Isle of May Boat Trips & Tours

Which are the best Isle of May boat trips to take to see the Isle of May puffins? Visit this fascinating island, just 5 miles off the coast of Fife- home to thousands of birds including the famous Isle of May puffins. It’s an easy day trip from Edinburgh – just a 35 minute train journey to North Berwick or an hour’s drive to Anstruther.

Visit the Isle of May for a close up view of Puffins

The Isle of May, a small island in the Firth of Forth, attracts thousands of nature enthusiasts each year. Home to the longest continuously running bird observatory in the UK, visitors are drawn to the island by its abundant birdlife and rugged scenery. If you want to see puffins near Edinburgh, the Isle of May is an easy day trip away. It is free to visit the Isle of May but you will need to take a boat trip to reach it. 

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the selection of Isle of May boat trips on offer, as well as take a closer look at what the island has to offer visitors. 

Why visit the Isle of May?

Home to the Isle of May puffins, the third largest Puffin colony in the UK, the island is a bird enthusiast’s paradise. It’s a nesting ground for puffins, and its rugged cliffs host colonies of razorbills, and guillemots during the breeding season. Seals bask on its shores, and the skies are alive with the calls of kittiwakes and the graceful flight of Arctic terns.

The Isle of May is also of interest to history buffs. It once had a religious significance and has twice been used as a monastic settlement mediaeval period – first in the 9th and secondly in the 12th centuries. The island has played a signficant role in Scotland’s maritime history, with the construction of the Stevenson Lighthouse in 1816 to guide ships along the dangerous eastern coastline.

For those seeking a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life, the Isle of May offers tranquillity amid breathtaking landscapes. Whether you’re strolling along the walking trails or gazing out over the cliffs, the island provides a serene escape into nature.

Getting there: take a boat trip to the Isle of May

There isn’t a public ferry to the Isle of May. You will need to take a boat tour or private charter. There are a number of different companies offering Isle of May boat trips and boat tours. Boats depart from either Anstruther, North Berwick or Dunbar and run most days during the period the island is open (April to September). However, booking is essential as this is a popular destination, especially during the summer months.

The Best Tours & Boat Trips to the Isle of May

The Isle of May Ferry

Anstruther Pleasure Cruises have been running boat trips to the Isle of May for over twenty years on their boat The May Princess. Licensed to carry 100 passengers, she sails from Anstruther virtually every day between 1st April to 30th September. The trip includes an on board commentary about the birds and the history of the Isle of May from the experienced Skipper and crew. There is a snack bar and toilets on board. 

This Isle of May boat trip takes around 4.5 to 5 hours in total, including 2.5 to 3 hours ashore. If the weather is favourable the May Princess will sail slowly round the Island giving you amazing views of the scenery and birdlife from the sea. 

Once a week during May and June there is a shorter boat trip around the Isle of May where you don’t go ashore. These trips are on the one day a week when NatureScot, who manage the island, carry out research and visitors are not allowed on the island. The ‘Sail Around Isle of May’ boat trip lasts 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Isle of May Princess

Isle of May Ferry Booking & Departures

The May Princess Boat Trips depart from Anstruther. Sailing times vary depending on the weather and tide so check departure times on the Anstruther Pleasure Cruises website. You can book online up to midnight before the next day’s departure. If it shows as fully booked contact the company by phone as they sometimes have late availability tickets on offer on the day of sailing. However in summer months Isle of May boat trips can get booked up weeks in advance so it is wise to plan well ahead. 

Isle of May Ferry Prices 

May Landing Trip (run daily): Adult, £38, Over 65s or students of 16 or 17 years, £33, Children between 3 and 15, £18, Under 3 years free.

Isle of May Sail Around (weekly, usually on a Tuesday) Adult, £28, Over 65s or students of 16 or 17 years, £24, Children between 3 and 15, £14, Under 3 years free.

