Heart of Neolithic Orkney | World Heritage Site

Orkney Skara Brae, Orkney Islands, Scotland
Heart of Neolithic Orkney - © John Burka

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site (WHS) was established in 1999 in recognition of the importance of the cultural monuments here along with the significance of the historical landscape. The Orkney Islands are an archipelago located off the coast of Northern Scotland and consists of over 70 islands. The islands are remote however they are of historical and cultural importance and offer visitors the chance to visit a place most tourists would not get to.


The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site refers to a group of Neolithic monuments that are located on the Orkney Islands. There are four main sites that form the WHS namely, Maeshowe, found in the Scottish island of Orkney, Ring of Brogar, Skara Brae and Stones of Stenness. Of the four main sites there are two ceremonial stone circles at the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brogar, a settlement site at Skara Brae and a chambered tomb located a Maeshowe.

The area has significance based on the long history of the islands dating back some 5,000 years ago and offers a prehistoric cultural landscape that emphasises the achievements of the Neolithic people of the region.

Maeshowe contains one of the largest tombs in the region and is among the best architectural achievements in prehistoric Europe. The Chambered Cain is estimated to back from 2,700BC forming part of the WHS. The chambered cain here is visible for miles, the cain was first excavated back in 1861, by 1910 the cain was under state care and a concrete roof was added. There are a number of passages and chambers that were built using slabs of flagstone

During the first excavation back in 1861, the entrance passage was not accessible for archaeologists and an access shaft was created. When archaeologists entered the tomb they found there had been others that had broken in first. The presence of 'graffiti' suggested that Vikings had entered the tomb.

The Ring of Brodgar counts among the most significant and majestic prehistoric monuments in the UK. There are currently still 36 of the 60 original stones in tact, the Ring of Brodgar was built as a circle and is one of the largest Neolithic henge monuments, measuring approx 130m in diameter. The interior of the site has not yet been excavated thus the estimates on the construction are approx around 4,000 years ago, this would make it the last Neolithic monument to be built on the Ness.

It is believed that the Ring of Brodgar was part of a large prehistoric complex that also included the Stones of Stenness located a short distance away.

Skara Brae is a Neolithic settlement located close to the white beach of the Bay of Skaill. Skara Brae contains some of the finest and best preserved groups of prehistoric houses in Europe. It was uncovered by a storm back in 1850, the settlement shows us an insight in to life here approx 5,000 years ago. Visitors can get a real sense of history and insight in to prehistoric times here with the village and homes with a replica construction helping visitors to recreate what a home would have been like all those years ago.

There is an informative visitor centre that visitors can use to find more information that includes presentations, fact-finding quizzes and the chance to see artefacts that were discovered here during archaeological excavations back in the 1970s. Visitors can experience an interesting time using the multi media methods to learn more.

Skara Brae remains under threat by the erosion that is caused by the inhospitable Orkney weather. Increased tourism to the area has also bought concerns for the future, to counter these threats steps are being taken to help minimise the damage to the area and environment.

The Stones of Stenness are among the best preserved of prehistoric monuments in the UK. Thoughts to have been built some 5,000 to 5,400 years ago, making them possibly the oldest henge monument in the UK. It is believed the stones were part of a complex where activities and ceremonies were taking place. There are four surviving standing stones

The Stones of Stenness may be the earliest henge monument in the British Isles, built around 5,400 years ago. It is thought there were 12 stones here originally however there are currently just 4 stones left with a maximum height of six metres (approx 19 feet) making the stones visible for miles around and much larger than those present at the Ring of Brogar located approx one mile away.

How To Get There

The World Heritage Site in the Orkney Islands is located off the coast of Scotland in a remote area. Whilst access to the islands is not as easy as is the case with most tourist attractions on the mainland, for determined visitors and those with a sense of adventure, it is possible to visit the WHS here:

By Air:

There are flights from a number of Scottish towns and cities to the Orkney Islands, these include Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.

By Sea:

There are ferry services that take passengers from the Scottish mainland to the Orkney Islands, there are services from Aberdeen, and there are also Sea and Rail & Sea and Bus connections from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.

By Car:

Visitors can hire cars to get around once they arrive. Those driving and hiring cars are advised to take extra care when driving given the change in weather conditions that can and do occur in the islands. Drivers should be aware of extreme weather conditions that can prevail in the area and exercise due care and caution and take sensible precautions.

For further information please see Orkney Transport for a range of transport options on getting to the Orkney Islands and travelling around the islands once there.

Contact Details


Historic Scotland
Longmore House
Salisbury Place

Telephone: +44 (0)131 668 8800

Website: Historic Scotland

Facilities and Information

Further Information:


Summer Opening:
April to end of September: 09.30 to 17.00 (Mon to Sun)
Advance Booking is required.

Winter Opening:
October end of March: 09.30 to 16.00 (Mon to Sun)
Advance Booking is required.

Admission prices:

Adult £5.10 approx
Child £2.55 approx
Concession £4.10 approx

Skara Brae:

Summer Opening:
Late March to end of September: 09.30 to 17.30 (Mon to Sun)

Winter Opening:
October 2008 to end of March: 09.30 to 16.30 (Mon to Sun)

Admission prices:

(includes entry to Skara Brae and Skaill House in Summer & to Skara Brae only in Winter)
Adult £5.60 approx
Child £2.80 approx
Concession £4.60 approx

The Stones of Stennes & The Ring of Brodgar:

No admission fee


View Larger Map

For Local Search and Directions see: Heart of Neolithic Orkney Map

Tips & Other Considerations

There may be some variations on the opening hours of the various buildings and attractions depending on the time of year and other factors. Visitors are advised to double check each attraction they wish to see before going & avoid disappointment.

When travelling around it is recommended that travellers inform others of their plans and what time they are expected back, this is a sensible extra precaution given the remote nature of the islands and the sudden change in local weather that can occur.

When travelling always remain alert and aware of your surroundings and environment. Follow sensible travel safety tips & ensure your belongings in particular your wallet/purse and valuables are hidden away from public view (especially at tourist attractions & places with crowds). If you have a bag try to use a shoulder bag with a good quality, strong strap, that is put across your shoulder not on your shoulder making it more difficult for anyone to take your bag.

If you are looking for local car parking in Orkney, ensure you fully understand the rules, regulations & charges for car parks and street parking before you park your car. The rules & regulations can be complex if you are not sure it is wise not to park there.

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