Stromness is a port on the Mainland of the Orkney Islands, with a population of roughly 2200. To the Vikings, Straumsnes meant the headland just south, where a fierce tide rips between Scapa Flow and the Atlantic; get past that and you came safely into Hamnavoe or "peaceful harbour" where the town now stands. It's long been a fishing village but it was more important in the 17th and 18th centuries, when Britain was often at war with France, the Channel was unsafe, and shipping had to detour around the north of Scotland. Hudson's Bay explorers and traders, and the expeditions of Captain Cook and of Franklin, all stopped here for rest and re-supply. Today Stromness is the second largest town in the Orkneys but it's a quiet place, with a pleasant narrow flagged main street, and it's escaped the industrial sprawl seen around Kirkwall.
The TIC is the Travel Centre by the bus and ferry terminal.
Get in edit
By ferry edit
Northlink car ferries sail 2 or 3 times daily between Stromness and Scrabster, taking 90 min. If you book a cabin on the early morning sailing to Scrabster, you can board between 21:30 and 23:30 the previous evening. Stromness 1 ferry terminal is central in town next to the bus terminus.
The other ferry routes from the Scottish mainland to Orkney are Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Shetland, Gills Bay to St Margaret's Hope, and John O'Groats to Burwick: see Orkney Islands#Get in.
Orkney Ferries sail at least twice a day from Stromness to Moaness at the north end of Hoy and to Graemsay. The ferry to Lyness at the south end of Hoy and to Flotta sails from Houton five miles south of Stromness: Bus 5 connects twice a day.
By bus or taxi edit
The main bus into town is Stagecoach X1, hourly from Kirkwall via Stenness. It also connects south of Kirkwall, but less frequently, past the Italian Chapel to the ferry terminal at St Margaret's Hope.
A taxi from Kirkwall takes 25 min and costs about £38 as of Sep 2022.
Get around edit
Stromness is compact and its flagged main street is a pleasant stroll.
The Stones of Stenness are only four miles away, an hour's hike, but it's a busy main road with only an intermittent sidewalk. Bike is the ideal way to reach these, Skara Brae, Birsay and Kirkwall, and to potter around Hoy, though for sure the stiff breeze will contrive to be in your face in both directions.
Orkney Cycle Hire is at 54 Dundas St, open daily 08:00-17:00.
- Dr John Rae (1813-1893) is commemorated by a statue at the ferry terminal. He was born at Orphir on Orkney, became a surgeon and joined the Hudson's Bay Company. On the Bay he learned how to live off the land and travel light and fast, unlike the typical ponderous Victorian expedition. He made many arduous explorations of Canada's northeast coast, and was asked to help trace Franklin's lost navy expedition. He learned of its fate from the Inuit and brought back a few items - plus the news that the desperate party had resorted to cannibalism, and for this he was detested by the Victorian establishment. He's buried at St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall.
- Pier Arts Centre, 28 Victoria Street KW16 3AA (100 yards south of terminal), ☏ , email@example.com. Tu-Sa 10:30-17:00. Gallery with permanent collection of work by 20th century artists, mostly modernist and the St Ives school. The centre also hosts temporary exhibits and runs educational and community outreach activities. The building is 18th century and became the home of a merchant of Hudson's Bay Company, whose ships passed this way. Free.
- Khyber Pass and Puffer's Close are examples of the little alleys that cut off the main street, either down to the shore or up the hill. Login's Well, now protected behind a glass door, was the main source for ships re-filling their fresh water barrels.
- 1 Stromness Museum, 52 Alfred Street KW16 3DH, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. April-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. Covers natural history, sea-going and maritime exploration, and wartime Orkney. Adult £5, conc £4, child £1.
- The cannon 100 yards south of the museum was captured from an American privateer in 1813 but was thereafter ceremonial: it was fired to greet Hudson's Bay Company ships coming into harbour. It never managed to hit one.
- 2 Ness Battery, Guardhouse Park KW16 3DP, ☏ . This artillery position was built in 1915 to guard the entrance to the Navy anchorage within Scapa Flow. It was again used during the Second World War and remained in military use until 2001. You can see the exterior free, the interior is by guided tour. Motorists approach via the golf course road, don't follow Satnav onto the coastal footpath. Tour adult £6, conc £5, child £4.
- 3 Warbeth Cemetery has an old and a new plot. The poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) lies in the new plot, with a simple sandstone headstone.
- Neolithic sites: see Stenness for Maeshowe, Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae. See Birsay for the Earl's Palace and Brough.
- Carve the runes, then be content with silence - epitaph of George Mackay Brown
- Brinkies Brae is the 94 m hill behind town with views towards Hoy.
- The coast path leads south from town to Point of Ness, with its campsite, then turns west past the golf course and the gaunt structure of Ness Battery. Continue to Warbeth Cemetery, from where you can short-cut back to town by the public road.
- Golf: Stromness GC is south, between the Point and Ness Battery. Blue tees 4714 yards, par 69, visitor round £30.
- Scapa Scuba at the lifeboat house on Dundas St do diving equipment sales, hire and repair, plus air fills. They do other chandlery and boat equipment but no longer have a scuba school. They're open M-Sa 14:00-18:00, Su 16:00-18:00.
- Gym & Pool: Stromness Swimming Pool and Fitness Centre is at the north edge of town.
- Orkney Folk Festival is held in May, various venues but mostly in Stromness. The next is 26-29 May 2022.
- Co-op Food is on Ferry Rd, 400 yards north of the terminal. It's open daily 07:00-22:00.
- Stromness Books and Prints (Tam's Book Shop), 1 Graham Place KW16 3BY, ☏ . M-Sa 12:00-18:00. Tiny but much-loved bookshop tucked into the corner with Dundas Street.
- Bank: the Bank of Scotland at 108 Victoria St has an external ATM.
- All the hotels have bars and restaurants, see Sleep.
- Julia's Cafe, Ferry Rd KW16 3AE (By ferry terminal), ☏ . Daily 09:30-16:30. Popular place handy for transport.
- Stromness Chinese is a takeaway at 63 Victoria St open Tu-Su 16:00-23:00.
- , 35 Graham Place KW16 3BY, ☏ , email@example.com. winter F, Sa 5PM-9:30PM. Mains £21-32.
- Stromness doesn't have stand-alone pubs, head for the hotel bars, such as the charming Flattie Bar within Stromness Hotel.
- 1 Brown's Hostel, 47 Victoria St KW16 3BS, ☏ . Hostel with single, twin, triple and family room. They also run Harbourlee self-catering house. Hostel £20-25 ppn, house £200 / night.
- 2 Point of Ness Caravan & Camping Site, KW16 3AA, ☏ . Open Apr-Sept, on draughty headland a mile south of town. Caravan £25, small tent £11.
- 3 , 10a North End Road KW16 3AG (just north of bus and ferry terminal), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Hostel with six rooms, the largest sleeps four, one is an en suite twin. £20 ppn.
- The Ferry Inn, 10 John Street KW16 3AD (by ferry pier), ☏ , email@example.com. As well as rooms here, the Ferry Inn also run the nearby Royal Hotel, and have other properties to let across town. Plus, let it not be doubted, their bars. B&B double £130.
As of Oct 2021, there is basic mobile coverage from Three, but no signal from the other UK carriers.
Go next edit
- Hoy is an easy day trip from Stromness.
- Kirkwall has several sites and accommodation, and is the transport hub for all of Orkney.