Scottish town named top cruise ship destination in Western Europe

Kirkwall harbour sees around 140 cruise ships visit each year. Picture Magnus Budge
Kirkwall harbour sees around 140 cruise ships visit each year. Picture Magnus Budge
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It is the historic capital of Orkney, a safe haven for seafarers that once harboured Vikings but has since reinvented itself as a leading hub for cruise ships.

Kirkwall, the largest town on the archipelago, has today been named as the best cruise destination in Western Europe by a prestigious industry publication.

The port, which is operated by Orkney Islands Council, was ranked first in a new list by Cruise Critic - the world’s largest online cruise resource. The publication's awards are based exclusively on consumer ratings, reflecting the high opinion visitors have of the town and surrounding area.

Kirkwall sees around 140 cruise ships dock each year, bringing thousands of visitors to the Orkney mainland during the summer high season and providing a welcome economic boost for residents.

Councillor Graham Sinclair, chairman of Orkney's development and infrastructure committee, said the result reflected "a phenomenal effort" by the local authority's marine services team to ensure smooth port operations and a warm welcome for cruise passengers.

"It is testament to the local community - to the pride we have in our county, and the warm Orkney welcome that awaits our visitors at every turn," he added.

READ MORE: Remains of 14th century castle uncovered in Orkney
It’s not the first time Orkney has received accolades from the cruise industry. Earlier this year, passengers from Viking Ocean Cruises voted Orkney as their top Northern European cruise destination from a total portfolio of 46 competing ports.

In 2013, Orkney took second place in the global Seatrade Insider Cruise Port of the Year. And in 2010, Kirkwall was voted Best Cruise port in the UK by Cruise Critic – a high point reached again in 2016.

Brian Archibald, Orkney's harbour master, said a lot of effort went into delivering a "wonderful experience" for those disembarking at Kirkwall.

He added: “From the meet and greet and shore excursion teams, to the coach operators, tour guides and private tour providers, and to all those sites and shops which do so much to give our visitors a wonderful experience - it takes a lot of hard work and commitment to reach this standard.

“With other ports snapping at our heels, it’s great that Orkney - once again and in common with so many other things which we do here - is top.

“The challenge of course is to stay at the top and to wisely manage further growth and opportunity and, of course, we will have to move forward without the energy and drive of my recently retired Business Development Manager, Michael Morrison who did so much to achieve this."

There were 138 cruise ship calls to an Orkney port in 2018, and 169 vessel calls booked for 2019 which is bringing about 160,000 visitors to the county.

Mr Archibald continued: “Most of the growth is in the small to medium sized vessels and we are spreading the visits to other ports with about 22 calls to Stromness this year, including the anchorage at Cairston Roads.

“The very large ships, which are the trigger for road closures, remain steady at about 12 per year- so well under 10% of the total calls per year.

“For 2020, bookings are already at the 2019 levels – albeit growth of this rate is common across all the Scottish ports, Orkney still has the largest number of cruise ship calls of all sizes.”