Dive into Scotland's Coasts and Waters

Scotland’s varied coastline and inland waters in both urban and rural settings provide a wealth of exciting leisure and adventure opportunities for you to enjoy all year round. In 2020, the country’s coasts and waters will be celebrated with a year-long programme of events that showcase the amazing array of aquatic things that you can see and do across Scotland.

Special events for 2020

Fraserburgh Beach, Scottish coast. Credit: VisitScotland/DiscoverFraserburgh/Damian Shields

A set of exciting events will put Scotland’s Coasts and Waters in the spotlight throughout the year. You can enjoy regular gems such as Crail Food Festival and the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy, as well as an expanded Clydebuilt Festival and The Fife Regatta. The Edinburgh International Film Festival will also run a special set of screenings called Scotland’s Shores, showcasing the nation’s spectacular coastal charms in addition to a special outdoor coastal experience.

Aberdeen’s position as a place to spot dolphins will be celebrated by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds at DolphinFest 2020, while National Theatre of Scotland is developing a production called Ferry Tales to celebrate Scotland’s waters and the journeys made across them. Scotland’s Boat Show and Kip Marina will also showcase ‘River of Light’, a special event featuring numerous illuminated boats in October 2020.

The country’s lochs, rivers and canals have helped to shape the nation’s history and the provide visitors with a wealth of experiences from boat trips and adventure sports to wildlife watching and diving with large marine creatures. In addition to the many events planned to celebrate the year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters, you can navigate around Scotland’s many isles and waterways, dive in to the country’s maritime heritage and embrace its waterways as part of a range of seasonal activities available for you to enjoy at different points throughout the year.

The Loch Ness 360 Trail

Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness. Credit: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Connecting the Great Glen Way with the South Loch Ness Trail, the Loch Ness 360° Trail is a new long-distance walking and cycling route around the striking Loch Ness landscape. Covering a distance of circa 80 miles, it will take you around six days to complete the trail, although the route can be split up into sections for more manageable experiences. Taking in the city of Inverness, as well as Drumnadrochit, Invermoriston, Fort Augustus, Foyers and Dores, there are numerous spectacular sights and stopping points along the way. For those wanting to discover more about the history of the loch and the surrounding highlands, guided tours and bike hire are available. Keep your eyes open for the splendour of Urquhart Castle and the Telford Bridge on-route, alongside the Falls of Foyers, where the water cascades 165ft down over the clifftop.

Water sports

With its unique mix of calm lochs, crashing waves and fast moving rapids in addition to more than 6,000 miles of coastline, Scotland’s waters are well-suited to an array of different water sports. Outdoor activity centres across the country offer you everything from gentle introductory lessons to the toughest challenges, meaning there is something to suit you, no matter your age or ability.

Diving and snorkelling

Churchill Barriers at Scapa Flow. Ships sunk during WWI. Credit: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Scotland’s Coasts and Waters are home to a wonderfully diverse set of marine life and numerous ship wrecks that are incredibly popular with divers. Nestled in the heart of the Orkney Islands, Scapa Flow is one of the largest sheltered anchorages in the world and is a graveyard of sunken ships. Explore the Sound of Mull with Lochaline or dive into the history of the Firth of Clyde on a Wreckspedition Dive Charter.  Whether you’re looking for day trips or even on-board accommodation on specialist dive boats, Scotland has a range of options to suit. The Puffin Dive Centre in Oban provides opportunities for beginners to discover the delights of scuba diving, while selected parts of the coasts of Berwickshire and the North West Highlands are designated snorkel trails where you can catch a glimpse of everything from sea squirts and anemones to dolphins and whales.

Kayaking and canoeing

Canoeing in Glen Affric, Scotland

As a paradise for paddlers, both the inland and sea waters of Scotland are packed full of opportunities to try out kayaking and canoeing. The River Tay has conditions to suit both beginners and advanced kayakers, with both tandem and single craft available from Outdoors Explore. Alternatively, you can get to grips with a paddle on Britain’s largest body of fresh water at Loch Lomond, ably supported by Wild By Nature. Scotland’s eclectic coastline boasts an abundance of caves, cliffs, tunnels and secluded beaches to explore as part of a sea kayak adventure too. A range of day trips and multi-day expeditions give you the chance to uncover new sights, paddle alongside local wildlife and take in the region’s spectacular geography. The Orkney Sea Kayaking Association can help you to discover Orkney’s famous Old Man of Hoy while the Scottish Sea Kayaking Trail is a challenging 500km voyage around the most scenic parts of the Highlands and Isles.

White water rafting

Whitewater Kayaking in the heart of Scotland.