Isle of May Boat Trips

For a more intimate experience, take a trip in one of the three Rigid Hull Inflatables (RHIBs) operated by Isle of May Boat Trips out of Anstruther Harbour. A RHIB is a small but very safe and stable vessel and perfect for the maritime conditions in this area. They seat 12 and are fitted with bench seats, with waterproofs available for passengers if needed. Skippers Rab, Stef, Simon and Roy offer a variety of options for your boat trip to the Isle of May. 

Isle of May Experience 

The crossing from Anstruther takes about twenty to thirty minutes, you then have a tour around the coast of the island and two and a half to three hours exploring the island. The trip in total is 4-4.5 hours long. The smaller size of these boats means you can get a bit closer in for the seaborne tour of the island, providing an amazing opportunity to get up close to the birdlife. 

Prices are £40 for Adults in low season, £45 in high. For children the prices are £30 and £35.

Sea Safari 

This is a non landing trip so you will view the island from the sea with commentary from the Skipper. This trip lasts about 1 hour 15 minutes and costs £36 for adults and £28 for children in high season, £30 and £23 respectively in low season. 

May Bass Photography Sessions

Wildlife photographers will love this non-landing cruise to two of the best seabird islands in Scotland. First, you will visit Bass Rock, home to the world’s largest colony of Northern Gannets where they use fish to attract birds close to the boat for amazing photographic opportunities. You then sail on to the Isle of May. Trips run weekly between May and September and cost £120.

The RHIBs are also available for private charters. Book online for any of the standard trips or contact the company directly for charters.

Scottish Seabird Centre

This conservation organisation offers a range of boat trips to various bird watching destinations from North Berwick harbour. The Isle of May boat trips are either landing or seaborne. The landing trip gives you 3 hours ashore with an optional short introductory tour from their guide. 

The Isle of May Round the Island trip is part of a longer 2 hour seafari that takes you around the Isle of May, to Craigleith and onto Bass Rock in a high speed RIB. The company advises that the high speed RIB trips are not suitable for anyone with back or neck problems and to wear warm and waterproof clothes (bring your own) even when the sun is shining. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult and no Under 7s are allowed. 

Adults: £45 Children (7 TO 16): £40

Isle of May boat trips

BlueWildNature Boat Tours

BlueWildNature Boat Tours are a small independent boat tour company who specialise in nature and other specialist subject tours including history, ornithology, and geology. They provide a variety of boat tours, including two to the Isle of May. Their wildlife-focused tours offer opportunities to spot seals, dolphins, and, of course, the abundant birdlife of the Isle of May. 

Leaving from Dunbar Harbour, the 5 hour Isle of May Landing Trip is the longest of the boat trips to the Isle of May on offer. It also takes in Bass Rock, home to the world’s largest colony of Northern Gannets. Accompanied by an expert guide, once you reach the Isle of May you then enjoy 3 hours on shore exploring the island before your return trip. There is also a shorter seaborne only trip to the two islands which takes 2.5 hours. Alternatively, take the Shipwrecks, History and Isle of May tour. This 5 hour boat trip has more of a focus on history, shipwrecks and sea battles, as well as taking in the island itself. 

Any tour can be taken as a private charter. Contact the company for prices.

BlueWildNature boat tour Isle of May

Sula Boat Trips

Departing from North Berwick Harbour, Sula Boat Trips offer 3 hour wildlife sightseeing tours to the Isle of May, passing close to the western cliffs with its colonies of seabirds. You can also spot the seals found along the eastern side. This is a seaborne only tour – you will not be able to disembark on the island. 

Seals Isle of May

Exploring the Isle of May

Wildlife watching

The Isle of May is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, boasting a rich diversity of species. Here are some of the captivating creatures you might encounter:

Puffins

The Isle of May is famed for its puffin colonies. The birds bond for life and there are over 80,000 of these little characters on the island. You can see puffins from April onwards but they are most active between June and August when they are feeding their young. 

