28 February 2023

Union Canal, Edinburgh

The Union Canal, Edinburgh
Image Credit: Visitscotland Kenny Lam

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.

  • Tip 1: Wear comfortable walking shoes

  • Tip 2: Plan in advance to make the most of this experience.

  • Tip 3: Capture your favourite spots and share with us using #ForeverEdinburgh

History of the canal

Image Credit: Visitscotland Kenny Lam

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 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.

Six 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, who provide cruises for those with additional needs, Linlithgow Union Canal Society and Marine Cruises.

Find out more information on boat trips on The Union Canal here

2. Try your hand at paddling

See the water from a different angle by trying your hand at kayaking, canoeing or stand-up paddle boarding. Bridge 8 Hub offer a range of water-based activities for both adults and children  – while their Paddle Café is ideally located for coffee and light bites whilst taking in the canal side atmosphere.

3. Explore on 2 wheels

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 2 hour cruise offers mouth-watering premium Scottish gins to sample as you cruise along the Union Canal.

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. Offering 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.

If the idea of a canal boat holiday appeals, but you don’t want to actually set sail, Four Sisters Boatel is permanently moored in Edinburgh’s Lochrin Basin. Available on a self-catering basis, there are two 4-star boats to choose from, both of which have been thoughtfully furnished, and are dog-friendly.

Find more boating holidays on the Union Canal see here

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

The Edinburgh Canal Festival

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.

The 2023 festival takes place on Saturday 17 June.

Prefer a day by the beach?

Edinburgh is blessed with Portobello’s pebbled shores and long promenade, check out what else you can do while ther

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