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Historic Scotland
Historic Scotland
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Opening times

Mid-June to 30 September:
Monday to Sunday, 9.30am to 5.30pm (tides permitting)

1 October to mid-June:
Closed

Check here for unexpected closures

Facilities

 

Overview

Reach this very special tidal island by causeway to explore Pictish, Norse and medieval remains. Brooches, rings and dress pins found on the Brough of Birsay suggest that it was a Pictish power centre.

The Norse settled the island 200 years later, in the 9th century, but may have lived peacefully alongside the Picts. It’s still possible to make out the remnants of Norse houses, barns and even a sauna. Later, a small church and monastery were built on Birsay.

What to see and do

  • Enjoy the scenic location – a challenge to get to, a joy to explore
  • Look for the replica Pictish symbol stone, a copy of a remarkable carving found here
  • Get a unique insight into the peaceful life of the Norse settlers by exploring the remains of their village
  • Marvel at the church of St Peter, a sophisticated building that had a square tower and glazed windows
  • View some important early sculptures and interesting Norse artefacts in the small visitor centre on the island
  • Take a short stroll to the small lighthouse at the crest of the island, above dramatic cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean
  • Count the many types of wildflower that grow in the machair (coastal grassland) and see puffins nest on cliffs in the spring
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