The Orkney Islands are a popular tourist attraction, and rightly so. Not only is it a beautiful island filled with friendly locals and interesting activities, it continues to be a historic marvel. The Orkney Islands are most famous for its Italian Chapel built during World War 2 by Italian POWs, who were sent to Camp 60 in 1942 on Orkney to build Churchill Barriers to block access to Scapa Flow. With limited materials it was built by having to Nissen huts put end to end, and the interior was most notably painted by a prisoner from Moena, Domenico Chiocchetti, who stayed behind after the prisoners were made free to leave to finish the job. Another famous attraction is Skara Brae, which is a stone built Neolithic settlement located on the Bay of Skaill. It is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, and was occupied around 3180 BCE - 2500 BCE. Due to its continued excellent preservation it has become known as the Scottish Pompeii.
There are plenty of opportunities to see Caithness wildlife, but most popular is the wildlife cruise across the Pentland Firth. When you set off from Gills Bay, you will see the Stroma and Swona islands where common and grey seals can be seen lazing on the shore, and if you look carefully enough then you will be able to catch glimpses of the now famous feral cattle. Depending on the time of year, while passing across the Pentland Firth, a variety of sea life can be found. Most commonly are the porpoises, orca, dolphins, whales, and on the rare occasion during the summer there have even been sights of basking sharks. For bird watches, this gives you the chance to see close up bird colonies of a variety of birds including puffins, fulmars, great skua, guillemots, gannets, razor bills, and many others.
More locally it is common for otters to be seen swimming lazily in the rivers of both Thurso and Wick, however if you take a drive through the countryside then more types of birds can be found and deer are very common in areas with trees.
From Thurso you can visit the Castle and Gardens of Mey. Dating back to the 16th Century, it is one of the region's most popular tourist attractions and remains to be a striking architectural achievement and a fascinating day out. There is also the 13th Century Dunrobin Castle at Golspie, where viewings of the castle and gardens make for a fun day out for all the family. It has become most popular for its daily demonstrations of birds of prey where a range of native and exotic animals can be found in an enjoyable show. If you would rather spend the day staying locally then the local museum, Caithness Horizons, allows you to relive history in an interesting exhibit, and also has a gallery and cafe available to relax in. Lesser known but just as interesting is Mary Ann Calder's cottage out by Dunnet Head. Dating back to the 19th Century the cottage is located on a croft. Often mistaken as a museum, the croft has all its originally documents, furniture, artifacts and fittings, making this more of an authentic social document, which gives an excellent insight into the way people lived and the way crofts worked in the 19th Century.
Wick, Tongue and Dunnet Head are all very easy days trips, with Helmsdale being a beautiful drive through gold prospecting country to see history and art brought to life at 'Timespan'. If you have not driven up to the hotel or would rather not take the car then there is plenty of public transport made available so getting to where you want to go will be easy going.
From Thurso there is easy access to tours through Durness to Cape Wrath and across to Ullapool on the west coast, or to Dornoch Firth on the east coast. They are all easy going day trips whether you want to drive or take public transport. Not only will you be able to enjoy the experience of visiting these places but the scenery on the road makes the journeys all worthwhile.
Caithness is known best for our wide range of outdoor activities. In particular Thurso is famous for our excellent swells, perfect for going surfing. Surfers from all over the world surf in Thurso, perhaps what they enjoy is the sparsely populated area meaning there is a chance of surfing on their own or even with a few seals. In Thurso we also have the Pentland Canoe Club, which enjoys most forms of paddling due to the Caithness environment. Also available are chances for going diving and exploring the popular scenic and wreck sites, or perhaps white water rafting is more your style, where you will take a tour in the Pentland Firth and enjoy a scenic route and ride through standing waves and waterfalls. Lesser known in Caithness are the opportunities to go climbing. Areas made available in the north are at Latheronwheel, Mid Clyth, Sarclet, Occumster, and Noss.
Perhaps more widely known in Caithness is fishing. Fishing digs deep into our heritage in Caithness and continues to be one of the most pastimes available. There are a wide range of fishing areas waiting to be explored. For more on fishing visit Wick's local fishing shop, Hugo Ross.
If golfing is what you prefer then there are also many different courses to make the most of, all of which are thoroughly enjoyed by both tourists and the locals.
For something different but lots of fun for all the family Wick offers you the chance to go on an exciting adventure around the seacoast. You will be taken out on their Geo Explorer to give you the opportunity to visit a vast array of ruined castles and learn about their dark histories, to see birds and marine animals up close, explore caves, visit Whaligoe steps, and other superb activities.
And if that isn't enough then the Geopark offers the chance to explore Scotland's three and a half billion years journey through time. Here you can discover old rocks and classic hills like Suilven and Stac Pollaidh. In amongst the wildest places, take a chance to breathe it all in. Bag a munro by scaling Ben Hope and take in the magnificent view across the Kyle of Tongue and far west to Lochinver.
There is also an excellent chance that you will come across the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. This natural phenomenon brightens up our dark skies beautifully. To view this gorgeous sight, these videos were taken in Caithness.