Discover just some of the exciting ways you can explore and enjoy Scotland’s lochs, rivers, waterways and coastline.
This year Scotland is celebrating the coasts and waters that have shaped and enriched our nation. From sailing adventures and laidback cruises to floating hotels and incredible sea creatures, there’s simply no end to the unforgettable experiences you can have on Scotland’s waters and shorelines.
So, without further ado, here are some excellent ideas on how you can get involved in this special year. Whether it’s relaxing, getting active or discovering our rich marine life and maritime heritage we have something for everyone.
1. Set sail in Shetland
If you’ve ever dreamed of sailing the seas in a traditional wooden vessel powered by billowing sails you can aboard The Swan – a historic fishing boat from Shetland, which was built in 1900. Today, the boat is maintained by a local trust, which organises trips throughout the year around the Shetland and Hebridean Isles, and even as far as Norway.
Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or seafaring novice, you can join the crew aboard this small but sturdy vessel and explore far-flung islands like St Kilda and Mousa, the Caledonian Canal, traditional herring routes, and even Norwegian fjords.
2. Step on-board world-famous ships
If you don’t have the sea legs for a voyage aboard a tall ship, you can still walks the decks of the real thing on-board the Glenlee – the Tall Ship at Riverside. This three-masted barque launched way back in 1896 and is one of the most popular exhibits at the Riverside Museum. It is also one of only five sailing ships built on the Clyde that is still floating today.
3. Stay in a floating hotel
Berthed in Edinburgh’s Leith Docks, just a short distance from the Royal Yacht Britannia, the Fingal is a 237-foot ship that originally belonged to the Northern Lighthouse Board. Rescued from the scrapyard following its retirement 17 years ago, it has since been converted into a 23-room luxury hotel.
Carefully restored and completely refitted, its glamorous Art Deco and neoclassical interior boasts polished teak floors, original porthole windows, and a spiral staircase inspired by the Scottish lighthouses the Fingal was built to service. Cocktails can be enjoyed on the top deck while the restaurant boasts a menu showcasing the very best in Scottish ingredients.
4. Cruise the Crinan Canal
The nine mile-long Crinan Canal is described as ‘Britain’s most scenic shortcut’. Spanning Loch Fyne at Ardrishaig to the Sound of Jura at Crinan, it crosses the Kintyre peninsula, allowing boats to bypass the lengthy and sometimes hazardous journey around the Mull of Kintyre and the infamous Corryvrekan whirlpool.
Charter a sailboat or a vintage steamship and watch the glorious scenery unfold as you glide down the water. The parallel towpath is also well maintained and ideal for walking or cycling.
5. Follow the Hebridean Whale Trail
Scotland’s new Hebridean Whale Trail highlights places to spot these magnificent sea giants and other sea life, all set against a stunning coastal backdrop. From Cape Wrath to St Kilda, the waters of the Hebridean archipelago located off the west coast of Scotland are world-renowned for being cetacean-rich. Around a quarter of the world’s whale and dolphin species have been recorded here.
The trail highlights a whopping 33 sites where visitors and locals can look for whales, dolphins and porpoises from dry land, as well as places that were connected to Scotland’s former whale industry. As if that’s not enough, be sure to look out for a whole host of birdlife too. Watch gannets divebomb into the waves, bobbing puffins, and wading oystercatchers.
6. Practice paddle boarding
Scotland is fast becoming a renowned destination for stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). Best enjoyed on calm waters, this trendy sport is great for unwinding, strengthening your core, and taking in your natural surroundings.
One of the best places in the country to try paddle boarding is Perthshire, which offers a diverse array of locations. Newcomers can find their balance on gently flowing waterways including the rivers Isla and Earn, and the easy-going currents of the River Tay, before progressing to its more adventurous white-water rapids.
It’s also a unique way to explore Scotland’s urban environment. Explore regenerated post-industrial districts from a new angle while paddle boarding on the Lochrin Basin and around Edinburgh Quay. Other prime paddle boarding destinations include Loch Lomond, Oban and the Isle of Skye.
7. Discover the coast by rail
One of the best and most sustainable ways to admire Scotland’s coastline is by train. The Far North Line serves the least populated part of the British Mainland, departing from Inverness and terminating at Thurso and Wick. Much of the route runs along the coast, taking in the Dornoch Firth and the eastern fringe of Scotland’s far north, passing through the untouched marshland of Caithness’ ‘Flow Country’
Alternatively, The Kyle Line – which shares the first stage of its route with the Far North Line – boasts equally stunning views. This service travels from the Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast to Inverness on the north east. Highlights include the western edge of the Beauly Firth and the tranquil Loch Carron.
8. A bird’s eye view of Scotland’s coasts and waters
Take advantage of the UK’s only commercial seaplane tour operator, Loch Lomond Seaplanes, and view the beautiful west coast from the air. Hop on one of the many scheduled flights that take off from the pontoon in front of the Cameron House hotel on Loch Lomond or the Clyde, and enjoy an airborne spin above the beautiful Loch Lomond, the west coast and beyond.
Take in pristine views of some of the Scotland’s most magnificent bodies of water and coastal locations including Loch Fyne, Loch Goil, the islands of Arran and Mull, and the Mull of Kintyre.
9. Snorkel around Scotland
Scotland has trails for practically everything: whisky, driving, castles, cycling – you name it, we have it. Now, thanks to the Scottish Wildlife Trust, it has three dedicated snorkelling trails. Choose from three award-winning snorkel trails, which pinpoint exact spots where you can get up close to Scotland’s diverse marine life. Discover outstandingly beautiful sites on the Berwickshire coast in the south, the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, and the north west Highlands.
From miniscule sea anemones and rare sea urchins to pods of dolphins and – if you’re lucky – a rare sighting of the immense but harmless basking shark, discover a world of wonder beneath the waves that will astound you.