Canals in Scotland

Shake up your holiday plans this year and opt for an unforgettable canal boat holiday. The romance of canal cruising is timeless, and Scotland offers some of the best canal holidays in the world. Whether you’re after a tranquil escape for the weekend or an active week’s holiday, Scotland has 137 miles of navigable waterways to choose from, with crossing tunnels, aqueducts and swing bridge locks too.

  1. Caledonian Canal Inverness

    Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus where it joins Loch Ness.

    © Kenny Lam, VisitScotland. All rights reserved.

    Masterminded by Thomas Telford, the great Scottish engineer, the Caledonian Canal is considered by many to be one of the greatest waterways in the world.

    Constructed in the early 19th century to cut a new waterway right through the Highlands of Scotland, the canal runs from the Scottish east coast at Inverness to the west coast at Corpach near Fort William. Only one third of the entire length of the canal is man-made, while the rest is formed by various lochs, including Loch Lochy and Loch Ness. At the very heart of the canal is Neptune’s Staircase, a set of eight locks.

    Boating on the Caledonian Canal is unlike any other canal boat experience. It offers a unique way to see Scotland’s wilderness. Cruise sedately through the Great Glen, passing heather-clad hillsides, navigating beautiful lochs, and admiring ancient castles perched on the water’s edge.

    Distance: 60 miles, from Fort William to Inverness

    Places to see: Urquhart CastleCulloden BattlefieldClava CairnsBen Nevis DistilleryBen NevisThe Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition

  2. Forth & Clyde Canal Glasgow

    Stockingfield Bridge over the Forth & Clyde Canal, Glasgow

    The Forth & Clyde Canal was built between 1768 and 1790 and was designed by engineer John Smeaton. Crossing the Scottish Lowlands at the narrowest part, the canal provides a route for sea-going vessels between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth as an alternative to the long and dangerous journey around the north of Scotland.

    Explore the tranquil Forth & Clyde Canal, navigating through Scotland’s industrial heartland and vibrant green corridors. It follows a similar line to the Roman Antonine Wall, sections of which are still visible today. This historic route passes near the world-famous Kelpies, the largest equine sculptures in the world, and takes in the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift that is the only construction of its kind in the world. Watch this feat of modern engineering in action as it raises vessels bridging the 35 m (115 ft) vertical gap between the Forth & Clyde Canal and Union Canal – a truly impressive sight! 

    Distance: 35 miles, from Grangemouth to Bowling

    Places to see: The Antonine Wall, Falkirk WheelHelix Park and The Kelpies

  3. Union Canal Edinburgh

    Houseboats on The Union Canal by the Falkirk Wheel

    © VisitScotland / Kenny Lam

    The Union Canal was originally opened in 1822 and was designed by Scottish civil engineer Hugh Baird. At 32 miles long, it runs from Falkirk to Edinburgh and is Scotland's only contour canal, meaning it curves around the hills rather than taking a more direct route, which would involve the construction of many more locks to raise and lower canal boats.

    One of only two Lowland canals in Scotland, the Union Canal links Edinburgh with the Forth & Clyde Canal at Falkirk thereby providing a through route between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

    As you follow this magnificent waterway from Edinburgh, expect to relax, admire tranquil scenery, and take in super feats of Victorian engineering. You’ll cross the amazing Almond Aqueduct near the town of Ratho, over the River Almond, and the Avon Aqueduct – the second longest in Britain – which carries the canal over the River Avon near Linlithgow, till you link with the Forth & Clyde Canal at the Falkirk Wheel.

    Distance: 32 miles, from Falkirk to Edinburgh

    Places to see: The Falkirk WheelHelix Park and The KelpiesCallendar HouseLinlithgow Palace

  4. Crinan Canal Crinan

    The harbour at Crinan, Argyll

    © VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins

    The Crinan Canal is one of the shortest Scottish canals. At only 9 miles long, it traverses the Kintyre Peninsula from the village of Ardrishaig on Loch Gilp in the east to the Sound of Jura.

    It was designed by civil engineer John Reenie and completed in 1801 and provided an improved access between the industrialised region around Glasgow and the Western Isles, offering a safe transit route that avoids the long, arduous journey around the Mull of Kintyre. 

    The Crinan Canal has long been described as ‘Britain’s most beautiful shortcut’, and it’s easy to see why. It meanders through truly magnificent scenery of hills and mountains, offers miles of forest walks and cycle ways along the way, and passes many world-class heritage sites including Kilmartin Glen. 

    Did you know? Queen Victoria travelled through the Canal on her honeymoon which made a Crinan Canal trip a very popular Victorian pastime.

    Distance: 9 miles, from Crinan to Ardrishaig

    Places to see: Inveraray CastleMcCaig’s Tower, Kilmartin GlenDunadd Fort,  Corryvreckan Whirlpool,  Argyll Beaver Centre.

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