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Orkney and the Shetland Isles

You are viewing the 2024 itinerary. Select your departure year
7 days From £1,715 £1,665 per person
4.0 stars(60 reviews)

Explore the beauty of the Scottish islands as we delve into captivating history, wonderful wildlife, and lively cities.

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Save up to £100pp on selected UK 2024 holidays when you book by 31st October 2023.

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Mobility Rating 2

2024 Tour code: SOS24

About the tour

Uncover atmospheric castles, ancient archaeological sites and captivating wildlife in Orkney and Shetland. Our adventure of the islands takes us from the elegant city of Edinburgh to the Granite City of Aberdeen and into the Shetlands and Orkney.

Admire views of dramatic and breathtaking landscapes aboard scenic railways as we meet Shetland Ponies, visit the ruins of Scalloway Castle, and discover mystical standing stones. After exploring the royal Castle of Mey, the vibrant streets of Inverness host a delightful end to a magnificent holiday.

Unforgettable experiences

Visit the ancient Norse settlement of Jarlshof and learn about the Shetlands' unique history.
Castle of Mey
Castle of Mey
Explore the gardens and grounds of the Castle of Mey, the superb former residence of The Queen Mother.
Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar
Experience the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, Skara Brae, and Maeshowe, discovering these fascinating Neolithic sites with a local guide.
Nick Card
Nick Card
Enjoy a fascinating talk from acclaimed archaeologist, Nick Card on the Orkney Islands' Neolithic past.
Shetland ponies
Shetland ponies
Meet fantastic, renowned Shetland ponies in their stunning natural habitat.

What’s included


Day 1 - Lively Edinburgh

Our holiday begins today as we meet at our hotel in Edinburgh, where we're greeted by our Tour Manager. After checking into our hotel, you're at leisure to start exploring Scotland's capital before dinner this evening.

As you wander the streets, it's easy to see why Edinburgh came to be regarded as the 'Athens of the North'. You could explore the Old Town's Royal Mile or admire the award-winning Georgian architecture in the New Town.

  • Dinner
Day 2 - Discovering the hidden gems of Aberdeen

This morning, we make our way by rail to Aberdeen. Our journey takes us over the North Sea and along the UNESCO-listed Forth Bridge before a series of sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, and rolling farmland pass by our windows.

As we cross over the River Dee, we get our first glimpse of Aberdeen's skyline. After leaving the train, we join our coach to Footdee, an old fishing village next to the harbour known locally as'Fittie'.On a guided tour of the peaceful little area, we wander its unusual mix of cottages and colourful outbuildings.

Our tour continues to Old Aberdeen, where cobbled roads lead to the14th-century St Machar's Cathedral, The Merchant Quarter, and King's College which was founded in 1495. Our coach then takes us down the road to the vibrant Queen's Cross area of the city.

Known for its striking granite statue of Queen Victoria, the area has a range of shops, cafes, and restaurants. There's time at leisure here to admire the intricate granite buildings and get lunch before we board the ferry for an overnight crossing to Shetland - Britain's northernmost outpost. Closer to Bergen, Norway, than Edinburgh, the landscapes here have a unique Norse influence.

  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 3 - Historic Scalloway Castle and famous Shetland Ponies

After breakfast on the ferry, we arrive in Lerwick, the capital of the Shetlands Isles. Our guide for the day meets us here ahead of our first stop at Scalloway, the ancient capital of the Shetlands. Here, we discover the brooding ruins of Scalloway Castle, which date back to 1599.

Next, we head to the coast for a unique encounter with Shetland's world-famous ponies, learning about their history and enjoying a meet and greet against a spectacular coastal backdrop. Continuing by coach, we reach the picturesque village of Brae and enjoy a fish and chip lunch at an award-winning local restaurant.

After checking into our hotel, there's time to explore more of the village before dinner this evening.

  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 4 - The wildlife of the Shetlands

We enjoy a full day of sightseeing today, starting in the pre-historic Norse settlement of Jarlshof. Exploring the site, we see some of Europe's oldest signs of life including a range of structures and buildings which date from around 2700 BC.

Our next stop is Sumburgh Head, a protected nature reserve where steep cliffs rise from the North Sea. The headland is a haven for birdwatchers, with thousands of seabirds nesting on the cliffs, including puffins, guillemots, razorbills, and fulmars.

Overlooking the tumultuous waters, we see Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, which has guided ships since 1821 and, if the day is clear enough, we could even spot passing whales or dolphins in the distance.

After keeping our eyes peeled for wonderful wildlife, we journey to admire the dramatic landscapes surrounding the villages of Gulberwick and Cunningsburgh. Gulberwick is known for its tranquil atmosphere, with charming houses scattered across the village and a close-knit community. Cunningsburgh is on the southern tip of the mainland and has a delightful mix of rugged cliffs and lush green fields.

Returning to Lerwick, you're at leisure ahead of our overnight ferry journey to the remote Orkney Islands. Our hotel here sits overlooking the Loch of Stenness, and we arrive for a late check-in ahead of a peaceful night's rest.

  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 5 - Discovering the history of the Orkneys

Our day begins with a special talk from archaeologist Nick Card, who is an expert on the Neolithic history of the Orkney Isles. Since 2004, Nick has been in charge of leading excavations at the Ness of Brodgar, one of the most important collections of Neolithic buildings in Western Europe.

