You’ve got the kayak and the paddle, so now you just need the water space to get paddling! The UK is full of incredible destinations that are perfect for the ultimate kayaking adventures. And guess what? We have picked out the best of the best kayak locations in the United Kingdom to help inspire your next paddle.
Whether you are searching for the best whitewater rapids and rivers to run, or simply want a zen-filled cruise around a bay, you will be able to find a spot to suit you in the UK.
From dramatic coastlines to sweeping rivers. Raging rapids to tranquil bays. The UK is not limited in breathtaking kayaking places that can either challenge you or quite simply give you an escape from the land. Here are the top 21 best places to kayak in the UK so you can start planning your next kayak outing!
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Newquay, Lizard Point, Falmouth, Land’s End... These are just a few of the many gorgeous places to discover on Cornwall’s coastline. When you venture to England’s southernmost point, you may find yourself questioning if you are in fact still in the UK!
The coastline is rugged and dramatic with crystal clear azure waters that rival the Med in the summer months. Winter can be rough on the Atlantic coast, but crisp and mild on the western side making sea kayaking accessible all year round if wanted.
Our top recommendations on where to kayak in Cornwall are
Lee Valley Whitewater Centre is a purpose-built white-water slalom centre made to host the canoe slalom events of the London 2012 Olympic Games. So as you can imagine, this place means business! This is the closest kayaking location for dream adventures to London, making it extremely popular with landlocked paddlers.
This center offers two “types” of paddling:
As you can expect, lake paddling is suitable for all the family. The calm waters are ideal to learn the basics of paddling and get used to controlling a kayak. There are several rapid courses to choose from depending on ability. Can you conquer Olympic standard eddies and drops?
The River Tees carves through the North of England before reaching the North Sea at Middlesborough. It is a popular river for white water paddlers with stretches of ranging from a gentle grade 1 to a forceful grade 4. There are several launch sites along the way and you do not require a license to drop in on the river – ideal!
It runs through the North Pennine Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so prepare yourself for some beautiful scenery as you paddle. Also, keep your eyes peeled for seals sharing the waters with you. It is important to note, that some areas are designated for the pupping season and are not allowed to be paddled. Pupping season is typically late Fall to Winter months.
Possibly the most famous river in England, the Thames is at the heart of central London. You can kayak and also paddle board on the river, but only in certain sections:
Make note, you do need a licence to launch a vessel which must be carried with you whilst out on the water. Surely this is a bucket list place to kayak in England though! There are several operators that offer group activities that you can get involved with that will cover all licensing requirements.
Durdle Door is a stunning natural rock formation located on the Jurassic Coast, near Lulworth in Dorset. This coastline is dramatic and full of incredible places to discover that are all perfect for a kayak viewpoint.
Launch your kayak from Lulworth Cover and enjoy a gentle expedition to Durdle Door – approximately a 3-hour paddle. This is a perfect route for a sunny day with calm conditions. However, do be warned, Durdle Beach can get extremely busy with holidaymakers and tourists in the summer months.
The largest of the Channel Islands, Jersey is a beautiful destination known for its beaches, cliffside walking trails, inland valleys and historic castles. And kayaking Jersey’s beautiful waters is quite simply magical.
Jersey’s coastline offers hidden coves and opportunities to get up close with the native wildlife. You can stick to sheltered bays for gentle paddles or choose to venture further out to offshore reefs for a real adventure.
The Isle of Man is another breathtaking island located between Ireland and England. Its rugged coastline and rural landscape live and breathe adventure. While its most famous event on the calendar is The Isle of Man TT – a major annual cross-country motorcycle race around the island – the kayaking opportunities are also outstanding.
By sea kayak, you will be able to discover hidden places on the island that are only accessible from the water. The huge range of sandy beaches and easy-access slipways make most of the Isle of Man’s coastline accessible for keen kayakers.
Loch Ness is the largest freshwater loch (body of water) in the Scottish Highlands, extending 37 km between Inverness and Fort Agustus. There is something magical about this place that draws tourists in from far and wide, just on the off chance they may catch glimpse of Nessie.
The water holds an air of mystery over the surface. And the further you paddle, the more alluring it becomes. You can launch your kayak from either end of Loch Ness, or even find secluded beaches down the east shoreline to drop in. We highly recommend choosing a kayak for two people so you can share this magical experience with a buddy.
