By Craig Neil
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Table of Contents
- Tourist information
- Tourist map of Scotland
- Things to do nearby
- Frequently asked questions
The Union Canal is a 31-mile historic waterway in southeast Scotland that opened in 1822 as a transport link to bring coal from Falkirk into the heart of Edinburgh.
The canal saw a great deal of use over the course of 100 years but it eventually fell into decline following the arrival of the railways.
Today, visitors can walk along the former towpath that runs alongside the Union Canal on tarmac paths that are wide enough to accommodate cyclists. This path continues out past the city limits where it transitions to gravel tracks that offer enjoyable walks into the midst of open fields.
1: The Union Canal offers mile after mile of pleasant waterside walks right in the heart of Edinburgh. From Lochrin Basin it’s possible to walk or cycle as far as the city bypass before continuing onwards to Falkirk on well-maintained gravel tracks.
2: The Union Canal is a great way to experience Edinburgh’s wildlife, especially around the Water of Leith which heads out of the city into the Pentland Hills.
3: For a really long walk you can continue past Falkirk to the Forth and Clyde Canal which winds its way across to the other side of the country at Glasgow.
1: Trying to find parking spaces near the Union Canal can be rather hit-or-miss, so thankfully there’s a multi-story car park just a few minute’s walk from Lochrin basin at Edinburgh Quay (Address: 135-137 Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, EH3 9FF).
2: If leaving from Lochrin Basin on a return walk it’s best to pack drinks and snacks purchased from the nearby Tesco as there are no shops on the canal path.
The best option for food and public toilets is the Sainsbury’s and Asda supermarkets located near the crossing of the Water of Leith Visitor Centre (approx 2 miles from Lochrin Basin).
3: The section of the Union Canal inside the city bypass is nice enough but it gets rather busy, especially at the weekend.
Once you leave the city limits past Hermiston, however, the Union Canal footpath becomes much quieter and greener, with fields surrounding the canal for miles in all directions.
There’s a park-and-ride car park at Hermiston just a 5-minute walk from the canal.
The region between Glasgow and Edinburgh is one of the most populated parts of Scotland, where rolling fields are broken by a number of towns that are known more for their industrial complexes than their tourist attractions.
Driving between places like Livingston, Falkirk and Cumbernauld might not be at the top of many tourists’ must-visit lists, but with a little exploration it’s easy to find sights that rival any other south of the Highlands.
One gem that’s often missed by visitors is the Union Canal – a 31-mile waterway that scythes its way through the Lowlands from the Falkirk Wheel all the way to Lochrin Basin in Edinburgh.
The section in Edinburgh is a particular highlight as it offers 4.5 miles of scenic footpaths that take visitors to parts of the city they wouldn’t otherwise see.
Much of this footpath is wide and tarmacked so it’s suitable for cycling, and it’s also flat which means it’s easily traversed by wheelchair users and parents with pushchairs.
An alternative waterway in Edinburgh is, of course, the Water of Leith, but as scenic as that trail is there are several sections where the paths are rough, muddy, and narrow, making some sections difficult to navigate.
The Union Canal, meanwhile, is no more difficult to walk along than Prince’s Street, and it’s just as interesting thanks to its attractive mix of heritage and wildlife.
The Union Canal opened in 1822 as the main transport link for minerals between Falkirk and the capital, but it was abandoned in the 1960s after the railways became Scotland’s primary method of transporting coal.
With the introduction of the £78m Millennium Link project, the canal was completely renovated in the early 2000s and is now one of Edinburgh’s most-visited walkways.
Options for visiting the canal are endless, but as you can see in the wee virtual tour and photo slideshow at the start of this page, a rather nice option is to include it with a wander along the Water of Leith.
This route starts at Lanark Road near the City of Edinburgh bypass and joins the Water of Leith walkway near Sprylaw Park, before continuing on to Colinton Station Tunnel and the picturesque managed woodland of Colinton Dell.
The walkway arrives soon after at Lanark Road opposite the Water of Leith Visitor Centre, where it’s then possible to climb the steps to the Slateford Viaduct and the Union Canal which continues for another 2 miles to Lochrin Basin.
This is a highly recommended route that offers wildlife and attractive views right in the heart of Edinburgh on a route that’s just over 4 miles each way.
See the map below for an overview.
There are a number of points to join the Union Canal walkway, but perhaps the best option is to start at Lochrin Basin in Fountainbridge.
