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  2. Which are the best canal boat holidays in the UK?


Which are the BEST canal boat holidays in the UK?

If we were great marketers it would probably be best to include a list of 5 “Best” Canal boat holidays below. Google would probably rank it very highly and we may sell more canal boat holidays. But it would be a lie. There isn't a definitive list of the “Best” Canal Boat Holidays, there are just too many variables.

Holiday makers working their hire boat though a lock

The Llangollen Canal for example is a very popular holiday route, some would say it’s the best, there is no denying that it’s a popular holiday canal in mostly beautiful countryside with lots to do. But is it the best option for you if you live in Kent without a car and would like a nice weekend break, given you’ll need to travel 5-6 hours by train each way? Probably not.

Equally, the Mon & Brec canal is another admittedly fabulous option. It’s a relaxed route that winds through the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales. It's also a great option if you would like a relaxed option or perhaps have some mobility issues, as although there are just 6 locks each way, 5 of these are frequently manned by volunteers and there aren't too many movable bridges. If a relaxed route, surrounded by hills, beautiful scenery, quaint villages and some nice pubs sounds good, then it may indeed be the best option for you. If however you are an active bunch with teenagers to keep entertained and like the idea of stepping off the boat to work your way through locks multiple times a day with each member of the team mucking in and having something to do, then perhaps it’s not the best option for you.

Holiday makers working their hire boat though a lock

Ultimately there isn't a definitive list of the best canal boat holidays, it comes down to your budget, your crew, their mobility and desire to do physical work, how actively you’d like to cruise vs. visiting sites along the way and what your interests are. Be it taking a hike, visiting museums or relaxing at a canal side pub in the evening. That’s why we would recommend requesting a tailor made recommendation. After completing a short form we will take into account all of the main variables and suggest 2 or 3 options that we think will suit you well.

We can help you find the best canal boat holiday for YOU.

Although we’ve not covered the whole network ourselves (yet) we’ve been on the water for the past 5 years and frequently meet and speak in depth to our partners about their particular area, their most popular routes and the main benefits to a particular base. So we are quite well suited to take into account your requirements and provide an unbiased recommendation.

But I need a list, what are the most popular holidays in the UK?

Popular one week or longer holidays:

  • Llangollen Canal:
    When people think of a canal boat holiday, the Llangollen Canal is often one of the first destinations that comes to mind - for a good reason. It’s one of the most beautiful canals in the United Kingdom and offers a great mix of rural landscape, sleepy canalside villages, bustling towns and interesting canal features.

    You can explore the Llangollen canal from 3 of our bases, Chirk is a good option if you'd like a relaxed route which can take in the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Chirk Aqeduct and Llangollen itself. Beeston is another good option if you would like an active route with Llangollen or Ponycysyllte Aqueduct as your final destination or a more relaxed cruise to Ellesmere ,enjoying the beautiful Meres around Ellesmere, tackling the Grindley Brook Staircase Locks and exploring the expansive Whixall Moss Nature Reserve.

    Alternatively it can be combined with the Four Counties Ring from Stone (Staffordshire), combining two of the most popular routes into a fantastic and varied (but active) 2 week hire.
  • Mon & Brec Canal:
    Another option this time in South Wales would be the on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. It is not joined to the rest of the canal system which gives it a unique and peaceful character. The canal is located within the Brecon Beacons National Park. If you would like a gentle and relaxed cruise, passing though quaint villages and beautiful surroundings with only a handful of locks to tackle (most of which are frequently manned by volunteers) then this could be the option for you.

    For a one week hire the two most popular routes would be a relaxed route to Brecon or a more active route in which you could potentially see the whole canal
  • South Oxford Canal:
    A meandering contour canal with narrow locks makes the South Oxford a very popular canal option. Much of the South Oxford canal winds though the countryside passing occasionally by pretty canalside villages such as Cropredy, Aynho and Thrupp. More active crews may make it to the end of the South Oxford Canal close to Oxford city center, a relatively small city with plenty of attractions such as The University of Oxford, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Castle & Prison and other attractions, all within walking distance. However with the numerous pubs along the way, many do not make it all the way to Oxford in a one week hire, turning instead at Lower Heyford.

    On a one week hire you can travel from Braunston towards Oxford with most crews reaching Lower Heyford. Reaching Oxford itself is possible, however more comfortable over a 10,11 or 14 night hire.
  • Leeds to Skipton on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal:
    A classic route around the Pennines. The climb to Skipton from Leeds never gets boring. A route with 26 locks, including the Bingley Three Rise and Five Rise as the final locks before the canal levels out and you’ll pass a few villages and can enjoy great views over the valley. The respite is short lived however and there are plenty of Swing Bridges to keep your crew entertained. The hard work is well worth it however, on the way you'll pass Saltaire, Bingley Three and Five Rise as well as multiple canal side pubs to reward your efforts.

    This route to Skipton can be completed in 1 week or on a more relaxed two week hire.
  • Grand Union Canal:
    2 Tunnels, Plenty of Locks, a Canal Museum, the Parks of Milton Keynes and plenty of pubs make the section of the Grand Union Canal between Braunston and Leighton Buzzard a very popular holiday route. It's a particularly good option for those active crews looking to get stuck into operating a few locks. Both our partners here will show beginners though their first lock as part of the handover.

    This route can be completed either from Braunston to Leighton Buzzard or in the opposite direction from Leighton Buzzard to Braunston.
  • Caldon Canal:
    Narrow locks, lift bridges, 2 tunnels and a beautiful valley - the Caldon Canal is an absolute favourite amongst both, beginners and experienced skippers, alike. A weeks holiday can lead you to both Froghall Basin and Leek. The former is a secluded and picturesque place to moor up and even includes its very own tearoom, the latter is famous for its Antique Shops. On the way, Wedgwood Pottery Visitor Centre is a popular stop, followed by a cruise through the the breathtaking Churnet Valley and maybe you are lucky and you can even take a ride on the Steam Train if it is running on that day.

    Starting in Stone, a route to Froghall makes a relatively relaxed route for a one week holiday, more active crews may wish to include the Leek branch for a more active holiday.
  • Four Counties Ring:
    Read more here
  • Thames Ring:
    Read more here

Popular Short Breaks:

  • Stoke Bruerne and Return
  • Saltaire and Return
  • Llangollen and Ellesmere
  • Lock free on the Kennet & Avon Canal
  • Talybont-on-usk and Return (3 nights) or Brecon and Return (4 nights) on the Mon & Brec

If you can't decide which option will be best for you, are overwhelmed by the choices or simply would like our opinion please do fill in the short form here to tell us what you would like out of your holiday and we will be happy to give you a recommendation.

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James (Boater & Support Operative) is online