Activities Perfect for Canal Boat Holidays


Featured image of Llangollen Canal. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Llangollen_Canal_UK.jpg

Known for their tranquil settings and slow-pace, canal holidays have become a popular holiday choice. However, there’s much more to canal holidays than just cruising along. Whether you’re into wildlife, history, the arts or cycling along the countryside, a canal holiday can offer something for everyone.

With this in mind, here are four activities that you can incorporate into any canal holiday.

1. Fishing

Whether you’re an experienced angler or a novice, fishing is a popular pastime for narrowboaters. Most of the UK’s canals are packed full of different species of fish including carp, ruffe, perch, roach, gudgeon and even the odd goldfish!

To fish on the canals, all anglers will need a current Environment Agency Rod License, which is a legal requirement for fishing in all fresh water. You will also have to be a member of an angling club that rents one of the Canal & River Trust’s waters and have a waterways wanderers permit.

You can use this fishery list to find an angling club near your location and use this map to see all of the UK canals that require yearly permits marked in orange.

Naturally, it’s a criminal offence to poach any fish that are native to the canals. Please fish respectfully.

2. Nature Spotting

If you plan your holidays around exploring wildlife then you’re in luck, as the UK’s canals are home to tonnes of creatures and critters. You’ll also have the added benefit of them being right outside your canal boat as you cruise along! It’s a fantastic setting for wildlife enthusiasts.

Here are some of the species you might come across:

Amphibians: frogs and newts

Birds: canadian geese, kingfishers, mallard ducks, coots, grey herons and cormorants

Fish: barbel, bleak, chub, dace, pike and roaches

Insects: dragonflies, grasshoppers and butterflies  

Mammals: badgers, otters, dormice, water voles, polecats and stoats

If you want to identify the best routes for finding wildlife, the Canal & River Trust have a handy

nature spotter’s guide.

3. History Trips

Holidaying by narrowboat is a charming and nostalgic way to travel through the UK’s ancient villages and towns – perfect for history buffs.

If you pass through Cambridge, you’ll be treated to the city’s beautiful architecture from its many colleges of the famous university. It’s also full of local charms including antique centres, art galleries and historic workshops.

Stopping at Ely will give you the opportunity to explore its stunning cathedral. There are also historic narrow streets, a medieval gateway and timbered houses alongside a stunning waterfront.

lune aqueduct

Lune Aqueduct, image source – http://fishinginlancashire.co.uk/canals/lancaster-canal/

Looking for a canal with particular historical interest? The Lune Aqueduct trail on Lancaster Canal is full of fascinating stories on Lancaster’s canal barges, old mills and even unexploded bombs. It’s a 200ft historical paradise.

4. Cycling

One of the main selling points for canal holidays is your freedom to stop at leisure moorings and venture out further. This is ideal for boaters who are cycling enthusiasts, as the majority of canal towpaths in the UK are bike-friendly, some even have designated cycling routes. They’re perfect for exploring the areas surrounding the canals.

Worried about where to store your bike? No need! Bikes can normally be stored on deck on the roof, but it’s worth noting that roof storage can be an issue for low bridges and tunnels. The best solution is to invest in some folding bicycles that are easy-to-store onboard in bow lockers.

Here are some of the best canal cycling routes to try:

Peak Forest Canal Cycle Trail, Marple

Peak Forest Canal Cycle Trail

Image source – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Canal_bridge_no_27,_Peak_Forest_Canal.jpg

Distance: 6.1 miles

Home to some of our best canal engineering triumphs, Peak Forest Canal features the famous Marple Locks, one of the steepest flights in the country. Cycling route highlights include a river crossing through an abandoned chapel and swooping gravel descents.

Coventry Canal Cycling Route

Coventry Canal Cycling Route

Image source – https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/5711453

Distance: 13.5 miles

Coventry Canal’s cycling route is filled with modern and historic industrial heritage. Sites of interest include Ricoh Arena and the Hawkesbury Junction, where the Coventry Canal joins the Oxford Canal.

Regent’s Canal Cycling Route

Regents Canal Cycling Route

Image source – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Regents_Canal_London.JPG

Distance: 4.6 miles

A particularly great route for kids, this route starts in Regent’s Park before moving onto the Regent’s Canal towpath. You’ll pass by London Zoo, providing you with great glimpses of their tigers, wallabies, warthogs and more! The route the loops back towards Camden Market, where you can hit the shops and grab a bite to eat before heading back to your canal boat.