Britain’s Waterways were once the most efficient way to transport goods. The vast network of canals played a vital role in the rise of the industrial revolution. Today, the waterways of Britain are popular for boaters and a range of other leisure activities.
I recommend a cruise down the canals stopping at popular attractions, interesting bars, and restaurants along the way. Check out my top 6 British waterways for the ideal boating holiday or day visit with the family.
#1 The Llangollen Canal
Running along the border of England and Wales, the Llangollen Canal is 41 miles (65km) long with 21 locks.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was declared a world heritage site in 2009. It crosses the canal over the River Dee. The 19 arches are an incredible 126 feet tall, you are sure to get some interesting photos!
Near Llangollen, you can join a guided aqueduct tour or, my personal favourite, take a horse-drawn boat ride. Walkers will love the scenic trail to Horseshoe Falls. You can paddle at permitted areas or even enjoy some fishing.
#2 The South Pennine Ring
A more challenging canal to navigate but the reward is views of wide-open, rugged terrain. This waterway runs between Manchester and Huddersfield, including 5 canals over 70miles (112km).
The Standedge Tunnel (3.225 miles/ 5.18km) is the longest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain. Your children will never forget a cruise below the Pennine hills. Be sure to book your passage through the tunnel in advance.
It takes around two weeks to complete a circular boat trip of the South Pennine Ring. Be prepared for 198 locks and frequent engineering stoppages. In my opinion, it is worth the effort to experience the peaceful moorlands in the remote, hilly area of the Pennines.
#3 The Bridgewater Canal
This 39 miles (65km) waterway was built in 1861 to transport coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s mine in Wolseley to Manchester. It is seen as being the first economically important English canal.
You can walk the entire length of the canal or wander the estates of Dunham Massey or Walton Hall and Gardens. In Runcorn, theatre lovers can enjoy performances across a variety of genres at The Brindley. The canal ends just a short distance from Liverpool where I recommend you charter a yacht. It’s a family favourite experience.
In Manchester, football fanatics can visit Old Trafford or Etihad, some of Britains most popular football stadiums. I loved learning about the industrial revolution through interactive displays at the Museum of Science and Industry (entrance is free!).
#4 Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal
Running from Brecon to Cwmbran in the south of Wales, the canal is 35miles long with 6 locks and 2 tunnels. The canal winds above the course of the River Usk and is my top pick for nature enthusiasts.
Almost the whole canal falls into the Brecon Beacon national park. This nature lover’s dream has pools to swim in and plenty of mountain views. I love exploring the bustling market towns of Abergavenny and Brecon.
The waterway is not connected to any other causeways so there is very little boat traffic. Ideally, I’d recommend giving yourself a week to cruise the entire canal at an easy pace.
#5 Kennet And Avon Canal
The 87 mile Kennet and Avon canal runs from Bristol to the River Thames in Reading. The waterway winds through the Cotswolds and past picturesque villages. The canal was re-opened in 1990 by the Queen after being out of use from the early 20th century.
The Georgian architecture in the World Heritage city of Bath is a dream destination for aspiring historians. I was equally intrigued by the rich Roman history of Bradford-on-Avon.
Antique lovers can easily moor in the town centre of Hungerford to hunt for treasures in its many antique stores. The postcard countryside and old stone buildings left me with the feeling of stepping back in time.
#6 Grand Union Canal
This is the longest canal in the UK running 137 miles (220km) from London up through the Chiltern Hills to Birmingham. The Grand Union Canal has different branches to explore including those leading to Leicester, Slaugh, Aylesbury, Northampton, and Wendover.
I love that you see so many walkers, joggers, cyclists and rowing teams along the canal. This is the ideal waterway for staying fit. Alternatively, take a boat trip or visit the Canal Museum and Boat Inn in Stoke Bruerne.
There are some extraordinary feats of engineering along the canal including the Iron trunk aqueduct at Cosgrove and tunnels at Blisworth and Braunston. The 21 Hatton locks are often called the ‘Stairway to Heaven’’.