The British waterways are an undiscovered beauty for most people across the country. If you’re yet to experience the feeling of cruising down a blissfully still canal whilst you lie down, soak up the sun and eat wonderful food - you’re really missing out. Sometimes it’s very hard to know where to go, what to do and how to really get started.
We’ve put together a collection of our favourite routes across the UK, as well as where to hire a boat, what landmarks to spot and where to eat and drink. This time you’ll have no excuse to put off your first boating holiday - everything you need is here!
The Grand Union Canal
If you include all of its arms and merged sections of waterways, the Grand Union is easily the longest canal in the United Kingdom. Its total length is 286.3 miles - that’s a good enough reason alone to take the trip. It stems all the way from the river Thames in London to the BCN in Birmingham; if you’re up for an adventure you could give yourself the ultimate challenge and cover the whole length.
How long does it take?
If you want to go the whole way whilst enjoying a relaxing break too, we’d expect it to take around a week, factoring in a few stops and a good amount of rest.
Where do I hire a boat?
If you don’t have your own boat, you’re gonna need to hire one. If you’re going south to north it’s best that you begin your journey on the Thames, then navigate your way onto the Grand Union. Le Boat UK is situated just off of the Thames near Kingston. They’ve got huge amounts of experience with boating holidays worldwide and will allow you quick access to the Thames so that you can get on your way and ready for the Grand Union.
If you’re going from north to south, there are great places to hire your boat at either Warwick or Charnwood which both offer affordable rates. Kate Boats in Warwick offers a weekly rental price on some great narrowboats that can accommodate parties of 2, all the way up to 6+, so if you fancy a big family holiday, Kate’s is ideal for you. If you’re coming from the Leicester arm of the Grand Union Canal, then Charnwood Boat Hire offers an equally appealing service.
What landmarks can I see?
The Grand Union joins the Thames at Brentford, but on your way out of London, why not opt for the slight detour towards the Limehouse Basin. You’ll cruise right through central London, passing Camden Town, London Zoo and the Houses of Parliament before arriving at Brentford. This is a rare chance to see the capital from an exclusive perspective - on the water.
Further out of London as you pass Hemel Hempstead you’ll go right through the Chiltern hills which are classified as an area of outstanding natural beauty. This will give you a view of some of Britain's most breathtaking scenery and beautiful hills and wildlife. You’ll notice the route starts to change from here on in as you move away from the big city and explore some quiet rural villages.
If you’ve got the kids with you, you might want to stop off at Gullivers Land when you arrive at Milton Keynes. It’s a great family theme park with lots of rides and activities for everyone to enjoy!
As you get nearer to Birmingham at the north end of the canal, you’ll find many historic towns for you to stop off at for some great food or a cultural visit. Royal Leamington Spa is a great place to stop for a day trip - it’s been known for its public baths and high-quality waters for hundreds of years, so there’s plenty of history to learn about there. Or you may want to treat yourself to one of the world-famous spas.
A little further down the way, you’ll reach Warwick, where a visit to William the Conqueror’s castle is an absolute must.
You’ll eventually arrive at Birmingham where the Grand Union comes to an end. Birmingham is a really great city with so much to do, places to eat and shops to browse. If you don’t want your boating journey to end here, you can join the Birmingham Canal Network where you’ll be able to cruise slowly through the waterways of the big city.
Don't forget to check out our guides to all of the best boating holidays available in the UK.