It is important to note the wind can pick up dramatically over Loch Ness, almost as if at the flick of a switch. Due to its sheer size, this loch can even make waves to navigate. So, be sure to check the forecast before heading out in your kayak.
Loch Lomond is another great loch in southern Scotland that makes up a huge part of The Trossachs National Park. This spot is a fabulous place to go for a kayaking holiday as well as hiking and other outdoor activities. There are a number of waterfront campsites and spaces for you to park up a van and enjoy the landscape.
Haven’t got your own kayaking gear with you? No problem. You can rent quality equipment from a number of outlets across the whole stretch of the loch.
The River Tay runs through the heart of Perth and into the North Sea on the east coast of Scotland. There are several places perfectly suitable for canoeing and kayaking on The Tay. It is a tidal river, so tandem paddling is recommended to make the experience easier and more novice-friendly.
There are sections of the river that offer more technically challenging navigation. The Tay carries the highest water flow in Scotland. So as you can imagine, there are plenty of grade 2-3 rapids to have some fun on!
From Killin and Loch Tay, you can make an extended expedition kayaking trip down the river. Pack all your camping gear onboard and have a paddle of a lifetime.
If you are looking for the ultimate sea kayaking experience in Scotland then the Outer Hebrides has to be the place for you! Sometimes referred to as the Western Isles, this island chain off the west coast of Scotland is rugged, remote, and utterly breathtaking.
With shimmering waters, endless white beaches, and a plethora of secluded islands to paddle around, this destination is a paddler's dream. You can return here, year after year, and have a new adventure each time. Here are some of the best paddles and trips you can enjoy from the Outer Hebrides:
The River Spey is one of the most scenic paddling routes that carves through Scotland. It is famous for salmon fishing and whiskey distillery trails. Other places of interest along the river include Aviemore, Grantown on Spey, Aberlour, and Fochabers, among others.
While paddling this river, keep your eyes open for some incredible views and wildlife:
For the most epic kayaking experience, launch from Newtonmore in the Cairngorm Mountains or Loch Inch by Kincraig. You then follow the flow of the water downstream to where it meets the North Sea at Spey Bay on the east coast of Scotland.
Scotland’s Caledonian Canal flows almost the width of the country, from Corpach (just north of Fort William) on the west coast, through the Great Glen, to Inverness on the east coast. Therefore, as you can imagine, there are plenty of places to enjoy a leisurely paddle along the way. In fact, this canal is part of the Great Glen Canoe Trail – one of the most iconic paddling routes in Scotland.
While Scotland has the ‘Right to Roam’ law (opening up natural spaces to adventure seekers), if you plan on paddling through the canal locks then a licence must be obtained from Scottish Canals.
The Findhorn River has something to offer everyone. However, if you are a whitewater kayaker looking for adventure, then this is the best place for you! The majority of the river is grade 3, but there are plenty of grade 4 sections to test your skills.
To conquer the upper section between Dulsie Bridge to Ardclach, you need approximately 3 hours. There is a convenient lay-by next to the bridge which is perfect to put into the water. You can then exit the river at Ardclach Church or Logie bridge (an extra 2km further down) if conditions are too snowy/icy.
Maybe kayak fishing is on your agenda. These incredible destinations found in Wales may just be the best places for you to sink your paddle and cast your line.
The Welsh Pembrokeshire Coast is a recognized National Park and loved for its pristine coastline and diverse marine life. Sea kayaking is a fantastic way to explore this part of South Wales. With over 200 miles of coastline, this region offers something for everyone regardless of skill level.
Main points of interest include:
You can stop to rest on secluded beaches, glide past seals and dolphins, venture into hidden caves, or give the surf a try. Whatever you decide to do, you are guaranteed to have an excellent kayak trip in Pembrokeshire!
The Brecon Promenade on the River Usk is a popular launch site for canoeing and kayaking that carves through this breathtaking area of outstanding natural beauty. It is free to launch onto this river. When levels are low then it is suitable for every level, however, when levels are high the river can be more challenging.
There are seasonal restrictions that can affect kayaking trips on the River Usk. The safest and most available time of year to paddle is during the winter months. This avoids any fishing or shooting seasons. But as we mentioned above, when levels are high, it is best left to the kayaking pros!
