Orkney Islands

archipelago, county and council area in northern Scotland

The Orkney Islands (often also called only Orkney) is an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, United Kingdom. It is about 16 kilometres north of Caithness. 20 of the about 70 islands have people living on them.[1][2] The administrative centre is Kirkwall (with about 8000 people living there). The next largest settlements are Stromness (2000 people) and St. Margaret's Hope (with about 550 people).

Gaelic nameArcaibh
Orkney is located in Scotland
Orkney shown within Scotland
Coordinates59°N 3°W / 59°N 3°W / 59; -3
Physical geography
Island groupNorthern Isles
Area990 km2 (380 sq mi)
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Council areaOrkney Islands Council
Population21,349 (2011 census)
Population density52 per square mile (20/km2)
Largest settlementKirkwall

In addition to the mainland, most of the islands are in two groups, the North and South Isles. All of them are made of sandstone. The climate is mild and the soil is fertile. Most of the land is farmed and agriculture is the main source of income for the economy. There are many birds and fish.

In 2023 there were proposals that the islands could change their status in the UK, to be more like the Isle of Man or even become a self-governing territory of Norway.[3]



Ferry services go much of the time to Lerwick (in Shetland). Most islands have air strips (for airplanes). This includes the shortest known flight service in the world, between Westray and Papa Westray. Official flight time is 2 minutes. If the wind goes in the right direction, the flight can take just over a minute.


  1. Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 336-403.
  2. Wickham-Jones (2007) p. 1 states there are 67 islands.
  3. "Orkney council to look at proposals to become territory of Norway". BBC News. 2023-07-02. Retrieved 2023-07-02.
Where the Orkney islands are (dark blue), with the rest of Scotland

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