Canal boat holidays cruising through the UK’s network of canals are a great way to experience Britain from a different perspective.

Travelling at a gentle pace, a canal boat holiday is a fantastic way to relax and enjoy the scenic countryside, historic towns and pretty villages as you drift past.

Hiring a canal boat

Canal boating an ideal holiday for everyone, even boating novices. Anyone over the age of 21 can hire a canal boat – there’s no need for a license or special training. Your boat hire company will provide a basic induction and written instructions.

Canals boats have a maximum speed of 4mph meaning you can cover around 80 to 100 miles in a week – an excellent way to see Britain at a slow pace. Be aware that boats respond slowly, so plan your sailing times in advance. Factor in 15 minutes or more to travel through a lock, so plan your route thoroughly.

There are also plenty of places to stop along your chosen canal with lots of mooring sites found near pubs, restaurants, villages and towns. You may have to pay a small fee to moor at certain sites, but all Environment Agency moorings and canal towpaths are free.

The cost of a canal boat holiday

The cost of a canal boat holiday varies depending on the time of year. Peak season is during the school holidays, July to August. Expect boat rental costs to be twice as expensive as off-peak, often topping £2,000 for a week’s rental.

For a cheaper hire, consider canal boats that those that rate 3 or 4 stars in the Quality Inspection Scheme, and look for any last-minute deals. Hireboats2go website is a great way to search for last-minute available holidays from family-run hire companies, offering low prices.

The canals are also at their busiest during school holidays, and some locks may have queues of boats waiting for up to an hour. To avoid this, choose quieter, less popular canals that still offer fantastic scenery. Alternatively, autumn or spring is a good choice for a more peaceful canal holiday. There are lot of things to do on a canal boat holiday whatever the weather and most boats provide a comfortable and cosy refuge from a sudden downpour.

Canal holidays are great for dogs and their owners, too. There’s plenty of opportunity for walks through the countryside, and the chance to meet other dog owners. No pet passport is needed and it can be a great way for your pet to enjoy the holiday too without the stress of travelling abroad. There are many pet-friendly boat hire companies to choose from.

Planning your canal boat holiday

Canal holidays offer a lot of variety for everyone to enjoy, so when planning your route consider whether you want to see the countryside, cities, villages or heritage sites.

Don’t overestimate what you can fit in, it’s best to take it slow and be sure to stop at key sights you see along the way. Remember if holidaying in the winter, you’ll have fewer daylight hours so be sure to factor this in. On your return trip, be sure to allow time for bad weather, a canal holdup or in boat engine issues, if you’re late returning your canal boat, you risk a fine!

Canal boats are self-catered so you can prepare your own food but there are plenty of pubs, restaurants and other eateries to try out along most canal routes.

Swimming in the canals is not permitted but fishing is, although you’ll need a permit first – ask your hire boat company about this.

Check out the Grading Scheme for canal boats to help you choose a hire company. All companies on the scheme are inspected every year and then graded, so you know they are reliable.