Similar to the River Usk, The River Wye is a hugely popular kayaking spot in Wales. This magnificent river flows through the Wye Valley, stretching 100 miles from Hay-on-Wye to the Bristol Channel. It can be paddled year-round and is perfect for touring. Beginner kayakers should aim to paddle the Wye during the summer when levels are low to avoid running into challenging sections.
There are several rental stores and tour operators in the area that have quality equipment for hire. You can also join group sessions if you want to share the experience and also get some guidance on paddling techniques.
The River Mawddach, also known as Afon Mawddach to native speakers, flows under the shadow of Snowdonia. One of the most highly recommended kayaking routes on this river is from Pont Aber-Geirw to Eden Confluence, a 9km paddle that can take anything from 1 hour to all day.
There are some pretty major hazards that you need to consider before launching your kayak into the Mawddach river:
Note: this is not a beginner’s spot, it is extremely remote and challenging.
The Lagan Valley Regional Park covers a whopping 4,200 acres. This area of outstanding beauty extends 11 miles along both sides of the River Lagan between Stranmillis, Belfast to Union Locks, Lisburn. It is safe to say you will be able to find a little corner of paradise to explore by kayak.
This destination is also within reach of Belfast City center, making it super accessible. There are kayak and paddle sports rental facilities within the park as well.
The Blackwater trail is a lazy meandering river which means it is suitable for just about everyone that wants to get out on the water. There is approximately 20 km of slow water between Armagh and Tyrone countryside which is wonderful to gently kayak down.
Families with young children and novice kayakers should head to the section just downstream of Blackwatertown. The slow-moving water is perfect for beginners. The section between Maydown Bridge and Blackwatertown offers a slightly more challenging experience with grade 2 rapids and low-hanging branches to navigate.
Ideally, you will paddle the river downstream and have transportation arranged to pick you up at the end.
The River Foyle is another fantastic recognized canoe trail in Ireland stretching 53 km before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. It is a wide tidal river that carves through beautiful countryside teeming with wildlife and loads of historical sights along the banks.
If you are into camping holidays, this is the place to check out with your kayak and tent. There are numerous wonderful riverside campsites that you can pitch up at throughout your expedition. It is important to remember the tides and winds, both of which have a serious impact on kayaking.
When heading out with a kayak, or any paddle sports for that matter, it is always good to stay within the regulations of wherever you are paddling. There are several rules across the UK to consider:
|England||The best thing to do is join the British Canoe Union. This will give you access to most of the rivers around England.|
|Scotland||Has the great land reform act, the same which is responsible for the “right to roam” and all that wild camping access also covers water too. Most waterways are open to all to enjoy! Some places require licenses to dock or if you want to use canal locks.|
|Wales||Similar to England, we recommend you join Canoe Wales to gain access to the majority of the waterways.|
|Northern Ireland||Same rules apply in NI as in Scotland. Hurray! Grab your paddle and get out there.|
When kayaking, you need to dress appropriately for the destination you are paddling in. This does not mean dressing for the air temperatures, but rather the water temperatures. Some of the mountain-fed rivers in North Wales and Scotland can be extremely fresh, even in the summer.
Here is a quick checklist of the gear you need to go kayaking in the UK:
The UK’s coast is open to everyone to enjoy except for a few Ministry of Defence-controlled areas. This includes estuaries and tidal rivers, even if they extend inland (good to remember when planning a trip to England or Wales). Rivers, canals, lakes, and other waterways in England or Wales often require special permission to paddle. Whereas, Scotland and Northern Ireland are more accessible with open land reform acts in place.
Licenses are required in both England and Wales for inland waters, but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Many kayakers join the British Canoe Union or Canoe Wales in order to require a license to cover all the waterways. If you decide to not join BCU or CW, you will have to purchase permits for each location individually.
The kayaking season starts in the autumn/Fall. This is when the rivers generally have enough water in them to make for interesting paddles without being too gnarly and hardcore. Also, the water temperatures are at their warmest.
However, there are plenty of opportunities for year-round kayaking. Sea kayaking is a favorite activity during the summer months for super calm conditions and the sun on your back.
As with any man-made place outdoors, you will be missing a main element from the activity. Saying that though, whitewater centers are fantastic for you to practice techniques and master skills in a safer environment.
The UK is home to many impressive rapids and rivers to run within the kayaking community. Wales boasts the majority of the best rapids in the UK. This is due to the mountainous landscape and amount of water flowing downstream over rugged terrain – perfect for challenging kayaking in the UK!
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