Guide to visiting the Falkirk Wheel – an engineering marvel in Central Scotland

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It’s got to be one of Scotland’s most interesting attractions and also one of the quirkiest Scottish landmarks – the Falkirk Wheel. If you’re looking for a guide to visiting the Falkirk Wheel when in Scotland then this post is for you.

Falkirk and the central belt of Scotland was my home for many years and we would visit the Falkirk Wheel quite a lot when it first opened. The area is fairly overlooked with visitors focusing on Glasgow and Edinburgh to either side and perhaps Stirling if they do explore. Alongside the Kelpies, which are also in Falkirk, the area is becoming more popular which is great to see!

The Falkirk Wheel is an amazing piece of engineering and well worth a visit if you can – it’s unlike anything else!

view of Falkirk Wheel and visitor centre in Scotland
Set on the outskirts of the town of Falkirk, the wheel is surrounded by lots of walks and countryside.

Where is the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland?

The Falkirk Wheel is situated on the west side of Falkirk in central Scotland. It’s almost equidistant between Edinburgh and Glasgow, less than 30 miles away, and so make a great day out from either city. Tack on a trip to the Kelpies too while you’re at it!

About the Falkirk Wheel – what on earth is it?

With it’s weird shape, it’s definitely not your classic piece of engineering design and many might be wondering what on earth the Falkirk Wheel actually is – it’s not a ferris wheel or a fairground ride, and really doesn’t even look like a wheel – what is it?

The Falkirk Wheel is actually a boat lift that rotates and connects two separate canals that are on different levels.

It connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal and allows people to travel in canal boats between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Something that hadn’t been able to be done since the 1930s.

Traditionally, in order to raise canals up a hill they would build a lock, or more likely a series of locks. This is how it was connected originally but it fell into disrepair. The Falkirk Wheel is a dramatic and different way to do this and, I think, a pretty awesome way too. Locks can be slow to pass through and this is a much quicker way.

It was designed and built at the turn of the millennium as part of many projects and it’s been quite a successful one, becoming a recognisable sight and tourist draw.

How does it work?

So, in very broad terms, a boat travels from the upper canal (The Union Canal) along the platform towards the rotating arm.

(This arm, incidentally, is supposed to be reminiscent of a Celtic spear head)

There is space in here for a canal boat or the tour boat to be placed in and there’s watertight doors that are shut. The arm starts to descend, bringing the boat to the lower level and to the Forth and Clyde canal.

This can also be reversed and you can travel the other way.

Is it free to visit the Falkirk Wheel?

Yes! The whole area around the Falkirk Wheel is free of charge to visit. You can enjoy the visitors centre, walk along the canals and watch the wheel in action all for free.

However, if you do want to make the most of the place and learn about the wheel and how it came about a trip on the boat that goes on the wheel is definitely recommended. This does come with a charge.

What can you do at the Falkirk Wheel?

The main attraction is, of course, the wheel itself and the boat rides that let you go on it (see below). They give you great views over the surrounding countryside and it’s really a one off experience. This is a unique attraction!

The visitor centre also allows you to learn more about the wheel and how it was built and the story behind it’s design.

A cafe and gift shop are also alongside the visitor centre. If you’ve brought your own food there’s ample places to eat around too with picnic benches and grassy areas.

The canals around provide walking opportunities and a chance to see some colourful boats up close. You could even choose to walk all the way to the Kelpies if you have time along their #wheel2Kelpies selfie walk.

If you’re traveling with kids then they can enjoy the adventure playground and there’s a new mini golf activity that’s just opened recently.

Canoeing, stand up paddle boarding and also boat hire is available. If you happen upon good weather then you’ll have a great time there.

tourist boat on the falkirk wheel
you can see the hills in the background – amazing views from the tourist boat

Can you go on the Falkirk Wheel?

Yes! Although the wheel is functional for those who are travelling along the canals, it’s other primary function is as a tourist site. They offer boat tours multiple times through the day.

The boat trips last one hour where you’ll be taken up to the upper canal and then back down again. You’ll also be told about how the wheel was built and some history behind it.

The boat trips cost:

  • £13.50 for adults
  • £8.00 for children (5-15 years old)
  • £12.00 for concessions (60+)
  • Under 5s go free

You can get tickets in advance here or you can buy on the day.

Are dogs allowed?

The whole area is dog friendly and you can, in theory, also take your dog on the boat trip. They don’t recommend this as the trip can be noisy, but in theory it’s allowed.

Dogs aren’t allowed in the cafe area.

How to get there

Car

Coming to visit the Falkirk Wheel by car is really easy. It’s located just off junction 1 of the M876 motorway and is well signposted – look out for the brown signs.

There’s a large car park next to the wheel which charges £3.50 for the whole day.

Just like at the Kelpies, if you’re travelling by motorhome or campervan you can also stay overnight – it’s currently £15 overnight and you have access to a toilet too on payment of a deposit for the key. Ask in the visitors centre.

Public Transport

If you’re looking to get here from Glasgow or Edinburgh by public transport then the train to Falkirk Grahamston station is probably best as it’s in the centre. It takes 35 mins from Edinburgh and just under an hour from Glasgow.

From the Falkirk train station you can get a bus to the Falkirk Wheel (take the number 6) or walk there. It’s around 2.5 miles and takes around 45 -60 mins.

For train times and to book tickets I always use Trainline which is a really easy to use website.

Tours

There are a couple of tours around that will incorporate a trip to the Falkirk Wheel amongst some other sight seeing in Central Scotland. They are a really good way to see a lot when you don’t have your own transport!

If you’re interested in a guided tour, check this one out:

Book your Scotland Vacation:

Check flights: Skyscanner
Book Car Rental: DiscoverCars
Book hotels: Booking.com
Book Vacation Rentals: VRBO.com

And don’t forget to pick up a guide book!

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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