Last updated on March 15th, 2020
The Out About Scotland complete guide to The Water of Leith in Edinburgh
Category: Forest or woodland, River, Walk or cycle route
Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 9 out of 10
About The Water of Leith
The Water of Leith winds over 22 miles from the Colzium Springs in the Pentland Hills to the heart of Edinburgh, and over the course of its journey it passes many famous landmarks that are linked with the city.
Visitors to Edinburgh might not be aware of the river but if you have a few days to explore the capital you’ll be well-rewarded by a walk on the many miles of serene pathways that run alongside it.
One of the most popular entry points is at Stockbridge – well known amongst Edinburgh locals for its cute gift shops and delicious bistros – and there’s a myriad of well-signposted paths that lead onto the riverside.
The entire Water of Leith walkway runs for an impressive 12 miles so if you want to follow the entire route you might consider hiring a bicycle, but walking on foot is probably the best way to experience the wildlife that can be found there.
The paths are many and varied, passing through thick woodland, old railway tracks, and disused tunnels and bridges, and the variety of wildlife will lead you to completely forget you’re in the middle of Scotland’s capital city.
Things to do at The Water of Leith
One of the benefits of having a walkway that runs through the heart of Edinburgh is that you can enter and exit it at dozens of locations up and down the river.
Good entry points are Dean Village (read my guide to Dean Village) where you can see the remains of watermills that once powered long-forgotten factories, and Bonnington, another interesting site for Edinburgh’s old industrial heritage.
But perhaps the best idea to plan your journey is to pick up a Water of Leith route map from any of the visitor information centres in the city centre and take a taxi or bus ride to your desired starting point.
While each section of the walkway is equally enjoyable they vary in length quite significantly, with the first section between Balerno and Slateford taking around two hours to complete and the last section between Stockbridge and Leith taking around half that time.
So decide on a suitable section to visit according to the amount of time you have before you set off.
I personally recommend walking the section from the visitor centre to Colinton which offers plenty of peaceful riverside sights and is easy to access from Lanark Road (see Google Maps for directions). You can find out more information about this walk in my complete guide to The Water of Leith walk to Colinton.
The visitor centre is open to the public near the Slateford Aqueduct in south-west Edinburgh and it’s a great place to start because you can either take in light refreshments at the end of your journey or stock up on supplies if you intend on heading out from there.
This would also be an ideal time to acquaint yourself with the wildlife that lives near the water so that you’ll know what to keep a watchful eye out for. Through the thick woodland you can sometimes see Roe deer, badgers and otters, while in the river there’s a wide range of fish including trout, eels, salmon, and even flounder.
Bird species range from kingfishers, woodpeckers, dippers and wagtails, and if you’re lucky you might even spot a heron standing perfectly still at the edge of the water as he tries to catch the small shoals of minnow and stickleback that swim through the clear waters.
The Water of Leith offers mile upon mile of lovely walks right in the heart of Edinburgh so if you’re after a little bit of quiet time I heartily recommend you give it a look for yourself.
The history of The Water of Leith
The river has been an integral part of the city since the earliest days of the industrial revolution when waterwheels were dotted along its length to power the mills that produced many of the goods that Edinburgh became famous for.
In fact, it could be argued that without the Water of Leith Edinburgh would not be the size it is today as much of the wealth created by the paper, flour, and linen factories were dependent on the power the river provided.
Taking this even further, it’s unlikely that Leith would have become the shipping powerhouse that it eventually developed into had the mouth of the river not provided a perfect natural harbour for ships to dock and unload their goods.
If you ever manage to walk the entire length of the walkway take note of the number of millstones, weirs, and ruined mill buildings that are dotted along its length as they give you some appreciation of the amount of industry that centred around the Water of Leith for hundreds of years.
What I liked about this attraction
- You won’t believe there are so many riverside walks right in the heart of Edinburgh
- It’s very peaceful and a great place to take a break from the city
- The visitor centre has lots of information about the river
My top tips
- Head to the Water of Leith visitor centre for lots of information about the routes you can take on this iconic Edinburgh walkway
- Take a packed lunch with you. You might be in the heart of Edinburgh but that doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to leave the route to find a shop
Photos and video
Address and map
The Water of Leith Visitor Centre is situated in a renovated schoolhouse by the Water of Leith at Lanark Road in Slateford, easily accessible 4 miles west of Edinburgh City Centre on the A70. Bus numbers 34 and 44 stop outside the Centre.
The Water of Leith Visitor Centre,
24 Lanark Road,
Tickets and opening times
There is no fee to visit the Water of Leith. The Water of Leith Visitors Centre is open every day, from 10.00am to 4.00pm, except between Christmas and New Year.
Getting there: Bus stop nearby
Getting around: Disabled access, Easy-access paths, Pushchair access
On-site conveniences: Dependent on location