Exterior of Orphir Round Church
Orphir Round Church


The only surviving medieval round church in Scotland, dating from the 12th century.

When was it built?

We don't know for certain, but the best guess for the foundation of Orphir Church is the late 12th or early 13th century. Tradition gives Earl Hakon as the founder, and the church is dedicated to St Nicholas.

Why was it built here?

In the 12th century, Orphir was an administrative centre for the powerful Orkney earls. Beside the church are the ruins of Earl's Bu, a hall used by the earls.

Why is it round?

Round churches are unusual in Britain, but those that we know of were probably created after the return of crusading knights from the Holy Land. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is round, and this probably influenced the British knights to emulate the design on their return.

Our verdict

Taken on its own, Orphir Round Church is perhaps a bit disappointing. There is not much of the church remaining beyond the rounded structure seen in these photos. There are foundation walls in the turf which show the overall structure of the church.

However, beside the church is the remains of the Norse hall of Earl's Bu, and a few yards away is the Orkneyinga centre, which tells the tale of the Orkneyinga Saga and the Norse civilization here on Orkney. Taken together these three attractions definitely rate a visit, and the location on the shore of Scapa Flow is beautiful as well.

More Photos

About Orphir
Address: Orphir, Mainland, Orkney, Orkney, Scotland
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: At Orphir, 8 miles SW Kirkwall
Website: Orphir
Historic Scotland
Location map
OS: HY335043
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


HeritageWe've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.

Historic Time Periods:


Find other attractions tagged with:

12th century (Time Period) - 13th century (Time Period) - Medieval (Time Period) - Prehistoric (Time Period) -


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Tormiston Mill - 5.2 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Stones of Stenness Circle and Henge - 5.4 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Maes Howe Chambered Cairn - 5.4 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Barnhouse Neolithic Settlement - 5.5 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn - 5.5 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Unstan Chambered Cairn - 5.6 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Stromness Museum - 5.8 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Dwarfie Stane - 6.1 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Nearest Holiday Cottages to Orphir:

Nearby accommodation is calculated 'as the crow flies' from Orphir Round Church. 'Nearest' may involve a long drive up and down glens or, if you are near the coast, may include a ferry ride! Please check the property map to make sure the location is right for you.

  More self catering near Orphir

Show self catering cottages near Orphir