The rivers of Scotland offer some of Britain’s most thrilling natural white water rafting experiences which can be enjoyed all year round, whether you’re a first time rafter or an adrenaline junkie. Calmer waters in the summer months are ideal for beginners, while challenging Grade 4 or 5 rafting follows the snow melts in early spring or periods of heavy rainfall. The River Findhorn in the Cairngorms National Park offers exceptional excitement and beautiful scenery, as the river drops 500ft over 18 miles. As one of Scotland’s last wild rivers, weather conditions often regulate which sections of the river can be used! The fast-flowing rapids of the River Tay are popular with thrill-seekers while scheduled dam releases on the River Garry near Fort William provide highly graded waters from April to October.

Canyoning and coasteering

Canyoning, Isle of Arran. Credit: VisitScotland/Paul Tomkins

From leaping from rock ledges into natural pools to exploring shorelines without a boat, Scotland’s Coast and Waters offer plenty of exhilarating canyoning, gorge-walking and coasteering experiences. The country’s glens, forests and rivers provide a natural playground for an adventure trip that can be enjoyed by all the family. With support from qualified instructors and high-quality kit, it’s a wonderful opportunity for you to see the coastline from a new perspective.

St Ninian’s Isle on Shetland

St Ninian's Isle, Shetland. Credit: Visit Scotland/Kenny Lam.

Venture across a spectacular natural sand pathway to discover St Ninian’s Isle. The vast tombolo – a bar of sand and shingle – is the largest active feature of this type in Britain, and it provides a walking route to discover the historic remains of St Ninian’s Chapel, once the home of a Pictish treasure hoard that is now housed in museums across Scotland. Make sure you glance out over the rocky islets of Coar Holm and Inns Holm to see nature in all its glory.

Dolphin spotting - Banffshire Coast and Moray Firth

Dolphins leaping out of the water in the Moray Firth, Scotland.

Known as the ‘Dolphin Coast’, the Banffshire Coast and Moray coast are renowned as being waters where you can see bottlenose dolphins in their natural environment. The colony of dolphins in the Moray Forth is the most northerly on earth and are among the biggest too, averaging nearly 4 metres in length. Chanonry Point near Fortrose and the imposing military fortification at Fort George are popular spots to spy on the dolphins from land, while chartered boat trips and wildlife cruises can take you on a memorable ride closer to the action.

Swim with basking sharks

Don’t miss your chance to swim with the second largest fish on the planet during the summer months, as basking sharks are regularly spotted in waters off the west coast of Scotland. The huge species, growing up to 10m long, are gentle, toothless creatures, meaning it’s possible to swim with them and a wide variety of other wildlife including dolphins and seals. Tours run from April to October, coinciding with the migration of the sharks to Scottish waters, and swimming, kayaking and snorkelling around the creatures is incredibly popular. Hotspots include around the coast of Oban, the Firth of Clyde and near the Isles of Coll, Canna and Tiree.

Isle of Jura

The Paps of Jura. Credit: VisitScotland/Paul Tomkins

Explore the wild Isle of Jura, home to an award-winning distillery, incredible mountains, a swirling whirlpool and a thriving population of around 6000 wild deer. Tours of the Jura Distillery reveal how the island’s natural elements have influenced the production process while the Corryvreckan Whirlpool is among the largest permanent whirlpools on earth. Boat trips to the surrounding waters run regularly, allowing you to hear the incredible roar of the water.

Dip in the Firth of Forth

Loony Dook. Credit: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

An annual custom since 1986, hundreds of people dive into the waters of the Firth of Forth in South Queensferry as part of Loony Dook – and you could be one of them! Often wearing fancy dress and all in the name of charity, the tradition to mark Hogmanay is viewed as a fresh way to start the new year. The name is an amalgamation of ‘Loony’ – short for lunatic – and ‘Dook’, a Scottish term for ‘dip’ or ‘bathe’. You’re welcome to take part in the custom or to cheer on the Dookers as they make their way down to the beach.

Surf the Atlantic

Surf on the shores of Caithness. Andrew Griffin expertly negotiating his way through a blue tube.

Scotland’s west coast features stunning scenery, rich cultural heritage and incredible surfing conditions as a result of strong prevailing south westerly winds. If you’re keen to try your hand in the waves, head to Thurso, on the northerly tip of the Scottish mainland, which is renowned for its waves, while the Isle of Tiree provides abundant surfing conditions and is home to the Tiree Wave Classic in October, one of Britain’s premier windsurfing competitions.

Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa

Fingal's Cave. Credit: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam.

Created some 60 million years ago by the same lava flows that were responsible for the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Fingal’s Cave is home to an incredible set of volcanic basalt columns. Found on the uninhabited island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides, the 69-metre-high cave has astonishing acoustics and can be viewed from cruise vessels in the summer months. The island is dominated by seabirds including guillemots, razorbills, gannets and great skuas, while puffins use it as a breeding site between May and August.

Up Helly Aa

Celebrated on the last Tuesday of January every year, Up Helly Aa involves a set of marches that culminates in a torch-lit procession and the burning of a galley. Held in the bustling seaport of Lerwick on the picturesque Shetland Isles, the celebration of the region’s Viking heritage is a superb spectacle as the fire festival lights up the night sky.

30 Jul 2019(last updated)