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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’.

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Review of 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
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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.

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Things to do at 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.

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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.

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

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

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

Click map for directions


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Things to do near Inchcolm Abbey

  • 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.

More places to visit in Central Scotland

  • Loch Leven – Kinross: Complete Visitor Guide
    Loch Leven is a large expanse of water situated in the rural Scottish county of Perth and Kinross. The National Nature Reserve is renowned for the number of wildfowl that live there and in fact, it’s home to more breeding ducks than anywhere else in Europe.
  • Culross – Fife: Complete Visitor Guide
    The historic village of Culross is situated on the banks of the Firth of Forth where it overlooks the petrochemical works of Grangemouth to the south and the Longannet power station to the west.
  • Ben Lawers – Perth & Kinross: Complete Visitor Guide
    Scotland’s 10th-highest Munro is one of Central Scotland’s most popular tourist hotspots, famed not only for the fantastic walks to the massif summit but also for the wonderful views visitors get to enjoy along the way.
  • Schiehallion Mountain – Perthshire: Complete Visitor Guide
    Schiehallion mountain lies between Loch’s Tay, Rannoch, and Tummel roughly 10 miles north-west of Aberfeldy in Perthshire, and it’s renowned amongst Scotland’s hillwalkers as being one of the easiest Munro’s to ‘bag’ in the country.
Inchcolm Island
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Scotland travel writer and specialist 360° photographer. Founder of the Out About Scotland travel website and Vartour virtual tours. Follow on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.