A visit to The Kelpies makes a great day trip from Edinburgh.
Located just 40 minutes away by car, or 1.5 hours by public transport, these unique sculptures are worth seeing as part of a trip to Falkirk or en-route to Stirling or the Highlands.
Standing 30 metres (100ft) tall and weighing 300 tonnes each, The Kelpies stand majestically above the lock and basin of the Forth & Clyde Canal.
The steel sculptures pay homage to the working horses of Scotland which used to pull barges along Scotland’s canals and worked in the fields in the area where they now stand.
The Kelpies sculptures are one of the best-known public artworks in Scotland, with millions of visitors since the site opened in 2013. They are also the largest public artworks in Scotland.
Head up, head down
The Kelpie sculptures are two massive horse heads, one facing up and one facing down. They were modeled on two real horses called Duke and Baron. They were Clydesdale horses, which is the breed of horse often used on canals.
Duke became the model for the ‘head-down’ Kelpie, while the slightly larger Baron modeled for the ‘head-up’ Kelpie. The sculptures are referred to as ‘Head up’ and ‘Head down‘.
What are Kelpies?
A Kelpie is a mythical creature of Scottish Legend. As shape-changing aquatic spirits, the Kelpies usually take the form of a horse but sometimes a human. Haunting rivers, streams and lochs, the Kelpies will use their beauty and allure for malevolent means.
Appearing as a tame horse, for instance, the Kelpie would attract children to ride it’s back, where it would then jump into the water and pull the children under and eat them.
Appearing as a beautiful young woman or a big hairy man, the being could then pray on unsuspecting travelers and drag them deep into the water for the same spooky fate.
The famous Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote about the Kelpie in ‘Address to the Deil’:
“…When thowes dissolve the snawy hoord
An’ float the jinglin’ icy boord
Then, water-kelpies haunt the foord
By your direction
And ‘nighted trav’llers are allur’d
To their destruction…”
The tale of the Kelpies was often told to young Scottish children by their parents as a way to encourage them to stay away from the water. Some were told that even if they got too close to the waters edge, the frightful Kelpies could jump out and grab them before pulling them back in, much like a crocodile praying on a water buffalo.
You can read more about the myth of the Kelpies here.
Located at The Helix complex, you can combine your trip with a lovely walk around the park. There are walking, running and cycling trails, plus the new canal extension which links the Forth & Clyde Canal to the North Sea.
There’s a Visitor Center on site opposite the Kelpies, with a shop, cafe and toliets, and an educational center where you can learn about the history of the area and how The Kelpies came to be.
It’s open all year round from 9:30am – 5pm, 7 days a week. However, you can see The Kelpies 24/7.
Tours of The Kelpies
The Kelpies are free to visit and admire from the outside, but if you want to go inside you need to book onto a tour.
The 30 minute guided walking tours take you inside The Kelpies and you’ll learn more about the vision of artist Andy Scott.
It costs £7.50 for each adult (kids go free and concessions are available) and you can book online or buy at the Visitor Center when you arrive.
In my opinion, admiring The Kelpies from the outside is a wonderful way to visit them. If you really want to see what it looks like from the inside, you can always peer in through the gaps in the steel panels!
If you visit The Kelpies at night, you can see them change colours. Light projects onto the Kelpies, which shifts through all colours of the rainbow.
If you can, it’s worth seeing them in both the night and day! If you can make your visit just before sunset, you’ll be able to see them in both lights.
How to get there
By car: The easiest way is by car. Take the M9 to Junction 6. Then you can follow the brown tourism signs. There’s plenty of parking (which used to be free up until 30th March 2019, so unfortunately now there is a charge – you can see how much here) all around the Helix – at the Helix Car Park or the Kelpies Car Park. From the car parks it is a short and pleasant walk to The Kelpies along the park paths. There is a charge for overnight parking at the Helix, and the Kelpies car park closes from 10pm-8am.
First Bus Number 2 bus for Bo’ness at Slammanan Road is approximately 2 minutes walk from the train station. This bus will stop on Falkirk Road opposite Falkirk Stadium (watch out for the pink bus stop). This stop is at the side entrance to the Helix Park and you can walk through the park to the Kelpies – this will take approx 20 minutes.
Alternatively you can get a bit closer by then getting the 28 bus to Falkirk/Alloa from the Falkirk Road stop and get off at Glensburgh Road before Kerse Bridge Grangemouth. From here it is an approx 8 minute walk to The Kelpies along the canal.
By bike: Bike & Go is available at the Falkirk High train station. You can rent a bike for £3.80 a day, and pick-up and drop-off at different stations. To cycle from Falkirk High to the Kelpies takes around 20 minutes.
From The Kelpies, you can cycle west to the Falkirk Wheel along the Forth & Clyde canal in 20 minutes. From the Falkirk Wheel, you can cycle east along the Union Canal to Linlithgow in just over 1 hour, or even Edinburgh in 2 hours 45 minutes.
Where to go next
Or visit on-route to Stirling, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs or the Highlands.