2020 Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters

There are numerous events throughout the year celebrating this fact, but we’ve rounded up just some of the many activities you can enjoy any time. Come on in, the water’s lovely!

Open water swimming

One of the simplest things to do in the water is just wade in and swim! Obviously, you don’t need much in the way of equipment to do this (minimum requirement is a swimsuit!), but depending on where you choose to swim and when, you might want to kit yourself out with a wetsuit. A brightly coloured swim cap will be useful if there are boats in the vicinity, and you should always check whether it is safe to swim before entering the water. Open water swimming is becoming more popular, and it’s a good idea to join a local club.

The seaside resort of Portobello is not far from Edinburgh city centre, and is a popular and safe wild swimming spot. The Wild Ones is a local club that swim regularly here, and in lochs and rivers all over Scotland.


Scotland has some of the best surfing beaches in the world – don’t take our word for it, the European Surfing Championships use Thurso in the far north of Scotland, as the waves can be spectacular due to the unique currents there. However, if you’re just looking to get started with surfing, there are plenty of surf schools available.

Not far from Edinburgh is Coast to Coast – situated at Belhaven Bay near Dunbar. The bay is perfect for beginners, and wetsuits and boards are all provided in the cost of lessons. Further down the coast at Coldingham Bay is St Vedas Surf Shop where you can book surfing lessons or simply hire the equipment. The beach here is manned by RNLI lifeguards during the summer months.


This can take the form of canoeing on a loch or river, or kayaking in a whitewater environment or in the sea. Canoes are open crafts that you tend to paddle with a single oar. With kayaking you sit right inside (although there are sit-on versions too) and move yourself with a double-ended paddle. It’s great fun whatever you choose, and allows you to visit uninhabited islands or increase your adrenaline levels. There are plenty of clubs offering training, or companies providing guided tours. Spirit of the Spey organises group whisky tasting canoe trips down the River Spey, with hotel accommodation provided. If you prefer to rough it though, Clearwater Paddling, based in Barra in the western isles, has a great range of wild camping kayaking trips available.


Scuba diving requires experience, but you can always snorkel in some of the amazingly clear waters around Scotland. Many sites are of special interest and protected. Near to Edinburgh is St Abbs in the Scottish Borders region. Scuba diving trips operate on a daily basis from the tiny harbour there, and the marine life is incredible. Another option is a trip with Basking Shark Scotland on the west coast, where you can swim/snorkel with these magnificent creatures.


This activity involves clambering around a rocky coastline at sea level. Sometimes you may have to swim or leap into the sea, and you should be fairly fit. We have plenty of suitable spots in Scotland where you can coasteer – but you should always go as part of a group and with a trained guide. The Edinburgh-based Intrepidus Outdoors operate a great taster session at Shell Bay in Fife (about an hour from Edinburgh). Transport and technical kit is provided for you to safely enjoy the caves and coves. It’s an exhilarating day out.


If you’d rather stay dry, but still want to explore the waterways of Scotland, then why not try your hand at barging around the canal network? The Union Canal runs from Edinburgh to the famous Falkirk Wheel, and is a great introduction to this sedate way of travel. Or try the scenic 100km Crinan Canal in the highlands. Once an industrial lifeline, canals are now largely given over to leisure, and although you’ll still see some folks living on houseboats, it’s a great way to get from A to B. You can captain your own vessel or choose a cruise where someone else does the steering. Visit scottishcanals.co.uk for more information on boating holidays.  

For more ideas on how you can mess about on the water, see visitscotland.com/about/themed-years/coasts-waters

Note: to participate in these activities, you must be a competent swimmer. Always check that it is safe to enter the water. Covid-19: Please check with companies listed in advance.

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