Here’s my guide to visiting Inchcolm Island in the Firth of Forth. It’s the perfect day trip from Edinburgh!
Inchcolm Island – is it worth visiting?
This small island located in the Firth of Forth – the water in between Edinburgh and Fife – is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Your trip begins with a ferry ride before you’re dropped off at the island to explore the historic abbey on the island, which is seriously beautiful.
On the way back, keep your eyes peeled for puffins and seals before soaking up incredible views of the incredible Forth Bridge. Even better, it’s so close to Edinburgh you can do it as a day trip! What’s not to like?
Here’s my guide to exploring Inchcolm Island…
Is Inchcolm island worth visiting?
First up, though. Let’s answer that all-important question.
Is Inchcolm island worth visiting?
I imagine this question comes from tourists who aren’t sure if they want to spend a day of their trip to Scotland visiting the island. In my opinion, it’s a big fat yes – Inchcolm Island is 100% worth visiting. Over the rest of this blog, I’m going to tell you why.
Inchcolm Island: what to expect
Let’s do a quick round-up of what to expect…
The trip starts with a ferry ride which is either brisk and exhilerating, or snug and relaxing, depending on whether you sit on deck or inside.
When you arrive, you’ll immediately see how beautiful the island is. When we stepped off the boat it looked so picturesque. The sea was calm and still, and mirrored by the bright blue sky which was rippled with milky white clouds. Meanwhile, the abbey stood solemnly in the background, fringed with grass and outcrops of rock leading down to the sea.
Inchcolm Abbey is pretty amazing and there’s lots to explore, despite it being a ruin. You can even get married at Inchcolm, which I imagine is super charming! The boat trip over to the island is great to and you’ll be able to enjoy some incredible views of the historic Forth Bridge.
The Forth Bridge is a UNESCO world heritage site and is well worth seeing on its own. It’s a cantilevar railway bridge and was completed in 1890 and is one of the most iconic bridges in the world.
Is there anything I didn’t enjoy?
The island isn’t perfect. For one, there’s no café, which is a bit disappointing – especially if you don’t find that out until you arrive.
The resident seagulls can also be a little, shall we say, challenging. In other words: they’re a real pain in the bum, especially if you’re there during nesting season. You won’t be able to see as much of the island as you’d like because you’ll come face to face with angry, defensive seagulls.
The final thing to mention is that the trip is quite weather dependent. It’s gorgeous on a lovely day but if you’re caught on the island in poor weather conditions it’s probably not half as much fun. There aren’t many spots to shelter and the abbey must be pretty draughty on a cold day.
However, all in all, I would say there’s a lot to enjoy. It’s a relatively short trip so you can explore a bit of South Queensferry either before or afterwards, if you like. You can go in the morning or later in the afternoon so it doesn’t have to take up the whole of your day either.
All in all, it makes a great day out.
Inchcolm Island: a quick guide
The island is sometimes referred to as the ‘Iona of the East’ due to its similarity to the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. It’s a small island which is home to the famous Abbey, which I’ll talk more on in a bit.
It also has connections to both WWI and WWII. 500 soldiers were stationed there during both world wars and formed part of what was known as the ‘Fortress Forth’. This was where Inchcolm and other islands in the Firth of Forth were utilised to protect both the Forth Bridge and the Royal Navy base in Rosyth.
You can see remnants of that history today, including an ammunition tunnel you can walk through that was built in 1916.
Where is Inchcolm Island?
Inchcolm is one of several islands located in the Firth of Forth – this is the water that separates Edinburgh from Fife, which is where I’m from.
You also may recognise the Forth as the location of three famous bridges – the Forth Bridge, the Forth Road Bridge, and the newest bridge in town – the Queensferry Crossing.
How do you book a trip to Inchcolm Island?
We booked the trip via Get Your Guide. It’s called the Queensferry: Sightseeing Cruise to Inchcolm Island. There are other trips that you can do, such as the Three Bridges tour.
However, this is the tour you should do if you want to visit Inchcolm Island.
How much does the tour to Inchcolm Island cost?
It costs £20 per person, so it’s fairly affordable.
Get Your Guide offers free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance so if you need to change your plans and cancel the tour, there’s flexibility.
When is the best time of year to visit Inchcolm?
Now that is an interesting question. We visited in June and it was lovely because it was lovely and warm and sunny for the most part. However, there are a lot of seagulls on the island and it was nesting season when we were there, which meant that some of the island was out of bounds. In short, I think different seasons have different things to offer.
What times can you visit Inchcolm Island?
The ferry departs three times a day.
You can choose to go at 10.30am, 12.15pm, and 2pm. We went for the 12.15pm slot which was perfect as the weather improved throughout the day so that by the time we were on the island it was sunny and warm.
The trip takes three hours in total so if you go for the early trip you could be back by lunchtime, which gives you flexibility to do something else.
Where do you get the ferry to Inchcolm Island from?
You catch the ferry from South Queensferry, which is a charming town on the banks of the River Forth. The ferry will return you here after the trip to Inchcolm, so depending on timing you could grab brunch or head for lunch or an early dinner in Queensferry afterwards.
