Inchcolm Island and Abbey Visitor Guide

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The beautiful and historic Inchcolm Island is situated in the Firth of Forth just 6 miles from Edinburgh city centre. The island is home to a large abbey that’s known as the ‘Iona of the East’.

The abbey is managed by Historic Environment Scotland and can be visited by taking a ferry from the village of South Queensferry.

Inchcolm Island, Firth of Forth - Photo Slideshow

Discover more places to visit with the Ultimate Tourist Map of Scotland

About Inchcolm Island and Abbey

Inchcolm Island lies in the Firth of Forth just six miles from Edinburgh city centre and four miles east of the Forth Road bridge. Although relatively small at only 22 acres it has plenty of things to see and do and combined with the ferry trip from South Queensferry it’s a great family day out.

Getting to the island requires tourists to board a charter ferry that will take them on an enjoyable trip under the Forth bridges and along the estuary before arriving at the small harbour on the island.

A camera is an essential item to carry for the short journey as you’ll likely get to see lots of wildlife along the way, with seals frequently seen having a rest on the buoys bobbing about in the Forth and large colonies of seagulls, fulmars, and the occasional puffin living on the outcrops of rock surrounding the harbour’s edge.

Inchcolm Island

You’ll find the island is much bigger than you might be expecting after seeing it in the distance at South Queensferry and there’s more than enough activities to keep the family occupied for an entire afternoon once you get there.

While the ferry ride is good fun I have to admit the high point for me was exploring the eastern edge of the island which has left-over bunkers from WWII, but the abbey is a great place to wander around as well.

While some of it is in ruin there are lots of remaining sections that are in excellent condition, (surprisingly so for buildings that are nearly 800 years old) and it certainly deserves its title of Scotland’s best-preserved group of monastic buildings.

Inchcolm Island

Visiting Inchcolm Island and Abbey

Inchcolm Island is located one mile from the Fife coastline near Aberdour Castle and the only Historic Environment Scotland-approved way to get to it is by taking the Maid of The Forth ferry that departs from South Queensferry and gives you three hours on the island before taking you back to shore.

Unsurprisingly, the island has been given the nickname ‘the Iona of the East’ thanks to the 12th-century Inchcolm Abbey located in the central area.

This abbey was founded by King David I after his brother King Alexander I was forced to seek shelter there during a very stormy crossing of the Forth in 1123, and both its size and grandeur mean that today it’s considered one of the finest abbey buildings in Scotland.

The abbey is open to the public and visitors can walk through the rooms and corridors of the old building and can even climb to the top of the main tower for dazzling views across the Lothian and Fife coastlines.

Inchcolm Island

There are other historic buildings to see on the island as well, with fortifications from the Second World War covering much of the eastern area, while an underground ammunition tunnel dating from 1916 is also open to view.

The western section of Inchcolm Island consists of open grassland which is easy to walk across if you fancy doing a little bit of exploring, but be careful to watch where you step as sea-birds lay their eggs on the ground due to the lack of predators on the island.

Inchcolm also features two lovely little beaches which have plenty of seating if you want to take a picnic with you, and Historic Environment Scotland has a small gift shop and an informative visitor centre close by.

All in all, Inchcolm Island is a hidden gem that you should definitely visit if you’re in the Edinburgh or Fife coastal areas.

Find more attractions in the area with my Scottish Tourist Attractions Map.

Inchcolm Island

The highlights

  • The abbey is a unique attraction located on an island near Edinburgh. You don’t see that every day.
  • There are really good views across the Firth of Forth and the boat ride to the island is well worth the cost of the ticket.
  • Although the abbey is mostly in ruin there’s plenty to see and do on the island to fill your 3-hour visit.

Visiting tips

  • You have to pay extra for the boat trip in addition to the HES ticket but you can save on all HES tickets with an annual membership.
  • There’s no café on the island so stick a packed lunch in your bag.
  • Love the Firth of Forth’s islands and want to see more? Check out the Bass Rock (home to the world’s largest gannet colony) near North Berwick and Cramond Island near Edinburgh’s coastal village of Cramond.

Directions to Inchcolm Island

The Maid of the Forth ferry to Inchcolm Island leaves from:

Hawes Pavillion,
Hawes Pier,
South Queensferry,
EH30 9TB

Click map for directions

Google Map of inchcolm island scotland

Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:

Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy & Glenrothes South – 367 Explorer.

Edinburgh – 350 Explorer.

Edinburgh – 66 Landranger.

Falkirk & Linlithgow – 65 Landranger.

OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer Maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

Things to do near Inchcolm Island

  • Braefoot Bay. Burntisland KY3 0XR. A local coastal nature reserve that features a footpath around Dalgety Bay. The path is frequently used by mountain bikers as well as walkers. The bay is the nearest point to Inchcolm Island.
  • Silver Sands Beach. Firth of Forth, Burntisland KY3 0RQ. A golden-sand beach to the east of Aberdour. There is a path from the beach that closely follows the coastline to Burntisland.
  • Cullaloe Nature Reserve. B9157, Burntisland KY3 0LU. This nature reserve centres around a reclaimed reservoir that is a haven for birds including lapwings and sedge warblers. There are areas of wildflower meadows, marshland and willow scrub. There is also a wildlife viewing screen with wheelchair access.
  • Dalgety Bay. Dunfermline KY11 9TF. Coastal town near the Forth Road Bridge that is often overlooked by tourists. Dalgety Bay offers secluded and picturesque coastal walks and stunning views of the Firth of Forth. The town frequently wins the ‘Best Kept Small Town’ award.
  • Burntisland. Burntisland KY3 9DZ. This town is renowned for its award-winning natural harbour and wide open mudflats that attract a variety of seabirds when the tide retreats. At low tide it is possible – with care – to walk between Burntisland and Pettycur village.

Accommodation near Inchcolm Island

From South Queensferry centre:

  • Dakota Edinburgh. 0.1 miles.
  • The Queens. 0.5 miles.
  • Orocco Pier. 0.5 miles.
  • Innkeeper’s Lodge South Queensferry. 0.8 miles.
  • Double tree Hilton Queensferry Crossing. 2.1 miles.

FAQ’s about Inchcolm Island and Abbey

Who built Inchcolm Abbey?

Inchcolm Abbey was built by King David I after his brother King Alexander I took refuge there during a storm in 1123. Alexander vowed to build a monastery on the island but he died in 1124, leaving the task to his brother.

Are there toilets on Inchcolm Island?

There are public toilets on Inchcolm Island.

Who lives on Inchcolm?

Inchcolm island is inhabited between March and October by two Historic Environment Scotland staff members.
Over the course of its history, Inchcolm Island has been inhabited by Romans, medieval hermits, Augustinian monks, and soldiers during the first and second world wars.

How old is Inchcolm Abbey?

Inchcolm Abbey dates back to the 12th century. The abbey was built due to a promise made by King Alexander I when he was forced to shelter on the island during a storm in 1123.

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Inchcolm Island

By Craig Neil

Craig Neil is a travel writer and specialist 360° photographer from Edinburgh, Scotland. When he's not zooming around the country with his trusty camera in hand, he can usually be found working on the Out About Scotland website and Vartour virtual tours.