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Carefree Canal Boat Holidays in the UK

Canal boat holidays are a carefree way to embrace slow travel while exploring quaint market towns and their surrounding areas. If you’re looking for a peaceful break to avoid the crowds, you can simply drift along with the river past flowers, rushes and towpaths all while staying onboard a floating holiday home!

Either way, a canal boat holiday can provide you with a unique way to see different parts of the UK. With over 4,000 miles of historic, inland waterways to explore, we have uncovered everything you need to know to create your own canal boat holiday.

Canal Boat Hire and Rental

Canal Boat Holidays in the UK

You do not require a licence to hire a canal boat for a weekend, week or even a year. Anyone over the age of 21 can hire a narrowboat without previous knowledge or experience from a hire boat company. This is because the steering and controlling of a barge are easy to pick up when coupled with common sense, caution and care.

In saying that, you should take out travel insurance. In the unlikely event that you need to cut your holiday short or cancel it altogether, Free Spirit can cover you for cancellation and curtailment cover for any trip of two nights or more.

Canal Boat Holidays for Beginners

If it’s your first canal boat holiday you will need to learn how to navigate the great British waterways safely. When you arrive at your chosen marina, you’ll usually be given some tuition from your hire operator. After learning how to skipper your vessel you’ll learn how to operate canal locks, canal etiquette and safety, and you’ll be ready to start your adventure on the water!

When deciding upon which route to take, it is a good idea to avoid areas with lots of locks. This will provide you with a leisurely holiday, without the need to keep stopping and starting. Most locks take around 15 minutes to operate- much easier to lazily potter along in peace! When travelling in good weather, you can float along for 4 to 7 hours a day! That means if you’re onboard for one week, going 3-4mph for four hours a day, you can clock up around 80 – 100 miles.

Top canal boat holidays for beginners:

  • The Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, North Wales

With only two locks to complete within a seven-hour journey from Trevour to Ellesmere this short canal break packs a punch. Take in panoramic views of the Dee Valley, pass through Chirk Tunnel and take a picture of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This is an outstanding stone and cast iron structure, which was an engineering masterpiece during the industrial revolution.

  • Hire a canal boat on the Thames, Oxfordshire

    canal boat holidays in Shropshire

From Eynsham, near Whitney to Oxford city centre, you will find that many of the moorings are manned to give you a helping hand. Once on dry land, Oxford will welcome you with its traditional pubs and modern shopping centre. To take in one of the most iconic locations this historic city has to offer, book a time slot at the iconic Bodleian Library.

  • The Trent and Mersey Canal, Coventry 

Starting at Great Haywood and finishing at Fradley Junction, you will glide for 12 miles along the Trent and Mersey Canal. After completing five locks you will find Fradley’s Pool Nature Reserve. An ideal place for a picnic and to spot wildlife such as swans, ducks and even the odd bat if you moor there after dark. You may want to take some binoculars among some other holiday items…

What do I need to take on a canal boat holiday?

Whether you choose to hire a hand-build canal boat, narrowboat (six feet, ten inches wide) or a wider canal barge, you will find that their interior is compact yet complete with a fully equipped kitchen to store everything for your boating adventure! However, there are some items you should take that you may not have considered.

Practical items to take

  • Torch/es for walks back down the towpath, after spending the evening in a local watering hole.
  • Your fishing rod – if you have an Environmental Agency Rod License.
  • If you would like to travel at night, take the port and starboard running lights (red and green) and a white light at the front and rear.
  • Your own entertainment such as gadgets, board games or books. Remember, you may not have access to modern technology and/or WI-FI, although many will see that as a blessing!

Before packing, always check what technology your boat includes with your canal boat hire company. Remember that with Free Spirit UK Travel Insurance, we will provide cover for your personal possessions and money if it/they are lost or stolen.

What should I wear on a canal boat holiday?

fishing by a canal

  • Non-slip trainers or deck shoes with rubber soles.
  • A raincoat. Wet weather overalls can also usually be hired on request for the helmsman.
  • A pair of hard-wearing protective gloves to help you work the locks more easily.
  • Items to shield yourself from the sun like sun cream, sunglasses and a brimmed hat. As the sun’s rays are more powerful when you’re making tracks on the water these will be invaluable.
  • Comfortable and cosy clothes, which are easy to store.
  • Some soft bags to package everything in! Large items like bikes, canoes and hard suitcases can be difficult to store, so check with your hiring company beforehand.
  • A waterways guide book, to pinpoint moorings, locks, tunnels, bridges, refuelling stations, and of course the best places for a drink or bite to eat.
  • Always ensure that you wear any safety clothing or equipment stipulated by your boat hire company.

Where can I go on a canal boat holiday in the UK?


You can drift along any inland water in the UK. Inland waters are classed as any area of water not categorised as ‘sea’, for example, canals, tidal and non-tidal rivers, lakes, lochs and some estuarial waters. In the UK, these waters only reach the deaths of 1.5 – 2 metres but they can stretch for miles. The longest canal is the Grand Union Canal, which runs 137 miles from London to Birmingham. For inspiration, you can check out the map of the UK’s canals and rivers.

Where are the best canal boat holidays in the UK?

Canal Boat Holidays on the Kennet and Avon River, Wiltshire

The best canal trip in the UK is said to be the Kennet and Avon Canal. Take to the water from buzzing Bristol to beautiful Bath. On this route, you can enjoy 86 miles of pleasurable and peaceful pastures within Wiltshire and Berkshire, with plenty of pubs to enjoy along the towpaths. There are architectural aqueducts to look out for too, like Brunel’s Floating Harbour Bridge. For a taster of this long stretch of water, start at Bradford on Avon and finish in Bath.

canal boat holidays in Oxfordshire

Luxury Canal Boat Holidays in Yorkshire

Cruise along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and relax upon its tranquil waters. What makes this route unique is the Bingley Five Rise Locks. This is a five-lock staircase with a 60-foot descent but don’t let that put you off! There is more than one route to take from Sowerby Bridge Wharf ranging from 3 to 14 nights onboard.

Luxury canal boat holidays can include the following:

  • The latest technology, like wireless music speakers and central heating.
  • Wheel steering and bow thruster for easy boat handling.
  • Optional skippered / training cruises such as the RYA Inland Waters Helmsmans Training course if you want to become an expert inland boater in two days. Courses are available along the canal at Apperly Bridge and Wakefield.
  • A holiday on a wide beam boat with king-sized cabins, bunk beds and fine decor throughout.
  • An alfresco dining area for you and your party.

A luxury canal boat holiday may be a one way to treat yourself and your family/friends during a long weekend. Plus, with Free Spirit Travel Insurance, you can cover all your travelling companions on the same policy.

 Canal boat holidays in Scotland

For sights of Scotland’s Clyde Canal – the entrance to the Inner Hebrides – Scotland should not be forgotten as one of the top destinations for a boating holiday. For a two week canal holiday, cruise from Glasgow to Edinburgh to explore the sights of each of these contrasting cities. Or simply sit back and enjoy a short break. Enjoy the worlds only rotating boat lift – The Falkirk Wheel – and glide along the Union Canal, before mooring up in Edinburgh for a haggis supper.

Canal boat holiday travel insurance

Canal Boat Holidays

Canal boat holidays really can provide you with the freedom to see the UK in a unique way!  However, whichever route you choose, remember to take Free Spirit UK Travel Insurance for the adventure. To find all the features and benefits of our travel insurance, read the summary of our cover.








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