When most people first consider learning to dive, they imagine themselves in tropical, warm waters. And, this list of top-rated places to learn to dive in 2023 shows that tropical climates do have amazing appeal. But, it’s important to remember that diving in cold water has its own value. In fact, learning to dive in the colder water, like that found in the UK, can teach impressive skills, offer unique experiences and result in greater in-water confidence. Intrigued? Let’s dive into the top places to take your PADI Open Water Diver certification course in the UK and Ireland.

Why You Should Learn to Dive in the UK

Learning to dive in the UK, especially if you live in the UK and want to dive locally, can offer several benefits. These include:

  • Becoming Part of a Local Community of Divers – Learning to dive can help you discover local dive clubs and nearby sites. You can meet a whole community of divers you never knew existed.
  • Dictating Your Learning Pace – Learning to dive locally can make it easier to fit your course around your busy life. Lots of local dive centers can work with you to fit your course into your schedule.
  • Beginning in Familiar Surroundings – Some people find it more comfortable to begin their underwater journey by diving in a more familiar setting.
  • Spotting Cold-Water Marine Life – In the same way that some marine life can only be found in warm, tropical water, some animals can only be found in cooler waters. 
  • Learning How to Dry Suit Dive – As diving in the UK and Ireland often falls into the class of cold-water diving, it’s common for divers to learn how to use a dry suit during their Open Water Diver course, even completing the Dry Suit Diver speciality course simultaneously.
  • Maximizing Vacation Time – The PADI Open Water Referral allows you to complete the knowledge and in-water element of the Open Water Diver course with a local dive shop before completing the open-water dives somewhere else. This is ideal for wannabe divers looking to save time on their vacation.

Ready to discover what it’s like to breath underwater? Then, it’s time to get your PADI Open Water certification. Check out the best dive destinations for beginners in the UK and Ireland below.

Pembrokeshire best places to learn to dive uk

1. Pembrokeshire – Wales

The Pembrokeshire coast in Wales is home to the UK’s only coastal national park (Pembrokeshire Coast National Park). As its designation suggests, the area has lots of beautiful beaches and diverse wildlife. You can also find more than 300 wrecks here, making it easy to understand why the area is one of the top places for diving in the United Kingdom. Noteworthy marine life species include seals, porpoises, dolphins, sunfish, cuttlefish, dogfish and flounders. Furthermore, the coast is home to one of the world’s largest gannet populations.

March to October is the most popular season for diving in Pembrokeshire. Water temperatures reach their yearly peak of around 17°C (63°F) in August and September. Most divers choose to dive in a drysuit year-round. However, a semi-dry suit may suffice if you’re feeling particularly brave.

Scapa Flow best places to learn to dive in the uk

2. The Orkney Islands – Scotland

Situated off the UK mainland’s most northern coast, the Orkney Islands are home to some of the best wreck diving in the world. Inside Scapa Flow, the body of water created by the surrounding archipelago, you can find numerous wrecks, including vessels from both WWI and WWII. Some sites are for more experienced divers only. But there are still plenty of areas to give new divers a taste of this outstanding wreck diving.

The Orkney Islands are reachable by plane or ferry from the UK mainland. The dive season usually runs between April and late October, with water temperatures peaking at around 13°C (55°F) by mid-September. A drysuit is recommended when diving in the Orkney Islands.

grey seal farne islands best places to learn to dive uk

3. Northumberland – England

England’s northeastern coast is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and home to several dive-worthy destinations. These include Newton, Beadnell and Seahouses. But perhaps the most noteworthy of Northumberland’s underwater gems is the Farne Islands. This small collection of islands are famed for their 5,000 strong grey seal colony — which you can swim with! 

As with the rest of the UK’s diving, drysuits are advised. Summer water temperatures peak at around 14°C (57.2°F).

oban drone shot best places to learn to dive uk

4. Argyll – Scotland

Located just north of Glasgow, the region of Argyll has a wealth of beginner-friendly diving spots. These include scenic coastal dives, sunken wrecks and muck-diving in lochs. Examples include the SS Breda, a mostly intact wreck just off the coast of the resort town of Oban and Loch Long, a loch teeming with marine life in the form of conger eels, crabs and all kinds of fish. You can also find sea otters, seals and porpoise on occasion. In short, this part of Scotland simply has to be part of the discussion when someone wants to know where to learn to dive in the UK.

While the summer months are definitely preferable, the best time to dive at an exact location may depend on whether it’s coastal or inland diving.

kelp forest ecosystem

5. The Channel Islands – England

With a wide variety of sites suited to divers of all experience levels, the Channel Islands are a great option for new divers. Two of the most popular islands to visit, Guernsey and Jersey, offer reefs, wrecks (especially Jersey) and good visibility. There’s also a surprisingly abundant amount of marine life for divers to enjoy. Commonly encountered fish species include pipefish, wrasse, bass and pollock. Shore dives around Bouley Bay and the La Mauve shipwreck are good examples of the area’s beginner-friendly diving.

The peak season to dive in the area is between April and August. This is when temperatures are higher and rainfall is at its lowest. In addition, it’s worth noting that the Channel Islands experience large tidal fluctuations.

basking shark

6. County Galway/County Clare – Ireland

The counties of Galway and Clare on the west coast of Ireland are home to numerous outstanding dive sites, many of which are also suitable for new divers. From the Aran Islands to Carraroe, the nutrient-filled waters on the Atlantic-facing side of the Emerald Isle deliver marine life en-masse. In the right places, conger eels, spider crabs, octopuses and lobsters are all possible sightings. Divers might also spot larger marine animals, such as dolphins, seals and basking sharks. Additionally, thanks to natural protection, a lot of the shallow reef dive sites are sheltered from the open ocean and offer good visibility throughout the year.

Students learning scuba diving skills in confined water during a PADI Open Water Diver course

Also Consider: PADI Open Water Referral

If you’re still interested in getting your PADI but don’t live close to or have time to travel to one of the best places to learn to dive in the UK and Ireland, a PADI Open Water Referral may be the answer you’re looking for.

Local dive shops, located in most major cities and across the country, can help you complete the knowledge development and confined water skill sessions of the PADI Open Water Diver Course. After completing the referral, you’ll then be able to complete your four open water dives and your final certification at a later date — at any PADI Dive Shop in the world!

A PADI Open Water Referral is ideal for letting you work your scuba diving training around your day-to-day life, supporting your local PADI dive shop and maximizing vacation time.

Ready to get PADI certified and #LiveUnfiltered? Find your nearest dive shop with our locator tool. Alternatively, get in touch with the experts at PADI Travel to discuss the best options available to you.

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