Forth Bridges Bus and Boat Tour: a wildlife, history and heritage adventure

I would always recommend that visitors to Edinburgh take one of the Edinburgh Bus Tours, the best way to explore the iconic sights and get your bearings around the city. The choice of journeys cover the Old and New Towns, the Castle, Royal Yacht Britannia, Museums and the Royal Botanic Garden to suit all ages and interests.

forth tour seal

A rather special travel experience is the Forth Bridges Bus and Boat Tour from Edinburgh to South Queensferry. From the Harbour, step on board the Forth Belle boat for a wildlife and sightseeing cruise around the Firth of Forth to Inchcolm Island.

This is certainly not just reserved for tourists and travellers – this is a fun trip for local residents around Edinburgh and perfect for families with children.

My friend Fiona and I took the opportunity of a warm sunny day last week, Tuesday 30 September, to experience this Bus and Boat Tour departing at 10.30am so that we could enjoy a good day out.

forth bridges bus

N.B. The Starting Point on St Andrew’s Square is not the same Bus Stop as for the other main Edinburgh tours, but across the Square beside Amarone Restaurant, near the corner with George Street.

There was quite a crowd of young international tourists queuing up for this tour, all rushing upstairs – unfortunately, it’s not Open Top as it was a lovely day.  The journey time is about 35 minutes to reach South Queensferry, the small town located between the two famous Forth Bridges. The Bus stops beside the Pier opposite Hawes Inn, which was used by Robert Louis Stevenson as the Admiral Benbow Inn in his novel, Treasure Island.

It was just a short walk down the Slipway (and be careful, it is slippy with mud after the tide goes out), to embark on the Forth Belle. It is well designed with benches at both bow and stern, as well as a spacious salon inside with long banquette seats and tables. Windows all round offer a fine view if you don’t wish to sit outside.


Downstairs the Belle Bar started doing a great trade in drinks, (coffee, wine, beer, coke and snacks), as we set off on our voyage. The Skipper gave a running commentary pointing out islands, Aristocratic Stately Homes, and stories of shipwrecks and sunken submarines.

And we saw many seabirds flying overhead and seals basking on the rocks.

Seals on the Forth

Seals on the Forth

Inchkeith Island was the setting for a bizarre social experiment. In 1493, King James I arranged for a deaf and dumb woman to live here with two infant children. It was hoped that when the children learnt to speak, free from normal human communication, they would reveal the original tongue – the language of the gods.

Fiona and I had both been avid Enid Blyton fans as young girls and this Boat trip was to be our own exciting Famous Five Adventure.  What kind of treasure would we find.?   We had packed a Picnic lunch with of course “lashings of Ginger Beer”.

As Anne and George (without Timmy the dog), on the half hour cruise our refreshments were Ginger Beer ….and Bucks Fizz!

Ginger Beer and Buck's Fizz on our cruise

Ginger Beer and Buck’s Fizz on our cruise

Day trippers on the Bus and Boat Tour have the option to stay on board and return to South Queensferry or disembark on the island of Inchcolm. Plenty to see and do here for an hour and a half until the next Boat arrives and then return to the shore.  Historic Scotland charge a landing fee (£ 5.50 /£3.30) for all visitors which pays for the island staff and the preservation of its ancient Abbey and natural environment.

It is certainly worth the ticket price to spend time on this hidden gem of a tiny island, rich in birdlife and wonderful sense of history. Inchcolm is called Iona of the East, due to its Religious heritage; in the early 12th century Augustinian canons settled here creating the Abbey, Cloister and Monastery.   There’s also a Hermit’s cave, the home of an islander, many centuries ago.

Inchcolm Abbey

Inchcolm Abbey and Monastery

See the old ovens where they probably baked bread and perhaps roasted chickens, and climb the narrow spiral staircase up to the battlements for views over to Fife and Edinburgh.

During the First and Second World Wars,  the island was a military base, heavily fortified to defend Rosyth Naval Base and the Forth Bridge against attack. The lookouts, tunnels and concrete bunkers can still be seen today.

Inchcolm has beautiful sandy beaches, rocky coves and benches around the Abbey gardens with well kept lawns and flower beds – so do bring a picnic as we did and experience the peace and tranquillity of this enchanting place.

Sea views from Inchcolm Island

Sea views from the top of the Abbey

Browse the gift shop and small museum featuring archeological artefacts and information on the island’s history. Then it will be time to walk back to the pier and board the Forth Belle when she comes back again.

The two famous Forth Bridges

The two famous Forth Bridges

The return cruise heads back to the Forth Bridge, on to the Forth Road Bridge and now with the chance to see the building of the Queensferry Crossing now under construction.

At South Queensferry, the Bus is waiting for passengers and we speed back to St Andrew’s Square. Having left Edinburgh at 10.30, it’s not nearly 4pm, by the time we arrive back. With lovely sunny weather, spotting seals and gannets, and exploring Inchcolm, it’s been a magical, memorable trip around the Forth.

Fiona and I certainly had a fabulous Famous Five Island Adventure – complete with our picnic of egg sandwiches and lashings of ginger beer.!

The Forth Bridges Bus and Boat Tour
April to the end of October. 2 – 4 tours daily depending on the day and season.
See timetable on brochures and website.

About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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