It’s one of the most iconic landmarks in Scotland and recognisable all around the world – the Forth Rail Bridge. Once it used to be the only crossing over the Firth of Forth, the waterway north of Edinburgh but over the years a road bridge was built and more recently a third bridge spans the water, another road bridge! All 3 are a stunning sight!
I used to cross the middle bridge weekly as a child when we’d travel over to Edinburgh by car. I loved to see the red railway bridge as we drove past – it was always a huge treat and even more so if we spotted a train going over at the same time! Growing up nearby it was always a part of our history and we’d learn about it in school.
If you’re coming to visit Scotland and want to tick this bucket list bridge off then this post is for you. I’ll detail how to get there from Edinburgh, even if you don’t have a car.
About the Forth Bridges
If you’re planning to visit the bridges here’s a little bit of background to what’s there:
Forth Bridge (railway)
Completed in 1890, this is the one that you see on postcards and in guide books. It’s known as simply the Forth Bridge but with the others being built you’ll also hear it called the Forth Rail Bridge.
With the red colour looking resplendent against the water and the fabulous cantilever design, it’s a real sight to see. It’s one of many UNESCO heritage sites in Scotland and the UK and was a huge achievement in engineering from late Victorian times.
To this day it still carries trains across it and you can catch a train that will use the bridge.
Forth Road Bridge
The second bridge across this stretch of the Firth of Forth is the Forth Road Bridge which was opened in 1964. It’s a suspension bridge and at one point was one of the longest in the world.
Fun fact – my mum had a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on our wall as a child and it took me YEARS to realise it wasn’t the same one we crossed each week!
It used to be a toll crossing until 2008 when the tolls were scrapped. Nowadays it’s only used by buses, taxis, bikes and pedestrians – yes you can walk over the Forth Road Bridge! – as it was unable to handle the volume of traffic that the bridge was getting.
And that volume of traffic is what made the Queensferry Crossing a necessity. It’s a modern bridge, currently the tallest in Britain, that carries the bulk of the road traffic on the M90 from Fife to Lothian, and back again. It’s an impressive cable stayed structure and very different to each one before it.
Which side should you view the Forth Bridges from?
There are small towns on each side of the river – on the south shore you’ll find South Queensferry and on the north you’ll find North Queensferry.
The name of these villages comes from the fact that a ferry was used here in the 11th century to transport the then queen, Margaret, across the water. It was also the place where you’d use ferries until the bridges were built.
Having visited both sides over the years I’d say that both give really good views. If you can, and you have time, I recommend a visit to both sides. The towns are pretty, have some cafes and pubs to cater to you and you can learn all about the history of each area too.
Sample DIY day trip to the bridges
If you want to make your own way to the bridges and even include a short train ride across the iconic rail bridge here’s a sample itinerary for you.
- Train from Edinburgh to North Queensferry – takes 20 mins
- Explore village North Queensferry
- Walk towards Forth Road Bridge (middle one) and use footpath to cross over to South Queensferry
- Explore South Queensferry
- Optional – take a boat trip to get a unique view
- Return bus to Edinburgh – take number 43, Lothian Bus
How to get to the Forth Bridges
You can get the train from the centre of Edinburgh over the Forth Bridge and stopping in North Queensferry. The train goes from Waverley and also from Haymarket so you can pick it up from either of those, depending on where you are based in the capital.
The train takes just 20 minutes from the centre to just over the bridge. You can then get off and explore the village getting amazing views of all the bridges spanning the water.
Check Trainline for costs and to book tickets. It’s cheapest to get an off peak day return but you will be limited to which trains you can use so do check before booking.
There are a few bus options to get you from the centre of Edinburgh to the bridges. The easiest and most straight forward is the 43 by Lothian Buses which will take you to South Queensferry. It runs every 20 minutes, and every 30 minutes on Sundays.
Another idea for you if you wanted to combine a bus and a boat trip is the Hop on Hop off bus – they have an option that includes a boat trip and the bus takes you all the way to South Queensferry. Perfect if you also want to explore Edinburgh too.
If you have a car then it’s going to be really easy to explore the bridges from any side you wish. I still recommend parking up in either South or North Queensferry (or both if you have time) to get the views from there.
There is also a viewpoint just south of the Fort Road Bridge where you can park up for free and get a great vista of all three bridges.
If you just want to cross the new Queensferry Crossing then you need to be on the M90 motorway.
If, once you’ve arrived, the views just aren’t enough and you want something even more spectacular then I suggest a boat trip that will take you right under the bridges and give you the most amazing views.
The Maid of the Forth and Forth Boat Tours run 1.5 hour long sightseeing cruises daily where you’ll also see wildlife, some of the small islands and of course, the bridges! If you have more time they do other options too.
- Maid of the Forth Sightseeing Tour
- Forth Boat Tour Three Bridges Boat trip
- Queensferry: Sightseeing cruise and Incholm Island landing
Finally, if you really don’t want the hassle of deciphering public transport, then a private tour could be the way to explore the Forth Bridges from Edinburgh. The good thing about doing it this way is that you can often incorporate some other sights that are nearby into your day too. It’s a good way to save time, hassle and get an experts commentary on what you’re seeing too.
Taxis can also do some local tours or just take you to the area that you want to visit so don’t discount them.
If you want to explore the bridges and villages around and combine it with a boat tour then this one that takes you direct from the centre of Edinburgh is worth checking out.