Three top canal and river routes around the UK and Ireland

The waterways of England, Scotland and Ireland offer diverse and exciting opportunities for exploration right on your doorstep.

Cruising the Caledonian Canal between Inverness and Laggan, clifftop castles, lochs inhabited by mythical beasts and the centuries-enduring vestiges of Celtic culture make for a boating holiday as interesting as it is impressive.

Photograph by Andrew Leslie
By Le Boat
Published 25 Jan 2022, 11:30 GMT

Culture, nature, adventure or simply leisure: no matter what you’re after in 2022, the UK and Ireland’s storied waterways are sure to deliver — no long-haul flights required. From the Thames and the lochs along the Caledonian Canal to the Shannon and Erne rivers, boating holidays allow travellers to see even familiar landscapes from a fresh perspective. Whether you're a seasoned sailor or taking to the water for the first time, these three routes, navigable with the help of a Le Boat canal boat hire, traverse accessible waterways, with a range of attraction plotted along your path.

1. The Caledonian Canal

Best for: history buffs
Clifftop castles, lochs inhabited by mythical beasts and the centuries-old vestiges of Celtic culture make the Caledonian Canal — situated between Inverness and Laggan in the Scottish Highland — a boating holiday as interesting as it is impressive.

With a history stretching back to 585 AD, Inverness, known as the ‘capital of the Highlands’, celebrates a captivating past. Hikers should tackle the Inverness Historic Trail, which leads visitors past notable stops in both the Old and the New Town (download the free Inverness City Historic Walk app, created by a retired teacher, for insider knowledge of the sights).

In Drumnadrochit, on the north-western shore of Loch Ness, are the ruins of the 14th-century Urquhart Castle, which offers intriguing exploration with sweeping views to boot. Further south, Fort Augustus is home to the Clansman Centre, which is open from April to October and elevates the educational to the experiential with immersive insights into Scottish lore and 18th-century life. There’s even live recreational performances by actors in traditional highlands dress.

Recommended length of trip: seven nights
Starting price: from £1380 for seven nights
Boat kind: Crusader (sleeps up to six) in Le Boat’s Budget range

Windsor, with its LEGOLAND resort and awe-inspiring castle, is a great stop for families travelling along ...

Windsor, with its LEGOLAND resort and awe-inspiring castle, is a great stop for families travelling along the Thames.

Photograph by Le Boat

2. The Thames

Best for: families
Spanning four counties between Oxford and Kingston, the River Thames offers family attractions galore, including various palaces, pubs, parks and playgrounds — making it perfect for a family-oriented boating escape.

For youngsters, LEGOLAND Windsor is an essential stop for themed rides, live shows, building workshops and more. Finish off the day in the royal town with a tour of Windsor Castle, where a special family version of the free audio guide has been designed to bring the palace’s fascinating history to life for children. While you’re there, don’t miss Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, the world’s largest and most elaborate.

For animal-loving little ones, meanwhile, Beale Wildlife Park in Berkshire is home to meerkats, monkeys, lemurs, alpacas, more than 120 bird species and more, whereas Wooburn Green’s Odds Farm Park delights with up-close encounters with farmyard animals. And don’t let the peaceful scenery fool you — the Thames cruising region doesn’t hold back on the thrills. Older children will love the adrenaline-spiking rides at Thorpe Park in Chertsey and 18 holes of adventure golf at Alexandria Gardens’ Extreme Motion.

Recommended length of trip: short break (six nights or less)
Starting price: from £809 for three nights
Boat kind: Caprice (sleeps up to six) in Le Boat’s Comfort range

Lough Key, a relaxed mooring in the northern part of the River Shannon, in Ireland, contains over ...

Lough Key, a relaxed mooring in the northern part of the River Shannon, in Ireland, contains over thirty islands, including Castle Island.

Photograph by Le Boat

3. The River Shannon

Best for: nature-lovers
The easy pace of a boating holiday lends itself completely to the charming villages and gentle meanders of central Ireland’s River Shannon, the British Isles’ longest river, and the Shannon-Erne Canal, which links the Shannon and Erne rivers. Here, nature-lovers can expect hours of awe-inspiring scenery and tranquil waterways packed with elusive creatures, such as kingfishers, golden plovers and even bottlenose dolphins around the estuary.

From the Le Boat base at Carrick-on-Shannon, it’s just a 30-minute jaunt to Lough Key, widely regarded as one of Ireland’s most beautiful lakes. On its shore, the 350-hectare Lough Key Forest and Activity Park in Boyle is renowned for exceptional vistas (including Castle Island), trails through native woodlands, bog gardens and historic ruins, as well as its treetop canopy walk. Bullock Island, near Shannon Harbour, is another natural highlight where the summer months make for exceptional birdwatching, welcoming migratory winchats, sedge and grasshopper warblers, lapwings, redshanks and curlews. The region is also known for its fishing, so don’t forget to pick up a licence if a little angling is on your experience list.

Recommended length of trip: seven nights
Starting price: £2599 for Horizon, £1079 for other boats, for seven nights
Boat kind: Horizon 3 (sleeps up to seven) in Le Boat's Premier fleet

Plan it

There’s no need for a license or prior experience to go on a boating holiday. All Le Boat customers receive a full briefing and hands-on demonstration prior to setting off. The company also offers comprehensive region guides, which detail the approximate cruising time between stops, practical information informed by 50 years’ experience to prepare for departure, as well as the support of a dedicated base team.

The world’s largest fleet of houseboats, each Le Boat vessel is equipped with comfortable cabins, hot water, showers, toilets, dining tables and fully equipped kitchens.

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