Touring Europe on a canal boat

France’s waterway network almost reaches 5,000 miles of rivers and canals. In the United Kingdom, there are about 2,200 miles of navigable waterways. While in the Netherlands, Amsterdam only combines about 60 miles of navigable waterways and 165 canals! With the Industrial Revolution, Europe has developed its waterway network between the 18th and the early 20th centuries. While some canals were modernized after World War II, it’s fair to say that they are by far one of the most effective ways of travelling while enjoying the landscape. If you’re considering visiting Europe, the canal network is the best playground for your tour!


The Falkirk Wheel

What do you need to plan?

You do need a licence before you’re allowed to handle a large canal boat in Europe, but you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t need a certificate to steer a boat for up to 12 people. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to get some handling lessons before you set off! If you pick a small vessel, you might need to take a look at the best boat covers available as it’s likely to provide less protection than larger vessels. For barges, you’ll also need to invest in a quality padlock to keep inhibited intruders at bay overnight! As a rule of the thumb, you need to also pack cooking utensils – similar to a camping holiday –, a gas water heater, and an inverter for your domestic power.

The Netherlands and Germany

Amsterdam has 165 canals, and you’ll soon understand that the waterway network gives you the best visiting point into the city. Avoid the peak summer months to make the most of your visit. You can moor in town and grab a bike to navigate through the streets, for instance. More importance, Amsterdam is a great starting point to head to Germany and Switzerland via the Rhine canal. You can connect to the Rhine via a 45-mile-long canal from Amsterdam, across the flat landscape. Plan a stop in Cologne, some 160 miles into Germany.

The Canal du Rhône

The most famous French canal is the Canal du Midi in the south of France. However, if you’re coming from Switzerland, you’ll need to change rivers and cross from the Rhine to the Rhône via the scenic route through the Jura in the northeast of France. The path calls the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, links Basel in Switzerland to Dole in France. Once in Dole, you can go downstream onto the Canal du Rhône and reach the Midi.


The Canal du Midi

The ultimate Falkirk route

It can be tricky to plan a European waterway tour without adding the British canal to your travel lists. The canal system dates back from the Roman Empire, although it was mostly used for irrigation at the time. It’s only during the 18th century that the Scottish canal ways connected to England. While crossing the UK from south to north, head to Edinburgh and then Glasgow. You’ll come across the Falkirk Wheel between these cities. The rotating boat lift is unique in the world and connects two canal ways without needing a lock flight.


Barging through Europe’s main waterways offers an alternative travel solution, away from crowded airports and train stations. You’ll love the peaceful holidays. Keep your eyes on the ever-changing landscape between the Rhine and the Rhône, and England and Scotland!