The charity making life better by water

Take a boating holiday in 2024

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holidaymakers can explore our beautiful 2,000-mile network of canals and rivers aboard their floating home.

Choose from hundreds of waterside destinations with historic canal-side pubs to enjoy along the way.

Woman steers a hire boat

Whether you're an accustomed boater or are looking to try something new, a holiday afloat will never disappoint. Find out more by looking through our directory pages.

We caught up with the team at Drifters to hear about their top canal boat holidays.

1. Celebrate 20+ years since the reopening of the Anderton Boat Lift

Also known as 'the cathedral of the canals', the impressive Anderton Boat Lift recently celebrated its 20th anniversary since it reopened after extensive restoration.

Originally constructed in 1875 to connect the Trent & Mersey Canal with the River Weaver Navigation 50 feet below, the lift operated for more than 100 years before closing in 1983 with extensive corrosion posing safety risks. After major restoration works, taking the best part of two years, the Anderton Boat Lift began operating again in 2002.

A four night break from Acton Bridge will see you cruise the Trent & Mersey Canal to Barbridge via the Anderton Boat Lift. The journey there and back cruises 42 miles, passes through 16 locks, and takes around 21 hours.

2. Cruise to the historic Inland Port at Shardlow

A week's break from Springwood Haven can take you to the historic inland port of Shardlow and back. The journey passes through the village of Atherstone, past Alvecote nature reserve, across the Tame Aqueduct, and through Fradley Junction, Alrewas, Barton-under-Needwood, Braunston, and Burton-on-Trent – home of the National Brewery Centre.

At Shardlow, there are over 50 listed buildings, including the Salt Warehouse, which houses Shardlow Heritage Centre. The journey there and back passes through 58 locks and takes around 49 cruising hours.

Anderton Boat Lift

3. Visit Birmingham and the Commonwealth Games site

With more canals than Venice, Birmingham is a fantastic place to visit by boat.

In 2022, the city hosted the Commonwealth Games. Many of the venues were very close to a canal, including the gymnastics at the Arena Birmingham next to the Birmingham Canal Old Line.

From Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, you can complete the Birmingham Ring in one week and explore the heart of the city.

The route follows sections of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Birmingham Canal Old Main Line, Tame Valley Canal and Wyrley & Essington Canal. From Tardebigge, it's a 74 mile journey and it will take around 37 cruising hours.

4. Visit Warwick Castle by boat

Starting in Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, boaters can cruise to Warwick and back in a weekedn (around 14 hours). The route passes through 40 locks – 20 each way.

Overnight moorings are available close to Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon. The castle is said to be Britain's greatest medieval experience with ramparts to climb and dungeons to visit. Make sure to see the live action performances, the UK's largest birds of prey show, and the Horrible Histories Maze.

Moored boats in central Birmingham under a pedestrian bridge with restaurants lining the canal and pedestrians passing.

5. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

Starting at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man.

Along the way, boaters pass through just six locks, deep canal cuttings which have become havens for wildlife, and villages with canal-side pubs, including the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

6. Cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Norbury

This rural route, perfect for beginners, takes boaters through 15 miles of peaceful countryside.

Beginning the journey at Autherley, this short cruise meanders along the Shropshire Union Canal to Autherley and back. It passes through two locks and a series of pretty villages with canal-side pubs, including the Bridge Inn at Brewood and the Hartley Arms at Wheaton Ashton.

7. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal

In a week, you can venture to the picturesque village of Snarestone and back.

This largely rural route heads up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, the route transfers onto the lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds gently through countryside for 22 miles. From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the diversity of its plant, insect, and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly and rare native white-clawed crayfish.

The journey travels a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks (four each way) and takes around 32 hours.

Walkers on bridge across Ashby Canal

8. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky' to Llangollen and back

From the base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, you can reach the awesome UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Eisteddfod town of Llangollen.

Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is 1,000ft long, supporting a cast iron trough across 19 enormous hollow pillars. With stunning views of the valley below, you'll feel like you're floating above the Earth. Once in Llangollen, you can moor up to explore this pretty town nestled on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains. Take a trip to its regular markets packed with local produce and its choice of independent shops and restaurants and the famous Horseshoe Falls.

9. Cruise to Todmorden for stunning Pennine scenery

For a short break from Sowerby Bridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Todmorden and back along the Rochdale Canal.

The historic town of Todmorden offers fine Victorian architecture, plenty of pubs and restaurants, and a busy market. Along the way, you'll pass through the beautiful Calder Valley village of Mytholmroyd, the birthplace of Ted Hughes, and the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, with shops, cafes, restaurants, and pubs, and a series of scenic waymarked walks.

The journey travels a total of 20 miles, passes through 34 locks, and takes around 16 hours.

10. Discover the Droitwich Ring

The reopening of the Droitwich canals in 2011, 70 years after they were abandoned, led to the creation of this short circular route (also known as the Mid-Worcester Ring).

Steeped in history, you can comfortably complete it in a weekend, taking in the River Severn, Droitwich Barge Canal, Droitwich Junction Canal and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

The Droitwich Ring totals 21 miles and passes through 33 locks.

Group sat on moored narrowboat in Vines Park with people walking by on towpath

Get booking

Drifters Waterway Holidays offers over 550 boats for hire from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales. Tuition is included in all Drifters holiday packages.

For more information about Drifters boating holidays call 0344 984 0322 or visit www.drifters.co.uk.

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We'd love to tell you more

Our newsletter is packed full of exciting updates and stories of how our charity keeps canals alive.

Last Edited: 21 February 2024

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