Loch Leven is a large freshwater loch in Perth and Kinross. This National Nature Reserve is renowned for its wildfowl, and it’s home to more breeding ducks than anywhere else in Europe.

Amongst the mixture of grassland and reed beds you’ll be able to spot otters, kingfishers, and osprey, as well as the occasional white-tailed sea eagle, while the 13-mile Loch Leven Heritage Trail that rings the loch allows walkers and cyclists to enjoy the area on a well-maintained gravel path.

Loch Leven
Address:Loch Leven National Nature Reserve,
The Pier, Kinross,
Kinross Shire,
KY13 8UF
Opening Hours:24/7
Admission Price:Free
Parking:Free on-site car parks
Contact:RSPB Loch Leven -
01577 862355
Facilities:RSPB Loch Leven -
Visitor centre, toilets, accessible toilets, baby changing, pushchair friendly, refreshments, picnic area, binocular hire, viewing point, nature trails, shop, educational facilities, play area
Photos:Virtual Tour
YouTube Video


If you’re in central Scotland and looking for a place to blow away the cobwebs, there can’t be many places nicer than Loch Leven. This vast loch lies on the eastern side of the M90 near Kinross, roughly 20 minutes north of Dunfermline.

As the largest body of shallow water in lowland Britain, Loch Leven offers a wide range of activities from swimming to kayaking, but the highlight is the 13-mile Loch Leven Heritage Trail which circles the loch in a wide, sweeping arc.

This man-made path is perfect for walking and cycling, and it’s wide enough for cyclists to pass each other with room to spare, plus it’s well maintained, so it’s also accessible for wheelchair users. Along the way, there are benches, picnic areas, and bird hides where you can stop to appreciate the landscape and wildlife.

The entire Loch Leven area has been designated as a national nature reserve due to the enormous flocks of wild birds that live there throughout the year, which is why you’ll find an RSPB centre on the southern edge of the loch on the B9097.

Loch Leven

There are good facilities at the RSPB Vane Farm visitor centre (postcode KY13 9LX), and they’ve thoughtfully installed an underpass so you’ll be able to cycle under the road, which is ideal for visitors with young children.

Seeing as it’s home to more breeding ducks than anywhere else in Europe, you’re more or less guaranteed to see Britain’s most popular feathered friends. You’ll also see more unusual birds like lapwings, osprey, and kingfishers, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Britain’s largest bird, the white-tailed sea eagle, AKA ‘the flying door’.

Surrounding Loch Leven is a varied habitat of thick grasses, willow beds, and marshland, so there’s every possibility you’ll also see otters on the hunt, and Vane Farm is a popular spot for herds of roe deer.

The other highlight of a visit is Lochleven Castle, which is accessible by a seasonal ferry service which allows visitors to explore the small island and the ruins of this mediaeval stronghold. The experience of taking the boat across the loch adds an atmospheric journey back in time, and once on the island, you can delve into the castle’s turbulent past through informative displays and the evocative ruins themselves.

Loch Leven

The Highlights

1: The loch is perhaps best known for its island-bound Loch Leven Castle, which holds a prominent place in Scottish history. This is where Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned in 1567 and forced to abdicate her throne before her dramatic escape a year later.

2: Walkers and cyclists can enjoy the Loch Leven Heritage Trail, a 13-mile path that circles the loch. The trail is well-maintained and suitable for all ages and abilities, whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll with the dog or a more vigorous bike ride.

3: The Loch is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, especially birdwatchers. Loch Leven National Nature Reserve, managed by NatureScot, is recognised as a site of international importance for waterfowl and migratory birds. The reserve has several bird hides and observation points, so it’s worth taking binoculars with you when you visit. You can also hire binoculars from the Vane Farm Visitor Centre.

Visiting Tips

1: The loch is easily accessible from major cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, making it a convenient day trip for those looking to escape the city and immerse themselves in nature. It’s one hour (29 miles) from the centre of Edinburgh or one hour and 15 minutes (45 miles) from the centre of Glasgow.

2: If you’re heading to Kirkgate Park (a public park on the west side of the loch) with the intention of going out on the water, take heed of the notices as you can’t go swimming or sailing when it’s bird breeding season or at times when there’s blue-green algae in the water.

3: Historic Environment Scotland is in charge of managing Loch Leven Castle, and it’s typically open from April to September. It’s a good idea to check the HES website for the most current information on opening times and to confirm that the castle is open on the day you plan to visit.

Loch Leven

Tourist Information

There are two main entrances to the nature reserve, one on the southern end of Kinross and the other at the Loch Leven visitor centre at Vane Farm. The Kinross entrance is the larger of the two, and it’s the location of the reserve office and also the boat jetty where you can take a trip over to Lochleven Castle.

The castle isn’t exactly the biggest historic attraction in the world, but it sits in a stunning location on a small island, and it’s definitely worth visiting to soak up the peaceful setting. There’s a lot of history associated with the castle as it played host to both Robert the Bruce and Mary, Queen of Scots, and it was also Mary’s prison before she escaped and was exiled to England in 1568.

The passenger boat leaves the pier throughout the day and takes just 10 minutes to sail to the island, so although it fills up quickly in the peak summer season, it’s frequent enough that you won’t be left hanging around for long before it returns.