Everything is clearly signposted so you shouldn’t struggle to find where to go. Enter through the giftshop and from there you’ll be able to get the dock and wait for the ferry.
How much time do you get to spend on Inchcolm?
We got around an hour and 45 minutes to explore the island.
The boat to Incholm: what is the ferry to the island like?
I really enjoyed it. It takes around 40 minutes in total to get to Inchcolm.
You can choose to either sit inside or outside – or do what we did and start outside and then head in when it gets a little chilly. I forget how cold it can get on the open water, especially in Scotland!
There is a bar on the boat and I saw plenty of people ordering a pint for the trip. I wanted something warm so I had a hot chocolate which was unexpectedly delicious. I say ‘unexpectedly’ because it was just out of a sachet and they didn’t have any non-dairy milk and so I just had it with water. There’s tea, coffee, soft drinks and some snacks too.
The return journey on the ferry was even better. First of all, the ferry goes around the other side of the island so you can see the iconic image of the island with the island nestled in the centre. This is the picture you’ll see on all the photographs on Inchcolm Island.
Look out for the wildlife when you’re on the open water. We saw an adorable seal having an afternoon nap on one of the buoys that was bobbing around in the middle of the water.
Finally, the ferry goes under each of the three bridges – the Forth Bridge, the Forth Rail Bridge, and the Queensferry Crossing. You can get some amazing photos here. Sitting on the ferry in the sunshine on the way back was a great finish to a lovely afternoon!
The history of Inchcolm Abbey
Now let’s look at the historic abbey.
The centrepiece of the island is the Inchcolm Abbey, a medieval monastery dating back to the 12th century. The history of how the abbey came to be built is interesting. Alexander 1, the King of Scotland from 1107 until his death in 1124, was crossing the Forth in 1123.
He sought shelter at Inchcolm and in the three days that Alexander and his crew were stranded there, they were looked after by a hermit who shared his food with them. Afterwards, he vowed to build an abbey on the island. Unfortunately, he died before he was able to.
It was his brother, King David, who fulfilled the wishes of his brother. The abbey was founded in 1124 and, despite being badly damaged by English raiders in the 1300s, it remains here today. And there is plenty to see.
Exploring Inchcolm Abbey
Take a leisurely stroll through the abbey ruins, explore the cloisters, and let your imagination run wild with tales of monks and ancient times. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore – whenever I thought we were done there was something else to see.
Here are my favourite spots at the abbey…
- The chapter house
- The tiny spiral staircase
- The dovecot
- The warming house
- The refectory
- The views from the top
My highlights of Inchcolm Abbey
The chapter house
The chapter house was probably my favourite spot. Known was the administrative centre of the abbey, it was where the daily business would have been carried out. The chapter house here is an octagonal shape and has ledges around the sides where the monks would have perched, along with a beautiful vaulted ceiling. It’s such an amazing space.
The tiny spiral staircase + dovecot
One of my other highlights were the tiniest spiral staircase that I’ve ever climbed. If you have any sort of claustrophobia then it’s probably best avoided as it’s so tight and narrow. There’s also a dovecot in the middle of the abbey, which you’ll see when you emerge from the staircase. The honeycomb effect is cool, it’s like being in the middle of a bee hive.
The warming house
The warming house in the abbey was where canons were allowed to warm themselves by a large fire, which burned all the way from November to Good Friday. There’s also some Latin scripture on the wall next to the fire, protected by plastic panelling.
I also enjoyed wandering through the refectory and reading about what the monks used to eat. For some reason that always seems to be the information that stays with me. They would typically eat a diet of eggs, cheese, fish, beans, milk and honey. In the winter and during lent there was one meal a day and during the summer there were two meals.
The views from the top
If you climb to the top of the abbey – also up a steep staircase but not a spiral one this time – you’ll be able to see some incredible views of the island from the top.
My tips for visiting Inchcolm Island
1. Pack for all weathers
It was absolutely FREEZING on the boat on the way over. Admittedly we sat outside because we wanted to enjoy the view but the wind chill was crazy. I had to wrap myself up in my waterproof jacket and cursed myself for not bringing a beanie hat. However, the time on the island was sunny and pleasant. Be prepared for everything, really!
2. Bring a packed lunch
Unfortunately, there isn’t a café on the island. There is a gift shop that sells various Scottish sweets, but it’s probably not going to fill you up. I would recommend bringing a packed lunch with you. There are a handful of benches dotted around where you can sit down and eat lunch – we bought a little meal deal from a garage on the way.
3. Beware of the seagulls
It was nesting season when we were there which meant that, unfortunately, the area that you could on the island was a little limited. Don’t get me wrong, we tried! But when we tried to go beyond the abbey the seagulls all started shrieking and hovering above us like they were about to divebomb us – not my idea of fun. Be careful of the gulls.
To sum up
I started off this post by asking the question: Inchcolm Island – is it worth visiting? I hope I’ve showed you that there are lots of things to see and do on the island. For me, it’s the perfect day trip if you live nearby. And even if you’re only visiting for a few days, I’d say it’s well worth it.