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The 22-mile-long Water of Leith runs from the Pentland Hills through Edinburgh before reaching the North Sea at Leith.
A walkway follows the river for a large part of its journey through the city and visitors can join it at a number of points including the Water of Leith visitor centre and Stockbridge.
Discover this serene wildlife haven with this guide which features an overview and lots of visiting tips.
Discover more places to visit with the Ultimate Tourist Map of Scotland
About the Water of Leith
The Water of Leith winds over 22 miles from the Colzium Springs in the Pentland Hills to the district of Leith, and over the course of its journey it passes many famous landmarks and beauty spots.
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 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 it.
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.
Visiting 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 is very pretty 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 enjoy hot drinks when you return as well as stock up on supplies if you intend to head out from there.
This would also be an ideal time to acquaint yourself with the wildlife that lives near the water so that you know what to keep an eye out for. Through the thick woodland you can sometimes see roe deer, badgers and otters, while the river is home to 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.
Discover the history of Edinburgh in my article: Edinburgh – A Thousand Year story.
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.
Discover more places to visit in the Edinburgh with: The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
- You won’t believe there are so many riverside walks right in the heart of Edinburgh. They’re quiet too, and the only other people you’re likely to see are locals stretching their legs and city workers taking a shortcut.
- The Water of Leith is extraordinarily peaceful and it’s a great place to take a break from the city. There are lots of entrance points as well so you can enter/exit the walkway at several different places.
- The Water of Leith makes a lovely alternative to the busy streets of Edinburgh and it’s full of history as well as being very scenic. You can download audio tracks onto your phone to learn about the river as you follow it. Water of Leith Audio Trail.
- 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. Munching a sandwich while sitting on the riverside is much nicer than heading back into the city for an overpriced greasy burger. There are benches all along the walkway where you can take a break.
- Take a look at my Scottish Attractions Map to find other places worth visiting in the city.
Directions to the Water of Leith Visitor Centre
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.
24 Lanark Road,
Click map for directions
Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:
Edinburgh – 350 Explorer.
Edinburgh – 66 Landranger.
OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer Maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
Accommodation near the Water of Leith Visitor Centre
- Badjao B&B. 0.6 miles.
- Ardmillan Hotel. 1.3 miles.
- Best Western South Braid Hills Hotel. 1.4 miles.
- Twin Lions Hotel. 1.5 miles.
- Murrayfield Park Guest House. 1.5 miles.
FAQ’s about the Water of Leith visitor centre
Is the Water of Leith a canal?
The Water of Leith is a freshwater river that starts in the Pentland Hills and finishes at Leith in Edinburgh. The Water of Leith crosses under the Union Canal at the Slateford Aqueduct.
How many miles is the Water of Leith?
The Water of Leith is 22 miles (35 km) long. It starts at the Colzium Springs in the Pentland Hills and runs through Edinburgh to its exit point at Leith.
Can you walk the Water of Leith?
It is possible to walk for 12 miles along the Water of Leith on a designated pathway that begins in Balerno in the west of Edinburgh to Leith in the north-east.
How long does it take to walk the Water of Leith?
The following is a guide to walking the most popular sections of the Water of Leith:
Balerno to Slateford: 5 miles – 2 hours.
Slateford to Leith: 7.5 miles – 3 hours.
Roseburn to Stockbridge: approx 2 miles – 45 mins.
Stockbridge to Leith: approx 3.5 miles – 1 hour 20 mins.
More places to visit in Edinburgh
- The Union Canal in Edinburgh Visitor GuideThe Union Canal in Edinburgh opened in 1822 and was originally built to transport coal from Falkirk to the capital city, but it is now mainly used by leisure craft. The footpath and cycleway that runs alongside the Union Canal joins the Water of Leith. It is part of the Sustrans route 75 which ends in Gourock, 30 miles west of Glasgow.
- Scottish Parliament Building Visitor GuideThe Scottish Parliament Building is situated opposite Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. It is the seat of the Scottish Government and is open daily for guided tours. The building is a triumph of design but it has drawn a great deal of criticism over its cost which was more than ten times over the original budget. Learn this story of this fascinating building and find out how you can visit it in this complete guide.
- Scottish National Gallery Visitor GuideThe Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh is home to some of the world’s greatest artworks, as well as an extensive collection of Scottish masterpieces. The gallery is adjacent to the Royal Scottish Academy between East and West Princes Street Gardens where visitors can relax in a purpose-built restaurant and café with terrace seating. See all the highlights of this remarkable art gallery in this complete visitor guide.
- Lauriston Castle Visitor GuideLauriston Castle is a 16th and 19th century mansion house in Edinburgh that’s open for guided tours and walks around landscaped gardens. This historic attraction is managed by Museums & Galleries Edinburgh who maintain the sumptuous Edwardian decor that’s unchanged from the time the last owners moved out in the 1920s. Discover this hidden gem of a city attraction in this complete visitor guide.