The population of Orkney in 2021 is 22,400. This is slightly lower than the population in neighbouring Shetland.
The Orkney Islands are a collection of 70 islands ten kilometres off the north east coast of Scotland. Just 21 of the islands are inhabited. The largest is Mainland (Orkney) which has a population of 17,162.
Kirkwall is the largest town in Orkney. It is located on Mainland, and has a population of 9,293 (2011 census data).
Orkney has been inhabited since at least 6,000 BC, when it was home to nomadic tribes, and has been home to permanent settlements since at least 3,500 BC. Norwegian settlers arrived in the 8th and 9th centuries, leading to a period of Viking dominance of the islands. The islands became a part of the Kingdom of Scotland in 1472.
Orkney population growth
Data for the population of Orkney is available going back to the census of 1801, where the population was recorded at 24,445.
It shows that, after just over half a century of sustained population growth, Orkney reached its highest population of 32,395 in 1861.
In common with many other Scottish Islands and the Highlands, the population of Orkney fell steadily over the following century, reaching a low of 17,070 in 1971.Since then, the population has been growing again, and at the time of the 2011 census, the number of people living on Orkney was recorded at 21,349.
Recent population growth on the Orkneys is faster than on other islands. Between 2001 and 2011 the Orkneys population grew by 11%, whereas growth on the Scottish islands population as a whole, growth was just 4%. Going forward, the Orkney Islands Council estimates that the population will grow to 22,724.
The table below lists the number of people living on Orkney at the time of each census since 1801.
Largest islands on Orkney
The Orkney islands is an archipelago of 70 islands. 21 of these islands are inhabited and contain permanent settlements.
The island of Mainland sits roughly in the centre of the archipelago, with the collections to the North and South being, appropriately, called the North Isles and South Isles. Fourteen of the North Isles islands are inhabited, and six of the South Isles are inhabited
The largest island is Mainland, with a population of 17,162, around 75% of the overall population of the Orkney Islands.
None of the other islands is home to more than 1,000 people. The second largest island in the Orkneys is South Ronaldsay (population 909) and the third largest island is Westray (population 588).
The table below lists the Orkney islands by population.
|South Ronaldsay||South Isles||909|
|Papa Westray||North Isles||90|
|North Ronaldsay||North Isles||72|
|Holm of Grimbister||North Isles||3|
|Inner Holm||South Isles||1|
Largest towns on Orkney
There are two major towns on Orkney, both of which are located on Mainland.
Kirkwall is the largest town on Orkney. The population of Kirkwall was 9,923 at the time of the 2011 census. Kirkwall has been inhabited since at least 1046, when it was recorded in the Orkneyinga saga. It is the major administrative centre of Orkney and a major transport and ferry hub for the islands.
Stromness is the second major town in Orkney, and is also located on Mainland. The population of Stromness is 2,190. The town was first recorded as the site of an inn in the 16th century, Strromness today is a thriving port town.
Other villages of note of St Margaret’s Hope (population 550) which is located on the island of South Ronaldsay and Finstown (population 440) which is located on Mainland.