Originally, the Union Canal ran inland for another mile and ended at Port Hopetoun Basin on the junction of Semple Street and Lothian Road, but with the decline of the canal the last mile was filled in, hence the reason Lochrin Basin is the current endpoint.
This part of Edinburgh is a wee bit difficult to find if you’ve never been to the city before, so Google Maps will be your friend when it comes to finding it.
It’s not a long walk from the city centre though, and if you manage to make your way to the foot of Edinburgh Castle on Johnston terrace you can walk to Lochrin Basin in less than 15 minutes.
The first port of call will be the old Leamington Lift bridge that was built in 1906 and is still in use thanks to renovation work carried out as part of the Millenium Link project.
Keep your eyes open for information panels around the bridge that explain the history of the Union Canal and note the barge moored up near it which sells delicious fresh coffee and cakes.
Once past the bridge the canal continues towards the city bypass for 4 miles on a well-maintained path that threads its way between housing estates and business parks before opening up onto rolling fields once it reaches Hermiston.
This is the second-best option for walking the Union Canal footpath as there’s a park-and-ride car park less than a 5-minute walk from the canal where you can leave the car and head out either in the direction of Falkirk or back into the city to Lochrin Basin.
The highlight of the entire 31-mile trail is Falkirk, which is home to the incredible Falkirk Wheel. The wheel is the world’s largest rotating boat lift and was installed to join the Union Canal with the Firth and Clyde Canal.
The wheel has become a major tourist attraction in its own right and is now home to shops, restaurants, water play parks and adventure trails.
Alternatively, another interesting tourist attraction is The Kelpies which is the world’s largest horse sculpture situated 3.75 miles east on the Firth and Clyde Canal.
Once on the Forth and Clyde Canal you can – if you have the energy – follow it west all the way into Glasgow and beyond to its final destination on the River Clyde at Bowling Harbour, though be aware the entire route from Bowling to Edinburgh is an exhausting 66 miles.
Discover more places to visit in Edinburgh with: Things to Do in Edinburgh.
Tourist map of Scotland
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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.
Things to do nearby
From Lochrin Basin:
The Water of Leith Walkway. Damside, Edinburgh EH4 3BE. 19-minute walk. The Water of Leith is a river that starts in the Colzium Hills outside of Edinburgh and continues all the way to Leith.
The majority of the section inside the city has paved pathways alongside it that are suitable for use by all ages and abilities.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. 75 Belford Rd, Edinburgh EH4 3DR. 20-minute walk. This gallery is divided into two buildings – Modern One and Modern Two – and both feature a range of displays and exhibits by famous artists from the 20th and 21st centuries.
There are both free and paid exhibitions, most of which rotate exhibits throughout the year.
Fountain Park. 130 Dundee St, Edinburgh, EH11 1AF. 7-minute walk. A modern shopping mall and entertainment complex that sports a number of restaurants, a bowling alley, a casino, bars, a gym, a cinema, and a children’s soft play area.
The Meadows. Melville Dr, Edinburgh, EH9 1ND. 9-minute walk. The Meadows is one of the largest green spaces in Edinburgh.
This public park features a children’s play park, expansive lawn areas, sports pitches, and a cricket square. Events staged throughout the year include the Fringe Festival in August.
King’s Theatre. 2 Leven St, Edinburgh, EH3 9LQ. 7-minute walk. A historic theatre that first opened in 1906.
The King’s Theatre has seating for 2,500 people and features richly detailed plasterwork, an ornate painted ceiling, and an elaborately decorated foyer. The theatre is best known for its Christmas pantos.
Frequently asked questions
Where does the Union Canal start in Edinburgh?
The Union Canal start at Lochrin Basin in Edinburgh, close to the junction of Gardner’s Crescent and Fountainbridge.
Can you walk along the Union Canal?
It’s possible to walk along the Union Canal in Edinburgh via a tarmacked footpath that runs alongside it to the edge of the city. This footpath also joins the Water of Leith Walkway.
Between Edinburgh and Falkirk, the Union Canal footpath varies from tarmac to rough gravel.
From Falkirk, the Union Canal joins the Forth and Clyde Canal which continues on towards Glasgow. There is a tarmacked footpath that runs along the length of the Forth and Clyde Canal.
Why is it called the Union Canal?
The Union Canal was given its name to reflect its role, which was to provide a transport link between Scotland’s two major cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Who built the Union Canal?
The Union Canal was built by the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal Company. Construction started in 1817 and the canal officially opened in 1822. Following the construction of the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway in 1842, the Union Canal fell into decline and was closed to commercial traffic in 1933.