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The best destinations for a European barge holiday

To borrow a line from The Wind in the Willows; ‘there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’ Big or small, luxurious or rustic, we love boat holidays and especially barges. They are slightly different to traditional canal boats but with much the same appeal, so we’ve picked the best locations to try out a peaceful and unique barge holiday.

France

French boaters really are spoilt for choice when it comes to scenery

French boaters really are spoilt for choice when it comes to scenery

France has long been the centre of barge holidays, with classic routes running through the Loire Valley, Burgundy and the Canal Midi. With a network of waterways running along all the county’s borders, French boaters really are spoilt for choice of scenery.

Barge beginners will love the gentle landscapes and peaceful atmosphere of the southern Canal Midi, or head east for an idyllic weekend on the Péniche Ophrys. Barge holidays aren’t just restricted to the countryside and, if you prefer a city break, the repurposed Péniche Le Nénuphar is docked in Paris’ city centre.

Netherlands

The Grachtengordel, aka Amsterdam's central canal district

The Grachtengordel, aka Amsterdam's central canal district

The Dutch are known for their houseboats but this country of canals also has lots of ingeniously-repurposed barges. While there are plenty of barges available to rent, stationary barges also offer a base for exploring Amsterdam’s city centre. Check into a boat like Hotelboot Allure and enjoy some of that aromatic Dutch coffee while watching commuters cycle past.

Belgium

The Leie river at the heart of Belgium's canal network

The Leie river at the heart of Belgium's canal network

The two canal regions of Belgium are also two of the country’s most aesthetically-pleasing areas; the flatland canals of Flanders and the southern hills and rivers of Wallonie. Luckily for potential sailors struggling to choose, the two regions are connected by over 1600km of recently-revamped waterways.

Popular routes for a Belgian barge holiday include the Leie, Meuse, Sambre and Schelde rivers. And some of our highest-rated barges to rent are B&B Barge Johanna, Spits-Lucie B&B and the Bruges-based Boat Hotel De Barge.

Germany

All the convenience of a traditional hotel on Germany's waterways

All the convenience of a traditional hotel on Germany's waterways

The natural beauty of Germany’s three main waterways – the Danube, the Elbe and the Rhine – makes it easy to understand why barge holidays are so popular here. Repurposed barges like the Sportboot Lorenzo pepper the river banks and have all the convenience of a traditional hotel, while also offering a fantastic way to explore the waterways.

As the three main rivers are connected via a network of canals in the north of Germany and the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal in the south, adventurous boaters have plenty of options for exploration. And for city trippers there are always the German lake regions of Mecklenburg and Brandenburg (near Berlin).

UK

Canals running through Birmingham city centre

Canals running through Birmingham city centre

With over 2200 miles of canals and navigable rivers, often running through the UK’s biggest cities, it’s no wonder that the Brits love a barge. Most of the canals are linked into the same network, stretching from Bristol to London, Liverpool to Goole, and Lancaster to Ripon.

Repurposed industrial boats and barges on offer range from the novel like the Beatles-inspired Yellow Sub in Liverpool, through to the traditional like the Hotel Barge Waternimf in Cambridge and the The Four Sisters Boatel in Edinburgh.

Ireland

Lough Ballymagauran on Shannon Erne Waterway, Ireland

Lough Ballymagauran on Shannon Erne Waterway, Ireland

10 minutes cruising through Ireland’s famously-verdant countryside really is all the incentive you need to become a fully-fledged barge buff. As with a lot of the destinations on our list, Ireland’s canals go through both rural and urban centres.

Barges like the Dublin Barge Hire are often specifically refurbished to be able to travel along famous waterways like the grandiose River Shannon and onto the comparatively hectic Irish city centre canals.