AIA Tours: land

Hiking Scotland’s Orkney & Shetland Islands

Tour Dates: July 10-20, 2021 (11 days)

Tour Leader(s): Val Turner ,

This is the perfect opportunity to explore all that Scotland’s Northern Isles have to offer: prehistoric stone circles, burial chambers, and settlements; quaint villages; huge seabird colonies; and remarkable plant life—all amidst dramatic landscapes. This will be Scotland seen slowly, with time for in-depth exploration at each site. The Orkney and Shetland islands have an amazing wealth of archaeological sites dating back 5,000 years. Together the islands have more than 18,000 known sites, with new discoveries being made every year. This archaeological saga is worth the telling, and nowhere else can the evidence be seen in more glorious a setting.

  • The UNESCO World Heritage site on Orkney, which includes the chambered tomb of Maeshowe, estimated to have been constructed around 2700 B.C.; the Stones of Stenness; the 4,000-year-old Ring of Brodgar, one of Europe’s finest Neolithic monuments; Skara Brae settlement; and associated funerary monuments and stone settings. These are unquestionably among the most important Neolithic sites in Western Europe.
  • “The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland”—including Mousa Broch, the best-preserved known broch in the world, Old Scatness, and Jarlshof—where the lack of intensive modern farming means that the preservation of these sites and their landscapes is exceptional.
  • The Isles are a birdwatcher’s paradise, and one of the major seabird breeding and feeding areas in the North Atlantic. More than a million birds breed in very large colonies.
  • All meals are included, and you will enjoy comfortable accommodations: four nights at the elegant Lynnfield Hotel, a comfortable overnight ferry from Orkney to Shetland and from Shetland to Aberdeen, a night at the Scalloway Hotel, and two nights at the remote and charming Busta House Hotel.
  • Limited to just 15 guests.

"This was my fifth trip with the AIA and one of the best ever...I loved every minute of the trip [and I] cannot recommend it enough. No wonder it sells out each year." - Leslie, California

Pricing (per person)

$6,395 (13-15 participants) per person double occupancy
$945 single supplement (limited availability)

Single room supplement will be charged when requested or required.  With fewer than 10 participants, a small group surcharge may be added.

Skara Brae in Orkney © operator

The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney © operator

The Isle of Mousa, Shetland © operator

Hermaness, the northermost cliffs of the British Isles. © operator

Old Scatness on south mainland, Shetland. © operator


This unique tour is more active than our usual land tours and features daily hikes that are easy to moderate in difficulty. To fully enjoy and visit all the sites on this itinerary one should be in good walking condition and, obviously, enjoy walking!
Two minibuses, each with a local driver/guide, will accompany our group, which is limited to only fifteen participants. Our guides will explain in advance the difficulty of each day’s walk(s) and, if you prefer, you can opt out of any walking excursion and be driven to the next stop; but, bear in mind that some sites can only be visited if you walk to them. The distance of and height climbed during each walk is estimated within the following itinerary.

Saturday, July 10, 2021 – Depart home
Sunday, July 11: Aberdeen, Scotland | Ferry to Kirkwall, Orkney
Monday, July 12: Skara Brae | Broch of Borwick | Kirkwall | Welcome dinner
Tuesday, July 13: Isle of Rousay | Kirkwall
Wednesday, July 14: Isle of Hoy: Dwarfie Stane, Old Man of Hoy |  Kirkwall
Thursday, July 15: Mainland Orkney: Ring of Brodgar, Stones of Stenness, Maeshowe, Ness of Brodgar | Kirkwall | Ferry to Shetland
Friday, July 16: Lerwick, Shetland | Old Scatness | Isle of Mousa | Brae, North Mainland
Saturday, July 17: Isle of Unst | Brae
Sunday, July 18: Fethaland | Brae | Farewell dinner
Monday, July 19: Jarlshof | St. Ninian’s Isle | Lerwick | Ferry to Aberdeen
Tuesday, July 20: Aberdeen | Fly home

View Detailed Itinerary

(B)= Breakfast • (L)= Lunch • (D)= Dinner

Saturday, July 10, 2021 – Depart Home

Sunday, July 11 – Aberdeen, SCOTLAND | Kirkwall, Orkney
Upon your arrival in Aberdeen, Scotland, at no later than 2:00pm, you will be met and transferred to the ferry terminal in Aberdeen, where our group will board the ferry to Kirkwall, Orkney. We will have dinner aboard the ferry, arrive in Kirkwall at about 11:00pm, and transfer to our hotel. Overnight at The Lynnfield Hotel for four nights. (D)

