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The Out About Scotland complete guide to Inchcolm Island and Abbey
Category: Historic building, Historic site, Island, Military, Religious site
Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 9 out of 10
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 Rail 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 loads of wildlife along the way, with seals frequently seen taking a rest on the buoys bobbing about in the Forth and large colonies of seagulls and fulmars living on the outcrops of rock surrounding the harbour’s edge.
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 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 really well preserved (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.
Things to do at Inchcolm Island and Abbey
Inchcolm Island is located one mile from the Fire coastline near Aberdour 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 the return ferry takes you back to shore.
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 up to the top of the main tower for some fantatsic views across the Lothian and Fife coastlines.
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 the sea-birds lay their eggs on the ground thanks to there being no predators.
The island also features two lovely little beaches which have plenty of seating if you want to take a picnic with you, while 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.
What I liked about this attraction
- It’s a unique attraction located on an island near Edinburgh
- There are really good views across the Firth of Forth
- There’s plenty to see and do on the island to fill your 3-hour visit
My top 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
Address and directions map
The Maid of the Forth ferry to Inchcolm Island leaves from:
Hawes Pavillion, Hawes Pier, South Queensferry, Edinburgh, EH30 9TB
Prices and opening times
Special offer! Click this affiliate link to purchase a Historic Environment Scotland Explorer Pass from Viator. Your 5-day or 14-day pass allows free entry to more than 77 castles, cathedrals, distilleries and more throughout Scotland. With passes starting at just £35 (as of 2019) it’s an absolute bargain!
A ticket for the passenger ferry to the island must be bought separately. See the Maid of the Forth website or telephone +44 (0)131 331 5000 for further details.
Historic Environment Scotland ticket prices to visit the abbey are:
- Member/Explorer Pass holder: Free
- Adult: £6.00
- Child aged 5–15: £3.60
- Child under 5: Free
- Concession: £4.80
- 1 April to 30 September: Monday to Sunday, 9.30am to 5.30pm
- 1 to 31 October: Monday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm
- 1 November to 31 March: Closed
- Telephone: 01383 823 332 / 07836 265 146
- email: NA
- Website: Historic Scotland
Getting there: Ferry only
Getting around: Easy-access paths, Pushchair access
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Picnic area, Snacks, Toilets