the years. The museum building – known as the Silent Shed – once housed the hydrophone operators who listened out for enemy submarines.

The most attractive part of the island is at Cletts, near the southeastern tip, where there are some picturesque sea stacks.