As a South Queensferry resident the question I mystifyingly often get asked by my fellow Scots is: “Which side of the bridges is that?”.

Perhaps this reflects that many dismiss the town as a place to bypass en route to Edinburgh proper. However, eschew the city centre’s festive delights and you’ll discover this royal burgh is deeply distinctive – the Battle of Britain erupted here, the fleet gathered for Jutland, and today a cobbled High Street tempts with fine venues for eating, drinking and merriment. And then there are those incomparable bridges.

Queensferry – we add the ‘South’ in a vain attempt to help locate us – is hard to cram into 1,500 words.  Or indeed 1,500 years. Human interest in this dramatic raised beach overlooking the Forth’s strategic narrows has deep roots. Indeed, it was well kent to prehistoric man. 
Did you know in 2012 when they were excavating for the Queensferry Crossing archaeologists unearthed the remains of a Mesolithic site thought to date back to around 10,000 years ago? This makes it the earliest dwelling so far uncovered in Scotland. Royal Burgh status came in 1636 and King George IV made Hopetoun House his last port of call in his triumphalist visit to Scotland in 1822. Hopetoun is Scotland’s Versailles, an equal to any country house in the UK.  And it is not alone, backed by stately Dalmeny House, waterfront Barnbougle Castle and rugged Dundas Castle. 

The Vikings and Romans have both left their mark, as did World War One. The Royal Navy set off from Queensferry to Jutland in 1916. Fittingly, two years later the German Fleet limped off to be scuttled in Scapa Flow from the same waters.  World War Two brought the first dogfight of the Battle of Britain after the Luftwaffe obeyed Hitler’s order not to risk the collateral damage of bombing a destroyer berthed in Rosyth.  Those were the relatively innocent days of the Phoney War.
Instead they attacked smaller ships at anchor, killing 16 sailors, with two Luftwaffe bombers despatched into the Forth in return. You can read all about it in the glorious free Queensferry Museum, which is also draped too in Covenanter intrigue and houses a full-size ‘Burry Man’. This hulking pagan figure still stalks the streets during the week-long Ferry Fair in August in a town where tradition still pulses palpably through the community’s veins.

The Herald:

Queensferry Museum offers remarkable views of that bridge, which is seared into the popular conscience of Scotland and is often the first word local kids say, if it’s not ‘train’. One of Scotland’s greatest ever writers missed it when he stayed at the Hawes Inn in 1886, immortalising the inn in his novel Kidnapped. Four years later this great iron leviathan soared from the Forth with irresistible Victorian confidence, a painful birth taking the lives of almost 100 workers.  The Forth Road Bridge followed in 1964, the largest suspension bridge outside North America, and the Queensferry Crossing, the world’s largest cable stayed bridge, in 2017.  In my travels to more than 100 countries I cannot think of anywhere with three such architecturally significant bridges from three successive centuries in such close proximity. However, South Queensferry is more than just the sum of its trio of spectacular bridges and that is why you should visit as more than a infrastructure voyeur. 
Those bridges have served to steer over-development away from what we affectionately know simply as ‘The Ferry’. 

For centuries Queensferry has been protected within the green belt artificially created by the three swathes of old money estates that surround the town, as the Forth guards the other flank. 
South Queensferry is no sleepy heritage village like Culross across the Forth, but it does revel in the same timewarp drama. There is the cobbled High Street, whose oldest house dates back to 1626 and swims, of course, in ghoulish tales. On one end of the High Steet stands the oldest still in use Carmelite church in the UK, overlooking ‘The Binks’, where Queen Margaret’s ferry gave pilgrims passage and Queensferry its name.

The Herald:

On the other end of the High Street is a wide reclaimed esplanade that oozes the romance of the days when Edinburghers first chugged in their embryonic motor vehicles at weekends. The High Street is no museum piece however. It is awash with pubs, cafés, restaurants and not one, but two hotels. There is a dog groomer, old style newsagent with sweetie jars in the window, a charity shop, artisan coffee roaster and – a huge draw – a brace of excellent ice cream parlours. 

There are chippies as well. Who can forget Falkirk’s finest songster Malcolm Middleton, evoking the romance of a simple Ferry tradition in his song No Modest Bear?
“We’ll go to the ferry and get some chips. And then I’ll kiss your salty lips.”
I did just that as a teenager but would have been shocked if you’d interrupted me to insist that one day I would live here.  After years wandering the globe as a travel writer it is in South Queensferry I’ve chosen to settle. As an adult, and now a father to two girls who know nothing but the Ferry as home, its charms are manifest.  That not every Scot hails its virtues is a constant surprise to me. And sometimes a blessed relief, as it can get quite busy on sunny summer weekends.
Further answering the charge of the Ferry just being about those bridges I’d throw in surely the most spectacular section of the John Muir Way, the sprawling Dalmeny Estate (which is open to all despite what the Roseberys sometimes suggest), the new six-mile signposted Forth Bridges Trail and Maid of the Forth boat trips. 

The Herald:

The latter’s east coast doon the watter experience slips you under the nigh holy bridge triumvirate before time ashore on the ‘Iona of the East’, Inchcolm. Swirl in views of Edinburgh’s skyline, seals and even cetaceans and it’s one of Scotland’s most essential boat trips.  If all that is not enough, a local friend of mine, uber architect Wil Tunnell, whose work has starred on Coll, Eigg and Grand Designs, is currently working with Network Rail on a new visitor experience for the UNESCO World Heritage listed Forth Bridge. 

There is talk of improved visitor facilities and even of bridge walks. Think walking the Sydney Harbour Bridge, just even more dramatic.  The Ferry is, after all, a deeply dramatic place, bridges or no bridges, not just somewhere indistinct to be flashed by. You’re all welcome – just don’t ask us which side of the bridge we’re on. 


Orocco Pier

This is an old inn that has been transformed into a swish boutique hotel right on the cobbled High Street. Make sure to check into a room with a view across the water to the Forth Bridges. Breakfasts are a hearty delight, best lingered over at a window table.

Hawes Inn

An historic inn underneath the Forth Bridge, this is where Robert Louis Stevenson famously wrote a chapter of Kidnapped. Stay in the room he slept in – or at least snare a Forth Bridge view.


As a local resident it’s quite difficult to see just why anyone would want to stay in a hotel next to a Tesco supermarket. However, the location is handy for parking and the top floors do have bridge views. A sleek jet black design hotel that feels a bit like a spaceship landed on the outskirts of South Queensferry; it is perennially popular.


The Boathouse

A cosy retreat in a characterful old building on the waterfront, this is run by accomplished chef Paul Steward. Seafood treats include king scallops laced with black pudding and truffle oil, or a whole grilled plaice in lemon butter.

Orocco Pier

A game changer when it opened in the early 2000s with the dynamic team transforming this old coaching inn. 

Can veer towards style over substance, but a recent revamp has lifted their Samphire restaurant. Antico is more international comfort food, enjoyed peering out floor to ceiling windows.


This large purpose-built space has transformed the old naval base at Port Edgar.  Show off with champagne and a seafood platter; a whopping porterhouse for meat lovers.  There is a vegan menu too. 

Or risk al fresco in their relaxed Outboard by the bobbing boats beneath the roar of the Forth Road Bridge.