Loch Leven is a large expanse of water situated in the rural Scottish county of Perth and Kinross. The National Nature Reserve is renowned for the number of wildfowl that live there 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 ospreys – and even the occasional white-tailed 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.
Review of Loch Leven
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 expanse of shallow water can be found on the eastern side of the M90 near Kinross, roughly 20 minutes north of Dunfermline.
You’ll no doubt see it from the motorway if you have to drive that stretch of road for the Edinburgh commute, but if you’ve never taken a detour to see the loch up close I seriously recommend you take a day off work to visit it.
From the motorway the loch appears a reasonable size but it’s not until you get there that you realize just how big it actually is.
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 that circles the water 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, and as the gravel surface is so well maintained it’s also totally accessible for wheelchair users and mobility scooters. High praise goes out to NatureScot (Scotland’s nature agency) for looking after it.
The heritage trail offers a very enjoyable day out if you’ve got a family in tow and it’s a great place to go cycling thanks to it being nice and level so even the tiniest legs will have no problems peddling along it.
The entire Loch Leven area has been designated as a national nature reserve due to the vast flocks of wild birds that live there throughout the year and you’ll find an RSPB centre on the southern edge a few miles east along the B9097.
There are good facilities at the RSPB Vane Farm visitor centre and they’ve thoughtfully installed an underpass so you’ll be able to cycle under the road to get to the loch, which is also one of the best places to whip out the binoculars and watch the flocks of waterfowl.
See my guide to recommended binoculars to use in Scotland.
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, but make sure you also keep an eye out for more unusual birds like lapwings, osprey and kingfishers, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of Britain’s biggest bird – the white-tailed sea eagle, also known as the flying door (when you see one you’ll understand why).
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 haunt for herds of roe deer.
Basically, I’d have to sum up Loch Leven as a wildlife-lovers paradise and even if you’re not much of a twitcher I still recommend taking a pair of binoculars with you as you never know what you’ll see in the distance as you make your way around the heritage trail.
If you would like to join a guided tour of Scotland’s lochs take a look at this selection from Get Your Guide.
Things to do at Loch Leven
There are two main entrances to the nature reserve with one being found on the southern end of Kinross and the other at the already-mentioned 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 the Historic Environment Scotland-managed Lochleven Castle.
Discover more Scottish castles in my guide to the 12 Best castles to Visit in Scotland.
The castle isn’t exactly the biggest historic attraction in the world but it sits in a stunning location on a small island almost in the middle of the loch and it’s definitely worth visiting to soak up the peaceful setting.
There’s actually quite a bit of history associated with the ruined tower house in the island’s centre and apparently it was visited by both Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots, with Queen Mary visiting it first as a guest and later as a prisoner 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 easily in the peak summer season it’s frequent enough that you won’t be left hanging around for ages before it returns.
If you’re not interested in the castle the Kinross entrance is a good gateway to the heritage trail with entrances leading in both directions from the car park.
There’s another car park on the edge of Kirkgate Park a hundred yards or so to the north which is probably the best place to head to if you’re intending to go into the water as the edge of the loch is just a short distance from the road.
Be aware that this particular section of the loch is very popular and in summer there are crowds of people all along the water’s edge (can’t really blame them) so if you want to reserve your space you’d best be prepared to get there early.
Alternatively, head to the slightly quieter RSPB visitor centre which has superb facilities including a gift shop, café and toilets and there’s also a kiosk to hire binoculars if you want to go wildlife spotting.
From the centre you can cross through the underpass and be on the heritage trail almost immediately with both directions offering stunning views.
If you’re short on time I recommend heading left in the direction of the large viewing platform which offers unparalleled views of the surrounding countryside but if you’d prefer to get straight onto the trail I suggest turning right as the scenery is a bit more varied with copices of thick woodland, gently flowing rivers and rolling fields.
Mid-way through the wooded areas 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 get a good look at. Check out the RSPB Loch Leven website for an overview of the visiting wildlife during each season.
As for 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 surprisingly 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.
- Both the Kinross and RSPB centres offer a nice place to sit back and relax with a cuppa in hand.
- The loch is absolutely stunning and the 13-mile cycle path offers a good few hours of pleasure for literally no cost. If you manage to get there on one of Scotland’s rare sunny days I guarantee you’ll have an absolute blast.
- If you’re a twitcher, Loch eleven is the place to be. The number of birds you’ll see flying in and out is spectacular and the RSPB facilities cater for all ages.
- Don’t forget your binoculars, but if you do you can always hire a pair from the Vane Farm visitor centre. Turn left to get to the wooden viewing shelter which offers arguably the best views in lowland Scotland.
- If you’re heading to Kirkgate Park with the intention of going out on the water take heed of the notices. You can’t go out there when it’s bird breeding season or at times when there’s blue-green algae in the water.
- Consider taking the boat trip out to Lochleven Castle. It’s a great way to pass a couple of hours and though it’s a bit pricey for basically a 10-minute boat ride you’ll get there for free with a Historic Environment Scotland membership (details further down this page).
Loch Leven National Nature Reserve,
The Pier, Kinross,
Click the map for directions
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near Loch Leven
- Loch Leven Heritage Trail. Surrounds Loch Leven. Accessible from all entrances. 13-mile walking and cycling trail that circles Loch Leven in a wide arc. Mostly flat and level gravel surface. Offers views across Loch Leven and Portmoak Moss nature reserve.
- Lochleven Castle. Located in Loch Leven. 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 who run 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.
- RSPB Loch Leven. 8-minute drive from Kirkgate Park. Café, shop and visitor centre for Loch Leven and the nature reserve. Offers educational displays and is a good starting point for a visit due to the off-road car park. Has an underpass allowing walking access to the loch from the B9097.
- Portmoak Moss nature reserve. Kinross KY13 9WF. 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.
More places to visit in Central Scotland
- The Scottish Deer Centre – Fife: Complete Visitor GuideSet in 55 acres of lovely Fife countryside, The Scottish Deer Centre is an animal conservation park that looks after 14 species of deer from around the world as well as wolves, otters, wildcats, and birds of prey.
- Scone Palace – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideScone Palace is widely recognised as one of the top tourist attractions in central Scotland, not only because It’s a genuinely interesting place to visit but also because it’s absolutely steeped in history.
- The Crieff Hydro – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe Crieff Hydro is a popular resort in the Perthshire countryside that offers a range of health-based activities as well as large grounds for walking and relaxation. The hotel boasts over 200 bedrooms and over 50 self-catering properties, as well as restaurants, cafes and bars.
- The Kelpies – Stirlingshire: Complete Visitor GuideThese equine marvels are Scotland’s celebration of a bygone era of horse-drawn barges that kept the nation’s industry going for well over a hundred years, and although Clydesdale’s (the breed of horse) are no longer a sight on the canals you can at least enjoy the spectacle of the world’s biggest horse sculptures when you go to visit them at Helix Park.
- The Enchanted Forest – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideSet in the beautiful Faskally Wood just north of Pitlochry, the Enchanted Forest is a spectacular outdoor experience that uses the dramatic background of the autumnal woods as the stage for an incredible light and sound extravaganza.