Next, we head to Kirkwall, the lively capital of Orkney, where we visit the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral. From there, we make our way to the awe-inspiring Ring of Brodgar, an enigmatic arrangement of standing stones that ignites the mystery of our ancestors. We also visit the Italian Chapel, a highly ornate catholic chapel built during WWII by Italian prisoners of war.

Continuing our exploration of Neolithic Orkney, we move on to the Standing Stones of Stenness. Now comprising four tall standing stones, this UNESCO-listed site is believed to have been built around 3100 BC with 12 stones.

We then delve into the ancient stones, structures, and remains at the Brough of Birsay and Broch of Gurness before reaching the remarkably preserved Neolithic village of Skara Brae. Often referred to as the 'Scottish Pompeii', we discover its intriguing stone dwellings with interconnected passageways and stone furniture.

Our final stop is Maeshowe, a Neolithic chambered cairn. We explore this impressive stone structure, admiring the Viking graffiti and runes etched into the walls.

After our day of exploration, our coach takes us to the ferry port where we enjoy dinner at a local restaurant before the overnight ferry to Scrabster.

  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 6 – The elegant Castle of Mey and cheerful Inverness

Arriving in Scrabster early this morning, we board our coach to the beautiful Castle and Gardens of Mey, previously a Royal Residence and the Queen Mother's home in Caithness. There's time at leisure to explore the castle, its gardens and its grounds.

We continue from here to Thurso calling at John O'Groats for a photo stop along the way. At Thurso station, we board the train for a scenic railway journey to Inverness. Breathtaking mountains, glistening lochs, and countryside villages pass by as we travel through the Scottish Highlands. Further south, sweeping moors and hilltop castles start to appear and we pull into vibrant Inverness.

Checking into our hotel, there's time to freshen up before our final dinner this evening.

  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 7 – Homeward bound

After breakfast this morning, it's time to return to Edinburgh by rail. The stunning landscapes of the Cairngorms, endless hills, and cascading waterfalls fly by our windows as we reminisce about our wonderful adventure.

Our holiday comes to an end as we arrive in Edinburgh and we say goodbye to new friends and fellow travellers.

  • Breakfast

Additional information

Departure times

Provisional departure and return times, where available, can be found together with our dates and prices by clicking on the 'Prices & Availability' button. We write to all booked customers approximately 10 weeks prior to the start of their tour to advise the exact departure and return time for their particular group.

Mobility information

Due to the nature of our tours they are generally unsuitable for those with restricted mobility. If you’d like to discuss any particular holiday with us in this respect, then please don’t hesitate to call us.


Palace Hotel Inverness, Inverness

Palace Hotel Inverness, Inverness

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Standing Stones Hotel, Stromness

Standing Stones Hotel, Stromness

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4.0 stars4.0 / 5 · 60 reviews

  1. 5 stars
  2. 4 stars
  3. 3 stars
  4. 2 stars
  5. 1 star

MW Salisbury

5 stars

Submitted 16/Sep

Our hectic tour of Shetlands and Orkney was well-planned by GRJ and executed excellently by our outstanding guide, Carly, in a pleasant professional manner ably supported by excellent local guides. The exceptional benign weather and calm seas added to our pleasure and enjoyment of this most memorable trip. Personally, I thought that there was too great an emphasis on archaeology at the expense of the Northern Isles' 18th to 20th Century heritage. There are minimal lift facilities at Inverness Station and all ferry terminals and no lift faculties at the Brae Hotel, Shetlands, Standing Stones Hotel, Orkney; the GRJ brochure should give greater emphasis to the importance of all travellers being capable of handling all of their baggage up and down steps easily. Some of our reserved train-seats were beside a pillar rather than a window so they were unable to see the fascinating two-hour train journey between Edinburgh to Aberdeen with crossings of the Forth and Tay rail-bridges and views over the Firths of Forth and Tay as well as the Montrose Basin nor the views of the Moray Firth and Cairngorms on the four-hour train journeys between Thurso and Inverness as well as Inverness and Edinburgh. The trains to and from Inverness were overcrowded and lacked sufficient luugage space; the Thurso train had no onboard refreshment facilities. I would recommend that there should be the opportunity to see the WW2 'Shetland Bus' - Norwegian Special Forces artefacts in the Scalloway Museum - if necessary at the expense of driving past Scalloway Castle. It might be worth considering extending the tour to include a visit to the new Scapa Flow Museum on Hoy. This was a demanding and enjoyable tour ably led by an experienced guide; the shortcomings of the Scotrail train services appeared to be largely beyond the remit of GRJ. Photographs: 1. Scalloway - WW2 'Shetland Bus' - Norwegian Special Forces Secret Base. 2. Italian Chapel, Churchill Barrier, Scapa Flow. 3. Walled Garden, Castle of Mey and Pentland Firth.

Collected by Trustpilot

Mrs M Killick

5 stars

Submitted 16/Sep

Well planned an throughout out trip

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Hazel Miles

5 stars

Submitted 15/Jul

A busy but exciting advent6

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M Bingham

5 stars

Submitted 14/Jun

Well organised

Collected by Trustpilot

G Berridge

4 stars

Submitted 22/May

A grand tour in all unfortunately the weather didn't get the message and we had a Haa for most days which meant the temperatures were very cold. but never the less the tour ran smoothly the accommodation was good and the food was good

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Derek May

5 stars

Submitted 10 Oct 2022

It was a very good trip but we had to live out of our suitcase as we were in a different bed every night. It would have been nicer to have had longer on both islands as there was so much to see.

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