The best places in the world to learn how to kayak whitewater

From Hertfordshire to Uganda, here’s five of the best places to perfect your whitewater kayaking

From the outside whitewater kayaking can look like a sport purely for adrenaline junkies, but in fact it doesn’t have to be ‘extreme’ at all! There are few things in life as soulful as using the energy of moving water to flow serenely through a beautiful wild landscape. It’s like dancing with the river.

Dropping into Scotland's beautiful River Etive

Dropping into Scotland’s beautiful River Etive

But how and where can you learn whitewater kayaking? Assuming you’ve spent enough time in a kayak to paddle forwards in a straight line and confidently turn around, there’s nothing particularly mystical about moving onto whitewater – the skills are fundamentally the same, and a good coach should have you paddling grade 2-3 (grade 1 is flat water and grade 6 is as hard as it gets) within a couple of days. There are many places in the UK and abroad that are ideal for beginner kayakers, but you should choose carefully. You want gentle whitewater with the option to step up as you improve, and as few rocks as possible. If the water is warm and the weather good, well, that’s just a bonus! Here are Outdoor Adventure Guide’s top destinations:

Lee Valley Whitewater Centre, England

Lee Valley is an artificial whitewater course just north of London. It was built for the Olympics and the main course was the venue for the kayak slalom, but they also have a more mellow course known as the Legacy Loop.

High fives at Lee Valley

High fives at Lee Valley

Being man-made, the course is as safe as it gets – instead of rocks, plastic bollards are used to create whitewater features, and because the course flows in a loop you can’t get washed away downstream! The onsite kayak school runs a variety of courses suitable for total beginners right up to advanced freestyle kayakers, all within easy reach of the nation’s capital.

Aviemore, Scotland

Aviemore is well known as one of the UK’s outdoor adventure hotspots, so it should come as no surprise that it’s a great whitewater kayaking destination too! The river Spey is wide and deep with lots of small rapids to practise on, while the nearby river Findhorn has sections for all abilities depending on how quickly you progress! Glenmore Lodge is one of the premier kayak schools in the whole country, and boasts some of the UK’s best kayakers as coaches. There are plenty of apres river activities too, from hiking to sampling the local beer from the Cairngorm Brewery!

Tyrol, Austria

Tyrol is better known for skiing than kayaking, but when the snow melts the region’s lakes and rivers become the perfect alpine playground – there’s nothing better in the 30°C summer heat than some cool glacial meltwater! There are many great stretches of river for beginners, including the Inn, the Rosanna and the picturesque Lech, all with incredible alpine backdrops.


Kayak School Arlberg is owned and operated by Steve Brooks, one of the UK’s top kayakers known for his expeditions in the Himalaya. He runs courses specially for beginners, starting out on a lake and building up to full day adventures on the local rivers.

White Nile, Uganda

Yes, I’m serious! The Nile in Uganda is famed for its huge volume whitewater and epic surf waves, but it’s also warm, wide and deep. It’s best for slightly gung-ho types as the waves do get very big, but the rapids are actually some of the safest anywhere – there’s a total absence of rocks, so it’s almost impossible to get hurt. All the rapids quickly flow into big pools, so the worst case scenario is generally nothing more than an exciting swim!

If you’re feeling adventurous, Kayak the Nile offer a range of courses for beginner kayakers from NRE Camp near Jinja. You’ll start off learning the basics on Bujagali Lake (created by the latest dam on the Nile) before heading to some of the calmer whitewater sections and smaller waves as you progress. The school is run by Sam and Emily Ward, two of the most successful freestyle kayakers to come out of the UK.

River Soca, Slovenia

The beautiful river Soca might just be the best place to learn to kayak in the world. Its waters are a gorgeous clear blue that have to be seen to be believed, and the limestone rock creates clearly defined features on even the gentlest sections – absolutely perfect for getting your ferry glides and boof strokes dialled.

Learn to kayak

The beautiful Soca | ©Bovec Tourism Board

Bovec is one of the best bases in the area, with several good river sections nearby and a wide choice of cheap accommodation. There are a number of kayak schools and instructors in the area, but the pick of the bunch has to be the trips run by Simon Westgarth of Gene17, a UK kayak legend renowned for his particularly progressive coaching.