Water of Leith Visitor Centre interactive exhibtion

{Edinburgh} Water of Leith Visitor Centre

Today I have an Edinburgh hidden gem to share with you. I almost don’t want to share it, in case it becomes too popular and busy, but it’s just to good to keep to yourselves.

Water of Leith Visitor Centre

The Water of Leith is the main river running through Edinburgh, starting in the Pentlands Hills and flowing into the port of Leith and then into the sea via the Firth of Forth. It offers a variety of idyllic walking spots along its 13 mile route, and there’s a free audio trail you can listen to as you follow the river from Balerno to Leith.

Water of Leith Visitor Centre cafe

At the Slateford Aquaduct, where the Union Canal crosses the river, you’ll find the Water of Leith Visitor Centre, situated in a renovated schoolhouse. It combines a free exhibition with a cafe selling tea & coffee, soft drinks and snacks, and there’s a wee gift shop too.

Water of Leith Visitor Centre exhibition

The exhibition includes three zones. The information panels in the Heritage Zone, which surrounds the cafe area, describe the Water of Leith walkway, the river’s past, its bridges, its industry, and its people.

Whilst the Tall Panel Zone focuses on the wildlife – including birds, mammals, invertebrates, fish and plants – that share the river with us. Lift the flaps to find out how long a stretch of river a dipper requires, or learn about how long rubbish that humans leave behind takes to decay.

Water of Leith Visitor Centre interactive exhibtion

The absolute highlight, however, is the interactive zone. There are three large stainless steel models with water play activities that kids can play with:

Water of Leith Visitor Centre interactive exhibition

Try to stop the giant mill wheel from turning.

Build a damn with Lego bricks to stop the flood (though it’s more fun to cause a flood…)

Water of Leith Visitor Centre interactive exhibition

Control the sluices and see if you can get both wheels turning at the mill lades.

Water of Leith Visitor Centre interactive exhibition

There’s also the Call of the Wild Wall. Grab one of the nature phones, line them up with the right spots on the mural, and listen for the sights and sounds of the river bank.

Finally, get up close to the river’s creepy crawlies with the Video Bioscope – choose one of the sample slides with invertebrates you might find in the river, look at the specimens under the microscope and match them with the pictures on the chart, then add up your score to find out how clean the water is.

Water of Leith Visitor Centre interactive exhibition

In the corridor leading to the toilets, there’s also a lovely wee exhibit of wildlife photography, including the Otter Wall.

Water of Leith Visitor Centre otter wall

While the exhibition in the Water of Leith Visitor Centre may not be that big, it kept my 8 year old entertained for nearly two hours – interspersed with stopping to have his muffin and juice – on our recent visit. We live near the start of the Union Canal, so our favourite thing to do is walk along the canal to the Visitor Centre, which takes us around 40-45 minutes. Then spend some time at the Visitor Centre, get some coffee or juice and cake from the cafe, and play with the interactive exhibition. Then take the bus back home, which leaves from just outside. It’s a perfect trip for keeping little people entertained, and very cost effective too.

How to get there

Location: 24 Lanark Road, Edinburgh EH14 1TQ

On foot, the best way to get to the Visitor Centre is by walking along the Water of Leith or the Union Canal. It’s a perfect stop to refuel in the middle or end of a walk.

If you’re coming by bus, Lothian Buses 20, 34, 36 and 44 stop right outside, at the ‘Water of Leith Centre’ bus stop.

Good to know

Opening hours: The Visitor Centre and Cafe is open daily from 10am to 4pm.

Cost: Entry to the visitor centre and exhibition is free.

Website: www.waterofleith.org.uk/visitor-centre

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