There’s another car park on the edge of Kirkgate Park, a hundred yards to the north, which is probably the best place to head if you intend to go into the water as the edge of the loch is situated a short distance from the roadside. Be aware that this particular section of the loch is very popular, and in summer there are crowds of people along the water’s edge, so if you want to reserve your space, it’s best to get there early.

Loch Leven

Alternatively, head to the slightly quieter RSPB visitor centre which has good facilities including a gift shop, café, toilets, and a kiosk to hire binoculars if you want to go wildlife spotting. From the underpass behind the visitor centre, I recommend heading left to a large bird-watching platform, which offers superb views, and then doubling back to continue the trail in the opposite direction as the scenery is a bit more varied, with coppices of thick woodland, gently flowing rivers, and rolling fields.

Midway through the woodland, you’ll find some RSPB hides that look out across the wetlands, though it will depend on the time of year as to which bird species you’ll be able to see. Check out the RSPB Loch Leven website for an overview of the visiting wildlife during each season.

With regard to food and drinks, the main places to go are the Kinross and Vane Farm centres, so I’d head to either depending on where you are on the trail, but as a wee tip, you’ll also find a good farm shop, Loch Leven’s Larder, on the north-east side. Failing that, the bistro at the Kinross entrance is excellent, and the courtyard is a wonderful place to relax with a coffee while looking out across the water.

Loch Leven

Things to Do

Loch Leven Heritage Trail: Discover the beauty of nature by walking or cycling along this 13-mile trail which offers spectacular views of the loch and surrounding hills. The trail is wide, level, and almost entirely tarmacked, making it an ideal cycling destination for all abilities.

Lochleven Castle: Explore the historic Lochleven Castle, accessible only by boat from the jetty at Kinross Pier. Immerse yourself in the history of the castle where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in 1567. The castle, set on an island, offers a unique insight into Scottish history.

Birdwatching: Loch Leven is a National Nature Reserve and is home to a vast array of bird species, especially during the migration season. Visit RSPB Vane Farm for an extraordinary birdwatching experience, complete with hideouts and observation decks.

Fishing: Try your hand at fishing at Loch Leven. The loch is renowned for its brown trout and it has an angling history stretching back to Victorian times. Bank fishing is not permitted, only fly fishing from a boat, but Loch Leven Fisheries at Kinross Pier offers boat rentals for day and evening sessions during the summer months.

Loch Leven’s Larder: After a day of exploring, settle down for a delicious meal at Loch Leven’s Larder. This award-winning farm shop and restaurant has a menu featuring locally sourced produce as well as a farm shop and an artisan bakery.

Loch Leven

Things to Do Nearby

RSPB Loch Leven. 8-minute drive from Kirkgate Park.
Café, shop and visitor centre for the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve. One of the main places for Loch Leven parking, it features educational displays and an underpass allowing foot access from the B9097.

Loch Leven Heritage Trail. Loch Leven National Nature Reserve Kinross.
Accessible from all entrances. The 13-mile Loch Leven walk and cycle trail circles the loch from Kinross in the west towards the Lomond Hills Regional Park to the east. The route is a level gravel surface that’s ideal for prams and pushchairs. Offers views across Loch Leven and Portmoak Moss nature reserve.

Lochleven Castle. Located in Loch Leven. A 15-minute boat ride from Kirkgate Park.
14th-century tower house built on an island in Loch Leven. Was a prison for Mary Queen of Scots. Managed by Historic Environment Scotland which runs ferry trips to the island from the jetty in Kirkgate Park.

Burleigh Castle. Burleigh Rd, Milnathort, Kinross KY13 9GG. 8-minute drive from Kirkgate Park.
500-year-old 3-storey tower house managed by Historic Environment Scotland. Roofless, so the interior is open in summer only.

Portmoak Moss Nature Reserve. Kinross KY13 9WF. A 15-minute drive from Kirkgate Park.
Community-managed raised bog and woodland walk that is open to the public. Flat but rough trails so not suitable for cyclists or buggies.

Loch Leven Brewery. The Muirs, Kinross, KY13 8AS. A 4-minute drive from the Loch Leven jetty.
The Loch Leven Brewery specialises in quality craft beers that are brewed in-house at their plant in Kinross. Visitors can purchase beer from the on-site shop as well as sample specialist beers in the tap room.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you walk around Loch Leven?

It is possible to walk and cycle around Loch Leven on the 13-mile Heritage Trail that entirely circles the loch. The trail is composed of flat and level compacted gravel and dirt, with some sections of tarmac.

Is Loch Leven safe to swim in?

It is safe to swim in Loch Leven. However, visitors must observe any warning notices that may be in effect as there are occasional blooms of toxic blue-green algae.

Who was imprisoned in Loch Leven?

Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle on June 17, 1567, following the Battle of Carberry Hill near Edinburgh.
She escaped a year later with help from the son of her captor, after which she fled to England, never to return to Scotland again.

What visitor facilities are there at Loch Leven?

There are facilities at the Loch Leven pier entrance and RSPB Loch Leven. Both sites have toilets and food stalls. For the RSPB visitor centre, visit the RSPB facilities page for updated information.

Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.