Seals

The waters surrounding the Isle of May are home to both  grey seals and common seals. From late September their numbers swell. You can often see them basking on the rocks or curiously swimming up to the boats.

Whales and dolphins

Minke Whales are frequently seen in late summer and autumn, sometimes quite close to the island. Bottlenose and white-beaked dolphins are often seen from boat trips to the Isle of May although rarely from the island itself. 

Dolphins Isle of May

Guillemots

The cliffs of the Isle of May are alive with the bustling colonies of guillemots, the second most populous bird on the island. Guillemots don’t actually nest, both parents incubate a single egg on their feet as penguins do.

Kittiwakes

There are 6,500 pairs of kittiwakes who travel from Greenland, where they spend the winter, to nest on the cliffs. You’ll be able to hear their distinctive calls on an Isle of May boat trip. 

Arctic Terns

During the summer months, the Isle of May becomes a nesting ground for Arctic terns. 

The island also attracts passing migrating birds so you can sometimes spot rare species passing through.

Arctic tern Isle of May

Other points of interest

The Stevenson Lighthouse

Built in 1816, the Stevenson Lighthouse is an iconic landmark on the Isle of May built by the famous Scottish engineer, Robert Stephenson. On weekends you can take a guided tour of the Stevenson Lighthouse and delve into the maritime history that shaped the Isle of May.

Ruins of the mediaeval monastery

Soak up the atmosphere of the ruins of the monastery, once home to monks during the early Christian period.

The Visitor Centre

The Isle of May is a nature reserve and you can learn more about the Isle of May’s ecology and history at the visitor centre overlooking the main harbour. You can also find out more about the research carried out on the island.The research and reserve is managed by NatureScot. Visitors from boat trips to the Isle of May will be met by a representative of Nature Scot on disembarking to be briefed about the natural life of the island and steps tourists need to take to preserve its delicate ecosystem. 

Stevenson Lighthouse Isle of May

Where to Stay on the Isle of May

Keen ornithologists can stay in the observatory between the end of March and early November for up to a week, but will be expected to participate in observatory duties during their stay. These include keeping up the daily bird census and migration logs and recording of wildlife sightings.

The Isle of May doesn’t offer tourist accommodation. A boat trip to the Isle of May is an easy day trip from Edinburgh. However, if you want to stay nearby visitors can stay in nearby coastal towns like Anstruther, North Berwick, or Crail. There is a wide range of accommodation options, from cosy bed and breakfasts to seaside hotels.

Birdwatching on Isle of May

Travel Advice when visiting the Isle of May

Best Time to Visit

The best time for Isle of May boat trips is during the seabird breeding season, from April to July, when puffins, razorbills, and guillemots are most active.

What to Bring

Pack binoculars, a camera, sturdy walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing. The Scottish weather can be unpredictable, so it’s wise to be prepared for various conditions.

Top Tips for Visiting

Book Isle of May boat trips well in advance, especially during peak seasons. 

Be respectful of wildlife and follow any guidelines provided by NatureScot and boat trip tour operators.

Stick to the paths – puffins make their nests in burrows in the ground and it is easy to step in them and destroy the nest. The consequences of doing so are high – the puffins will spend the rest of the season rebuilding the nest and won’t have any offspring that year. 

Observe biosecurity measures before going onto the island – cleaning your shoes and boots and making sure you are not unwittingly bringing any bugs with you.

Big Sky Campers Campervans for Hire

Scotland

Big Sky Campers is based in Rosyth, just outside Edinburgh. If hiring a van from us, it is just a 1 hour drive to Anstruther and 1 hour 20 to North Berwick where Isle of May boat trips depart. All our campervans for hire come fully equipped with everything you will need for your road trip in Scotland. There are no hidden extras – everything is included in the price, including unlimited mileage, insurance for one driver, gas bottle, camping accessories, bedding, towels and extra sets of bedding if requested. 

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