A Family Bike Tour in Orkney

Orkney is a brilliant place for a family cycling tour, with amazing historic sites, sandy beaches, quiet roads, and boats for island-hopping. Read on for below for some route and accommodation suggestions and things to see and do on your Orkney bike tour.

Getting to Orkney

Stating the obvious, you will need to take a boat or a plane to get to the Orkney Islands! A ferry is by far the easier option if you are bringing your own bikes, and there are several to choose from. Northlink Ferries operate from Aberdeen to Kirkwall (6 hours) and from Scrabster to Stromness (90 minutes). Pentland Ferries operate from Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope (60 minutes) and in the summertime there is also a foot passenger ferry (takes bikes too!) from John O’Groats to Burwick (40 minutes).

We wanted to see as much of the islands as possible, so we travelled out from Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope, leaving the car in Gills Bay, and came back on the Stromness-Scrabster ferry. One of us then took a taxi back to pick up the car. This worked out reasonably well, but with hindsight, it would have been better to meet the taxi by the ferry carpark rather than right at the ferry, as it would have been a safer and easier place for the other parent to wait with the bikes and children.

If you want to explore some of the smaller islands, which I would highly recommend, you can consult the routes and timetables on the Orkney Ferries website. Most of the ferries are roll-on roll-off, so it is very easy to push your bikes onto the boat. The smaller islands have very quiet roads and are the perfect size for children to explore by bike.

On board the Kirkwall-Shapinsay ferry with our bikes.


For this bike tour we chose to base ourselves out of two campsites rather than setting up a new base every night. In Kirkwall we stayed at the Orkney Caravan Park by the Pickaquoy Centre. This was really convenient for exploring Kirkwall, and also very near a large Tesco so it was easy to pick up groceries. The shower block was very new, with individual mini-rooms with a shower and loo. We found these were nice and warm and it worked really well for washing the children.

Orkney Caravan Park at the Pickaquoy Centre

Later in our bike tour we moved to Stromness, staying at the Point of Ness campsite. The campsite is in an absolutely spectacular setting, the views are incredible! It is however quite exposed, so I would recommend taking a reasonably storm-proof tent if you want to camp here. In a rainy August the shower block was quite cold for our smaller children. The campsite was really convenient for catching the ferry home from Stromness harbour.

Spectacular views from the Point of Ness campsite over towards Hoy

Orkney Bike Tour with children: what are the roads like?

We mostly had a good experience on the roads in Orkney, with drivers being very considerate. When we visited Shapinsay the roads were incredibly quiet, and I imagine that the other small islands would also be excellent places to cycle with children. On mainland Orkney, a little care is needed with route planning. In particular, I would recommend trying to avoid the main A965 Kirkwall to Stromness road as much as you can, as this is quite a fast and busy road. The A961 and A967 were also quite busy, but manageably so.

Orkney can be quite windy, and we did experience some fairly strong headwinds at points, particularly coming up to Kirkwall from St Margaret’s Hope on our first day, which was rather a shock on fully loaded touring bikes! The wind didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the trip, but it did mean that we were moving very slowly at points, so we tried to pick quiet roads as much as possible.

Orkney Bike Tour Itinerary

Here is our itinerary for our week-long bike tour of Orkney. We averaged 18 miles on our cycling days which is quite low mileage even by our standards, but we were having such a fantastic time looking at all the amazing sites on Orkney. This trip was especially enjoyed by the two non-cyclists in the group because there was a good balance of time in the bike trailer and time out and about exploring.

DayRouteThings to SeeDistance
1St Margaret’s Hope Ferry Terminal to KirkwallChurchill Barriers
Italian Chapel
16 miles
2Kirkwall – Kirbister-Finstown circuitScapa Beach
Royal Oak Memorial
20 miles
3ShapinsayShapinsay Ferry
Burroughston Broch
14 miles
4Rest day in KirkwallSt Magnus Cathedral
The Orkney Museum
5Kirkwall to StromnessMaeshowe
Stones of Stenness
Ness of Brodgar dig
Ring of Brodgar
23 miles
6Rest day in StromnessStromness Museum
Ness Battery
7Stromness to Skara Brae and backSkara Brae
Skaill Beach
17 miles
8Stromness Ferry terminal1 mile

Things to See and Do in Orkney

This was certainly the most interesting bike tour we have done, with historic sites absolutely everywhere. We particularly enjoyed the naval history (cycling over the Churchill Barriers and seeing the blockships) and the stone age history (especially Skara Brae). We would recommend the children’s book The Boy with the Bronze Axe as bedtime reading on this trip! It is set in Orkney and includes many of the sites we visited.

I would absolutely recommend Orkney for a family bike tour, we had a brilliant time. There is lots to see and do, good campsites, and mostly quiet roads. You do need to be a bit careful about route planning on mainland Orkney to avoid the main A965 Stromness-Kirkwall road as much as you can, and there can be quite a headwind in some places. We would love to go back to Orkney again for another bike tour as there are so many places we didn’t get to visit. In particular, it would be great to visit more of the small islands on another trip.

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