Monday, July 12 – Skara Brae | Broch of Borwick | Kirkwall | Welcome dinner
Distance 3 mi. Height climbed: 360 ft.
We start the day with a visit to Skara Brae, possibly Orkney’s most exciting archaeological site, which was buried by a sandstorm in about 2450 B.C. It was well preserved and then revealed by another storm in 1850. This, the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney,” which also includes the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, and Maeshowe (sites we will visit on July 14th), was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. Walk south along the spectacular coast with geos, natural arches, caves, and sea stacks, visiting en route the Broch of Borwick, perched high on a headland. Return to our hotel and gather for a welcome dinner this evening. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, July 13 – Isle of Rousay | Kirkwall
Distance 2.5 mi. Height climbed: 360 ft.
Today we will take the ferry to the Isle of Rousay, where we will wander the most important archaeological mile in Scotland, through 5,000 years of history, visiting a number of burial cairns including Midhowe, Pictish brochs, Viking settlements, and remains of the period of the Earls and the troubled crofting times. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, July 14  –  Isle of Hoy: Dwarfie Stane, Old Man of Hoy |  Kirkwall
Distance total 6.75 mi. Heights climbed: 100 & 720 ft.
This morning we will take the ferry to Hoy, the highest and wildest of all Orkney Islands. Our walk will take us to the 5,000-year-old monument known as the Dwarfie Stane, an immense block of sandstone lying within a natural amphitheater. This is the only example in northern Europe of a rock-cut tomb similar to the chamber tombs of the Mediterranean. Drive through a glen, along what could be burial mounds, to Rackwick, from where we will walk to the world famous sea stack (at 450 ft.) known as The Old Man of Hoy. Return by ferry to Kirkwall, mainland Orkney. Freshen up at our hotel before gathering for dinner this evening, our last on Orkney. (B,L,D)

Thursday, July 15 –  Mainland Orkney: Ring of Brodgar, Stones of Stenness, Maeshowe, Ness of Brodgar | Kirkwall | Ferry to Shetland
Distance 2 mi. Height climbed: negligible
For centuries, people have assumed that the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness were the main Neolithic focus of this area, but recent excavations at the Ness of Brodgar question that interpretation. The stone circles might have been merely on the periphery of the true ceremonial center—a massive ceremonial complex that, in its heyday, must have completely dominated the landscape. Following breakfast, we will visit several important Neolithic sites on mainland Orkney, from the Ring of Brodgar to the Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe, which is Britain’s largest chambered cairn. Excavations will be in progress at the Ness of Brodgar, and we will take a private tour of the site. Dinner tonight will be at The Lynnfield Hotel, before we take the overnight ferry from Kirkwall to Shetland at about 11:00pm. (B,L,D)

Friday, July 16 – Lerwick, Shetland | Old Scatness | Isle of Mousa | Brae, North Mainland
Distance 2.5 mi. Height climbed: 215 ft.
We arrive in Lerwick in the morning, after breakfast on the ferry. Travel south today, visiting Old Scatness Broch and Iron Age village. This is part of the crucible of Iron Age Shetland, also including Mousa Broch and Jarlshof (a site we will visit on July 19th), that was added by UNESCO in 2012 to the Tentative List of cultural World Heritage sites. In the afternoon we will take the boat to the uninhabited island of Mousa, which is famous for its Iron Age broch—the world’s best-preserved Pictish broch. It rises to 40 feet, and the skill and accuracy of its builders has resulted in a 2,000-year-old construction that appears today as though the builders have just laid the last stone and gone home for the night. Back on mainland we will transfer to our hotel, located near Brae. Overnight at the Busta House Hotel for three nights. (B,L,D)

Saturday, July 17 – Isle of Unst | Brae
Distance total 5 mi. Heights climbed: 165 & 525 ft.
This morning we will take the ferry to the Isle of Unst, where the excavation of three Viking/Late Norse settlements forms the center of the much larger, multi-faceted Viking Unst project. A replica longhouse has been constructed, adjacent to which the replica longship, the Skidbladner, is a copy of the 9th-century Gokstad that was discovered in Vestfold, Norway. We will also visit Hermaness, the northernmost cliffs of the British Isles, which are home to over 100,000 breeding seabirds. (B,L,D)

Sunday, July 18 – Fethaland | Brae | Farewell dinner
Distance 6 mi. Height climbed: 1,000 ft.
Fethaland is the northernmost part of Shetland’s mainland. We walk to a ruined Haaf (meaning “open sea”) fishing station dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The ever-enterprising lairds established this and other Haaf fishing stations on remote northwestern parts of Shetland to profit from the catch of ling and cod during the summer months. Extremely brave fishermen ventured out (50 miles) into the Atlantic Ocean in open boats called sixareens. Set within the fishing station are a large, circular Neolithic house and a ruined Iron Age broch. Other places of interest that we will encounter during our walk are a Viking soapstone quarry, and a 6th-century chapel site and settlement, both situated on precarious headlands. Return to our hotel and gather for a farewell dinner this evening. (B,L,D)

Monday, July 19 – Jarlshof | St. Ninian’s Isle | Lerwick | Ferry to Aberdeen
Distance 1.25 mi. Height climbed: 130 ft.
This morning we will check out of our hotel and travel south for a visit to Jarlshof, an archaeological site that was occupied for more than 4,000 years. There is a remarkable sequence of stone structures: late Neolithic houses, a Bronze Age village, an Iron Age broch and wheelhouses, a Norse longhouse, a medieval farmstead, and a 16th-century laird’s house. Our next stop is St. Ninian’s Isle, which is connected to the mainland by a tombolo (a bar of sand, or shingle). St. Ninian’s was settled in pre-Norse times, and the remains of an old chapel are still visible. We will walk across the tombolo and visit the site of the chapel. Back on mainland we will drive to Lerwick. You will have some free time to explore Lerwick, its shops, and the excellent Shetland Museum & Archives, before we take the overnight ferry to Aberdeen at about 5:30pm. We will have dinner aboard the ferry. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, July 20 – Aberdeen | Fly home
Arrive in Aberdeen this morning, and transfer to the airport for independent flights homeward. Flights should depart Aberdeen no earlier than 11:00am. (B)

For reservations or questions, please email us at (and include your full name) or call us toll-free at (800) 748-6262 (toll: 603-756-2884).

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