The charity making life better by water

Ten free places to visit

From gongoozling in quirky Camden to basking in the beauty of Brecon Basin, take a look at our top ten free places to visit within our canal and river network.

Friends walking along the canal

They say that the best things in life are free, and who are we to argue?

Our 2,000 miles of waterways offer a huge variety of places to visit, most of which won't cost you a penny. Here are our top ten suggestions for 2023:

1. Floating Pocket Park, Paddington

Open 24/7, this 700 square metre floating park in Paddington Basin is a beautiful green escape in the heart of busy London. With open lawn and seating areas floating on a series of pontoons, you can kick back and relax amongst an array of carefully selected foliage, planted to encourage wildlife.

For those who can't sit still for too long, take to the meandering walkways and check out the surrounding architecture, and maybe visit the floating gin bar for a tipple.

If you'd like to explore the area's hotspots by water, including Camden Locks and Little Venice, why not hire a GoBoat. With electric engines and built from sustainable materials, they chug merrily along at 4mph and can seat up to eight people.

Floating Pocket Park, Paddington Basin

2. Leeds waterfront

Now transformed from a once derelict site, Leeds waterfront is awash with unique cafés and bars, a world-class museum, art galleries and public art. With walking trails, water sports and shopping on the doorstep, you'll never be stuck for things to do.

If you're craving a slice of nature, you can also head to the weir opposite the Royal Armouries and take to a bit of wildlife spotting. Look out for otters, mink and all sorts of water birds.

Don't forget, the Leeds Waterfront Festival takes place in the summer, so why not plan your trip around this exciting event, when the waterways come alive with an eclectic mix of music, performances, workshops, arts and fun for all ages to enjoy.

3. Brecon Basin

The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal is often voted Britain's prettiest canal. Much of it runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park and follows the line of the lovely, wooded Usk Valley.

If you head down to Brecon Basin you can pick up a variety of walking routes, including a sculpture and poetry trail. Choose to explore your surroundings, maybe stopping for an insta-worthy snap or two along the way. Equally, we guarantee you won't be bored simply pausing canalside to absorb the wonder of nature.

4. Camden Locks

Camden Locks on Regent's Canal is the perfect place for a spot of gongoozling (watching the boats).

A buzzing and vibrant place, spend hours mooching around the famous markets just a stone's throw away from the water, and get your energy back up afterwards by filling hungry bellies at one of the hip canalside eateries.

Leeds waterfront

5. Caen Hill Lock Flight

The longest flight of 16 locks forms part of a longer 29-lock flight at Devizes, all packed into just over two miles. Caen Hill Locks are designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument – the same level of heritage protection given to Stonehenge.

Take on the climb, either by boat or foot, and get a well-earned snack at the Caen Hill Café.

6. Burnley Embankment

Known largely for its industrial past, Burnley is surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in England and is also home to one of the seven wonders of the waterways, Burnley Embankment.

This stretch of embankment (known as The Straight Mile) carries the Leeds & Liverpool Canal through the centre of the town, up to 60 feet above the buildings below.

From street level, you may be forgiven for thinking it's just a railway bridge above Burnley. However, once up on the aqueduct, this impressive structure offers a fascinating view of Burnley, and a safe, peaceful walking route away from the busy streets below.

Caen Hill Lock Flight

7. Coventry Canal Basin

Situated in the heart of the city, the Coventry Canal Basin marks the start of the Coventry Canal.

If you're meeting friends, there's opportunity to relax, have a drink and enjoy a view of the remnants of the past such as the historic Draper's Field Bridge. Or if you're in the mood to explore, you can walk along the lush five-and-a-half-mile canal stretch, enjoying the local wildlife and unwinding by water.

8. Royal Albert Dock

Immerse yourself in impressive surroundings at the Royal Albert Dock, which has the greatest concentration of Grade 1 listed structures anywhere in the UK. Marvel at the architecture as you join us on an audio tour of the Liverpool Canal Link, passing the famous Liver Birds and more.

You can also opt for one of the many boat trips. Here, you'll find Wheelyboats, who offer the first fully accessible powerboat with space for up to 10 adults, including six wheelchair users.

From the Dock, take a wander into the city itself for a day of shopping and sightseeing. But whatever you end up getting up to, don't forget to pause to take in the incredible view across the Mersey.

Pier Head near Albert Docks, Liverpool

9. Bancroft Basin

Bancroft Basin, on the Stratford upon Avon Canal, lies in the heart of historic Stratford.

Surrounded by beautiful gardens and the River Avon, it's easy to miss this hidden gem. The basin is busy with colourful boats and is a great place to capture on camera. This is also a unique area to absorb many attractions devoted to William Shakespeare.

From floating markets to river festival, there's always something on.

10. Castle Wharf

The city of Nottingham has a busy and vibrant waterfront district, based around the Nottingham & Beeston Canal and the River Trent. The Castle Wharf area is buzzing with café culture and alfresco dining, all at the water's edge.

It is overlooked by Nottingham Castle, perched dramatically on a high rock above the city. The canal towpath is a scenic walking and cycling route, connecting different areas of the city. Here, you can get your fix of city vibes and nature, all in one go.

Last Edited: 28 April 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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