The Forth Bridge is one of the most iconic structures of its kind in the world. Spanning 2,529 metres (8,296 ft) in length and standing over 100 metres above the Firth of Forth, this red railway bridge represents a seminal moment in the history of engineering.
Officially opened in 1890, the bridge is still an awe-inspiring sight more than 130 years on. Seen together with its majestic sister bridges, the ‘60s Forth Road Bridge and recently opened Queensferry Crossing, nowhere else in the world is the evolution of engineering more visible or spectacular.
- The main structure of the bridge contains over 50,000 tonnes of mild steel and is held together by over 6 million rivets.
Why You Should Visit
The Forth Bridge is a true feat of engineering which is renowned throughout the world for its technological ingenuity.
It was the first major engineering structure in the world to be built from mild steel, a more cost-effective and reliable material than its predecessor, Bessemer steel. This heralded a seminal shift in structural engineering that continues today – mild steel remains a dominant material in many construction projects. Even at the time of its construction it was hailed as an engineering wonder of the world and had already begun to attract tourists.
But what really sets it apart is its endurance. Built in the wake of the Tay Bridge Disaster, the elegance and strength of the bridge’s cantilever design helped instil a renewed sense of national pride, confidence and trust in Scottish infrastructure. Today, thanks to generations of painters, engineers and maintenance crews, the bridge remains in constant use despite its age.
Hop onboard one of the 200 train services which cross this vital transport link every day and savour one of the most exhilarating train journeys in in the world. Take in expansive views of the Firth of Forth as the train speeds along this resilient structure at up to 50 mph (80 km/h) without having to reduce its speed. Or simply admire it from the charming village of North Queensferry or the burgh of Queensferry in the south, alongside the equally impressive Forth Road Bridge and Queensferry Crossing.
The history of the Forth Bridge
The Forth Bridge was born out of one of the great engineering disasters of all time – the collapse of the Tay Bridge in 1879. Sir Thomas Bouch had many other great successes to his name, and had just begun work on the Forth Bridge when the disaster happened.
New designs were invited for the Forth Bridge, asking for a sense of strength and safety to help recover confidence lost by the recent disaster. The result was the extraordinary elegance and rigidity of the cantilever design by two English engineers, Benjamin Baker and John Fowler which used mild steel on an unprecedented scale. The Forth Bridge was regarded as an engineering wonder of the world even during its construction, and became a major visitor attraction in its own right.
Did you know?
The main contractor employed to build the Forth Bridge was Sir William Arrol of Glasgow, who also built the new Tay Bridge and erected Tower Bridge in London, all at the same time.
Around 6% of the steel used to build the Forth Bridge was recycled.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an urgent call for action of a global partnership of countries. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations works hand-in-hand with strategies to improve health and education, reduce inequality and encourage economic growth, alongside tackling climate change.
All of our UNESCO designations work towards the UN SDGs – this is looking at their work towards three in particular.
Good Health & Wellbeing
The Forth Bridge helps promote healthy travel and exercise.
The Forth Bridge provides digital education modules ‘GoForth’ which are available via Education Scotland’s Glow Connect platform to all schools in Scotland. It is an inspiring educational resource which offers particular relevance to STEM subjects.
Decent work & economic growth
The Forth Bridge, together with the neighbouring Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing, is a tourism destination close to Edinburgh which aspires to encourage sustainable tourism and benefit adjacent communities on both sides of the Forth.
Learn more about UNESCO
The Forth Bridge is one of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland. That’s quite the feat for such a compact country and testament to the richness of Scotland’s culture and history. The UNESCO network shines a spotlight on the Forth Bridge as a global marker of real innovation, as well as a symbol of how Scottish engineering helped to herald in the modern age around the world.
The Forth Bridge works through UNESCO to build sustainable relationships with other designations across the world, such as Geelong in Australia.
The Briggers by Elspeth Willis offers a fascinating insight into the human story behind the bridge. This was the name given to the thousands of men who built the bridge, and the book reveals what life was like for both them and the neighbouring communities at the time of the bridge’s construction.
When You Visit
There are many ways you can appreciate the much-beloved icon of Scotland. It’ll catch your eye from a number of places but you won’t really appreciate it until you stop for a good look, and try out a few different angles. One of the best vantage points to really appreciate the scale of the bridge is from either the picturesque town of Queensferry on the south side or across the bridge from the village of North Queensferry.
Best in class
The Forth Bridge Heritage Centre
Delve into the history of this incredible structure at this engrossing wee museum run by the North Queensferry Heritage Trust. Unearth a treasure trove of memorabilia relating to the bridge and its construction inside this former Victorian railway station waiting room.
Three Bridges Bus & Boat Tour
Starting from Edinburgh, this combined bus and boat tour takes you right through the city and out to Queensferry on a double-decker sightseeing bus. You’ll arrive at Hawes Pier where you can cruise with Forth Boat Tours for amazing views of the bridges. One ticket covers it all, or add in a landing at Inchcolm Island as well.
Support local businesses
Scotland's UNESCO Trail is an opportunity to explore the country in a sustainable and responsible way. Browse our Green Tourism businesses in the area including accommodation, attractions, tours and food & drink. These businesses are assessed in a range of criteria from energy efficiency to biodiversity and awarded bronze, silver or gold accreditation.
Read more about sustainable ways to explore and travel on Scotland's UNESCO Trail.
How to Visit
Whether you’re paying a visit to the Forth Bridge or are simply passing through either by car, train, bus or on foot, there are plenty of ways to reach it and explore the neighbouring regions of Edinburgh and The Lothians, and Fife. The easiest and more eco-friendly way to explore is using one of the regular public transport links which connect from Edinburgh. Walkers and cyclists can admire the bridge from the footway and cycleway on the Forth Road Bridge and the surrounding network of cycle and foot paths.
A great way to visit the bridge is to travel by train to either North Queensferry or Dalmeny, and then walk down to the Forth Bridge and view it from the waterfront. The view from both sides of the Firth of Forth is spectacular.
Find out more on getting to and around Edinburgh & The Lothians.
Find out more about getting to and around Fife.
Discover & Explore the UNESCO Sites of Central East Scotland
To arrive in the east of Scotland from most places in the UK, it’s a simple case of hopping on a train from the nearest station and arriving in Edinburgh Waverley Train Station. There’s also Edinburgh Airport with connections to international hubs across the UK and Europe. From here, reach Dundee by train, or make use of excellent rail, bus, and cycle networks to explore the wider region. Find practical advice and tips on getting around the cities and the region’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, attractions, accommodation, and places to eat.View Journey