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Last updated on March 20th, 2021
The Kelpies are two 30-metre high steel sculptures of horse heads that stand in a custom-built extension of the Forth and Clyde canal near Falkirk.
Review of The Kelpies
If you’ve ever driven along the M9 motorway you can’t have failed to see the two enormous metallic horse heads rising up from the side of the road close to where the motorway crosses the River Carron.
These 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 visit them at Helix Park.
It’s not quite accurate to say these sculptures are of Clydesdale horses though, rather that they were inspired by Scotland’s earliest form of heavy transport.
What the sculptures are actually showing are kelpies – mythical Scottish water horses that supposedly had the strength and endurance of ten normal horses – and I guess that’s a good analogy for the strength of Scotland’s heavy industry back when the giant horses used to pull their massive loads along those canals.
You’ll find more ideas for places to visit with my Central Scotland articles.
The Kelpie sculptures are huge things to stand under, towering a full 30 metres overhead and covered in steel plates that have a mesmerising sheen when the sun starts to fade. Floodlights play across the surface of the two horses and they almost appear to move if you catch them at the right angle.
The two sculptures stand in a custom-built extension of the Forth and Clyde canal near Falkirk and the 300-tonne artworks became a major tourist attraction after they went on public display in 2013.
Both heads can be walked around in just a few minutes but there are so many photo opportunities that you won’t really know where to begin.
You can wander around them on your own or you can book yourself onto a guided tour, with the tour allowing you to go inside the heads to marvel at the complexity of the construction work before heading over to the visitor centre for lunch in the café.
Although The Kelpies aren’t going to keep you busy all day – more like an hour – they can be combined with a visit to the nearby Helix Park to easily last a full afternoon, and because Stirling is nearby you can add them to a visit to the city too. I reckon that makes them totally worthy of your time if you’re ever in the area.
Things to do at The Kelpies
You can just walk around the site if you like but if you want a deeper understanding of the sculptures there’s a 30-minute guided tour that explains their history, how they were manufactured, and the significance that horses had to the industrial development of the region over the course of a hundred years.
The canals around the site are perfect for walks with the nearby Helix Park being particularly popular with tourists and locals alike. The Helix is an area of Falkirk that links 16 communities by a network of canals and includes a large area of urban parkland that plays host to a lagoon, lots of pathways, and several children’s play areas.
The entire area covers an impressive 860 acres of land and contains over 17 miles of cycleways and footpaths so if you’re stuck for something to do I’d say a visit there is recommended, especially if you’ve got your bike with you.
You can find out more about The Kelpies in my 1-Day Drive From Edinburgh Itinerary.
The history of The Kelpies
Completed in 2013, The Kelpies celebrate the lineage of the heavy horses that towed barges up and down Scottish canals for much of the 19th century.
In ancient Scottish mythology kelpies are sea horses that have the strength and stamina of ten normal horses, and it’s this quality that prompted artist Andy Scott to recreate them in steel to represent the power and endurance of Scotland’s waterways and heavy industry.
Prior to the creation of the main sculptures at Helix Park the artist created two miniature three-metre high versions in his studio so that any design flaws could be spotted before work started on the ‘real’ artworks. You can see two of these mini sculptures at The Kelpies sister site at The Falkirk Wheel.
Discover more places to visit with my Scottish Tourist Attractions Map.
- The Kelpies are stunning artworks and they’re much, much bigger than you might think from seeing them from the M9.
- Your camera trigger finger will go into overdrive, especially at night when the sculptures are lit up.
- The attraction is completely free to visit (unless you want the tour), although there’s a couple of on-site shops if you want mementoes and snacks.
My top tips
- You can take a guided tour around the kelpies which includes a description of the mythology behind the artworks and a look inside them – which is off-limits to everyone else.
- Take a walk through Helix Park after you’ve visited The Kelpies. The park is enormous and is perfect for letting the kids burn off some energy. There’s a play park in it too.
- If you want to see another nearby attraction that celebrates Scotland’s canals check out The Falkirk Wheel, or for something completely different head north across the Kincardine bridge to visit the historic village of Culross.
Things to do near The Kelpies
- Helix Park. The Helix, Falkirk, Grangemouth FK2 7ZT. 1-minute walk. Helix Park is a large recreation area outside Falkirk that features a network of cycleways, canal-side walkways, a large pond with water sports activities and a café.
- Callendar House. Callendar Rd, Falkirk FK1 1YR. 11-minute drive. 14th-century Scottish baronial country house complete with a working Georgian kitchen, a children’s play park, picnic area, permanent exhibitions and a tearoom. The grounds include part of the Antonine Wall.
- Falkirk. 8-minute drive. Falkirk is a large town in central Scotland that offers a wide variety of shops, pubs and restaurants in a traditional high street. There are a number of historic landmarks in the town centre including the Falkirk Steeple and the Tattie Kirk as well as two modern shopping centres – Howgate and Callendar.
- The Falkirk Wheel. Lime Rd, Falkirk FK1 4RS. 13-minute drive. An innovative rotating boat lift that connects the Forth and Clyde canals. Visitors can ride the lift and learn how it was made in the visitor centre. The nearby Scottish Segway Centre offers off-road tours to a Roman fortress.
- Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre. Glasgow Road, Whins Of Milton, Stirling FK7 0LJ. 16-minute drive. Visitor centre with interactive exhibits that depict the famous battle of 1314. Learn about Robert the Bruce before seeing the actual battlefield. Café and gift shop on site.
Address and map
- From Edinburgh – take the M9 towards Stirling, exit at Junction 5 for Falkirk/Grangemouth and then follow the brown tourism signs to ‘Helix park and Kelpies’
- From Glasgow – take the M80 towards Stirling, exit at Junction 8 for M876 and join M9, exit at Junction 6 for Falkirk/Grangemouth and then follow the brown tourism signs to ‘Helix park and Kelpies’.
Tickets and opening times
Visiting The Kelpies and Helix Park is free.
Within the Helix the first car park is free of charge. Charges apply in the second car park, which is situated closer to the Kelpies. The charging period operates from April to October inclusive: 10am – 8pm. From 23rd October to Thursday 29th March there is no charge for this car park.
PLEASE NOTE: The Kelpies car park is closed between 8pm and 8am from October through to March (inclusive). The first car park will remain open for visitors at all times. The distance from the first car park to The kelpies is 0.8km.
- Telephone: 01324 590600
- Website: The Helix
Photos and video
More places to visit in Central Scotland
- Loch Leven – Kinross: Complete Visitor GuideLoch 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 in fact, it’s home to more breeding ducks than anywhere else in Europe.
- Culross – Fife: Complete Visitor GuideThe historic village of Culross is situated on the banks of the Firth of Forth where it overlooks the petrochemical works of Grangemouth to the south and the Longannet power station to the west.
- Ben Lawers – Perth & Kinross: Complete Visitor GuideScotland’s 10th-highest Munro is one of Central Scotland’s most popular tourist hotspots, famed not only for the fantastic walks to the massif summit but also for the wonderful views visitors get to enjoy along the way.
- Schiehallion Mountain – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideSchiehallion mountain lies between Loch’s Tay, Rannoch, and Tummel roughly 10 miles north-west of Aberfeldy in Perthshire, and it’s renowned amongst Scotland’s hillwalkers as being one of the easiest Munro’s to ‘bag’ in the country.
- The Hermitage Forest – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideThere are over 200,000 acres of woodland in Perthshire so you’re pretty much spoilt for choice if you ever visit the region and fancy taking a walk, but in my opinion one of the best forests is Tay Forest Park, home of The Hermitage.