Sheffield to Orkney by train and ferry

Sheffield to Orkney by train and ferry

The Orkney islands are not the most accessible destination, but worth visiting. They’re a great destination if you love neolithic sites, a rough climate, and long summer days (or short winter ones). There are also plenty of options to explore the gorgeous nature on foot or by bike. Travelling from England and continental Europe to Orkney without flying is definitely possible, but lends itself especially to lovers of ‘slow travel’. Because train schedules cannot always be trusted, I would advice being flexible and allowing time for possible delays.

Below, I have outlined the route I took to travel to Orkney by train, and included some tips for both directions. We travelled with 2 people and 2 bikes. For longer trains routes like this, it’s necessary to reserve bike spots in advance when buying your passenger ticket. We booked our tickets through Trainline, which meant getting 1/3rd of the price off with a railcard! Getting a railcard is definitely worth it if you regularly travel within the UK by train. Also keep in mind that the ferry to Kirkwall (Orkney’s capital) does not sail every day.

Sheffield to Orkney

Train 1: Sheffield > Edinburgh Waverley

Train 2: Edinburgh Waverley > Aberdeen

Overnight stay in Aberdeen

Ferry: Aberdeen > Kirkwall

We took a train in the late afternoon and arrived in Aberdeen around 22:00. We had a minor delay on the first train, causing us to have to hurry a little in order to catch the second one. The first train came all the way from Penzance, so this route if also suitable for people coming from the south of England. Going from Sheffield to Aberdeen will take between 6 and 7 hours, with a transfer in either York or Edinburgh.

When taking an early train from Sheffield in the morning, you could make it to Orkney within one day. Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow for much leeway time in case there are train disruptions. We therefore booked a B&B in Aberdeen. The next day we used to cycle to Drum Castle and have lunch at Foodstory in the city. After that, we boarded the ferry about an hour before departure at 17:00 and arrived in Kirkwall at 23:00. I would advice against booking a cabin or pod on the way to Orkney, since you’re not spending a full night on the ferry.

Orkney to Sheffield

Ferry: Kirkwall > Aberdeen

Train 1: Aberdeen > York

Train 2: York > Doncaster

Train 3: Doncaster > Sheffield

On the way back, it’s much more doable to travel within one day, as the ferry arrives in Aberdeen as early as 07:00. In this direction, it’s more worth it to book a place to sleep. The cabins are quite expensive, so it’s only really worth the money if you desperately need a good night’s sleep and are able to fill all beds. If you’re good at sleeping in a plane or bus, the pods are a cheaper option. Be aware that the pod spaces sell out quite quickly. If you’re not in a mood to pay extra, you can simply sleep on the floor (many people do this). Be sure to bring a sleeping bag or something else to keep you warm and comfy. The normal chairs on the passenger deck are not suitable to sleep in.

Although we planned and booked the train route beforehand, we ended up taking an altogether different one due to a 4 hour delay between Dunbar and Edinburgh. Sadly, someone jumped in front of the train ahead of us. The staff handed out some water and a light snack, but it confirms the need to always bring plenty of water and food with you on the train. In general, travelling from Aberdeen to England takes about the same time as does going in the opposite direction, also with 1 to 3 changes. Still, I enjoyed the journey and would definitely recommend to travel to Orkney by train and ferry!

* This post includes an affiliate link. Booking your train ticket through this link helps maintain The Sustainable Travel Guide, as I receive a small commission. I only use affiliate links for brands I personally use and support.

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