Author: Craig Neil
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Last updated on May 13th, 2023.5 minutes to read.
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.
1: You won’t believe there are so many riverside walks right in the heart of Edinburgh. They’re peaceful too, and the only other people you’re likely to see are locals stretching their legs and city workers taking a shortcut.
2: The Water of Leith is a great place to take a break from the city. There are lots of entrance points so you can enter/exit the walkway at several different places.
3: The Water of Leith makes a pleasant alternative to the busy streets of Edinburgh as it’s very scenic. You can even download audio tracks onto your phone to learn about the river as you follow it: Water of Leith Audio Trail.
1: Head to the Water of Leith visitor centre for lots of information about the routes you can take on this iconic Edinburgh walkway.
2: 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.
3: Take a look at the Scottish Attractions Map to find other places worth visiting in the city.
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.
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 southwest 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 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 was 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 Edinburgh with: The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
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.
Frequently asked questions
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 northeast.
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.