Activated carbon made from agricultural waste (walnut shells) was investigated as a suitable adsorbent for effectively removing quinoline from industrial wastewater. The activated carbon was treated with phosphoric acid and oxidized by ammonium persulfate and its ability to adsorb pyridine and quinoline in aqueous solution was investigated. Kinetic parameters for the adsorption process were determined through pseudo-first-order and pseudo-second-order kinetic models and intraparticle diffusion models. Equilibrium experiments and adsorption isotherms were analyzed using Langmuir and Freundlich adsorption isotherms. After reaching equilibrium, the activated carbon adsorbed quinoline in preference to pyridine: the equilibrium adsorptions from individual aqueous solutions (200 μL L−1) of quinoline and pyridine were 166.907 mg g−1 and 72.165 mg g−1, respectively. Thermodynamic studies of quinoline adsorption were conducted at different temperatures and indicated that quinoline adsorption was an endothermic and spontaneous process. The column-adsorption of quinoline and pyridine was consistent with the Thomas model and the Yoon-Nelson model. The removal efficiency of quinoline reached more than 97% for a velocity of 6 mL min−1 at the initial adsorption stage.