Edinburgh’s Union Canal

11 May 2022

Originally built to transport coal, today the Union Canal is a more peaceful location. Whether you choose to sail, cycle or walk along the 30 mile route, this historic trail is packed with adventure.

Running from Edinburgh Quay to meet the Forth & Clyde Canal at Falkirk, key landmarks along the route include the Avon, Almond and Slateford aqueducts, and the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first rotating boat lift.


The History of the Canal

Banksman On The Union Canal Capital Collection 1870(Image Credit: Capital Collection - Banksman on the Union Canal 1870)

The idea of building a canal that could quickly and conveniently transport coal from the west coast to Edinburgh was first developed in 1793.

By 1817, construction had been approved and in 1822 the Union Canal opened.

It ran successfully until 1842 when the rail link between Glasgow and Edinburgh reduced the canal’s usefulness and the stretch of water went into a period of decline, before closing in 1965.

After extensive renovation, in 2001 the Union Canal reopened as part of the £83.5m Millennium Link – the largest canal restorations anywhere in Britain. The following year, The Falkirk Wheel opened, reconnecting the Forth & Clyde and Union Canal for the first time in over 70 years.


6 ways to enjoy the Union Canal

From boat trips to a canal festival, there are plenty of ways you can experience this historic waterway for yourself…..

1. Book a boat trip

Set sail, relax and take in the passing views on a day trip aboard a canal boat. There are several companies offering excursions, including Seagull Trust Cruises  and Linlithgow Union Canal Society 


2. Try your hand at paddling

Stand Up Paddle Board At Bridge 8 Hub

See the water from a different angle by trying your hand at kayaking, canoeing or stand-up paddle boarding. Bridge 8 Hub offer both adult and children sessions.  The Paddle Cafe is ideally located for coffee and light bites whilst taking in the canal side atmosphere.


3. Explore on 2 wheels

Canal And Cyclist

Whether you choose to cycle the whole route or part of it, the canal towpath is open to cyclists.

Please remember to follow the safe cycling code


4. Go on a gin cruise

Love gin? Love cruising? Why not combine the two on a gin cruise! Setting sail from Fountainbridge, this is the perfect treat for gin lovers everywhere. Offered by Summerhall Drinks Lab, this two-hour cruise is packed with mouth-watering premium Scottish gins as you cruise along the Union Canal to the stunning backdrop of the Edinburgh viaduct, before returning to the city centre.


5. Stay longer on a cruising holiday

If one day on the water is simply not long enough, why not book a short stay on a specially modified narrowboat. This is a great way to explore the Scottish coast while enjoying laidback life on the waterways. Marine Cruises and Black Prince Holidays both offer this unique experience.


6. Take part in the Edinburgh Canal Festival and Raft Race

Edinburgh Canal Festival 736X330

From watersports taster sessions and musical acts to dance and face-painting, the Edinburgh Canal Festival and Raft Race offers a host of family-friendly activities at Edinburgh Quay and at various sites along the Union Canal.