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Authored by Laura Lynch

Cruising has become one of the biggest trends in travel recently, though have you ever considered going on a canal barge cruise?

Canal barging is a unique form of slow travel popular throughout Europe, especially in France, Italy, Scotland and Ireland. The size of the canal dictates the size of the barge, but the maximum number of guests on board usually ranges from 4-12 passengers.

On board the barge are a handful of crew members who will help make your journey an effortless one, and while the options for barge cruises are vast, a luxury, all-inclusive barge cruise is definitely way to go.

While there are many reasons to take a canal barge cruise, here are the 6 most compelling.

6 Reasons You Should Go On a Canal Barge Cruise

Seeing the Countryside

Many of the canals that snake across Europe are very narrow, slow-moving waterways, like the famous Canal du Midi in France and the Caledonian Canal in Scotland.

They meander through the countryside, amongst breathtaking scenery that you can only see aboard a canal barge.

For wine lovers, France is the perfect canal cruising location, because the canals flow through Burgundy, Alsace, the Loire Valley, and Bordeaux. As the canal barging season extends through the grape growing season, the vineyards are always blooming and ripening right before your eyes.

Have you ever considered going on a canal barge cruise?


All the Planning is Done for You

Some people really enjoy the task of planning an entire vacation, but there are times when you just want someone else to take care of the details for you. A canal barge cruise is perfect for those times, when you want to have a relaxing, stress-free holiday, but still get out and see the sights.

One misnomer about canal cruises is that you’ll be stuck on the barge all day with nowhere to go. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, on most barge cruises there is an excursion planned for every day of the cruise.

While cruising with European Waterways, for instance, there is a full, though not-too-strenuous, itinerary off the barge, where you’ll be taken to vineyards, castles, museums, and markets. Where ever the barge is moored for the day is where you’ll disembark to discover something new.

Venice sightseeing

Gourmet Food & Wine

There are a variety of different canal cruises, but why settle for anything less than the very best! A luxury, all-inclusive cruise aboard the Finesse luxury barge includes all meals and drinks. Each meal is a gourmet affair, with multiple courses prepared by the chef, all expertly paired with wines of the region.

Dinners are served either on deck when the weather in fine, or at the dining room table. Each boat has different styling and design, but the dining area is always elegant and set to impress. Make sure to save room for the cheese course and dessert!

The chef will make sure that you’re never hungry, preparing mid-day canapes to snack on. That is if you have enough room after the 3-course lunch with wine pairings. The gourmet food on board can easily be compared to some of the best meals you’ve eaten.

The chef aboard the Finesse luxury barge was a pro at the sous vide cooking method and often made the most succulent meats and fish for meals. The flavors and seasoning were perfect. However, you never feel like the meal is too heavy or filling to finish four courses.

A luxury, all-inclusive cruise aboard the Finesse luxury barge includes all meals and drinks.


Walking & Biking Along the Canal

Along most of the canals, there are numerous locks that the barge must pass through during the journey. Those locks provide ample opportunity to get off the barge and either walk or bike on the paths that run along the canal.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to bring your own bike. One of the amenities on the barge cruise is the use of bikes. If you decide to take a walk or a bike ride along the canal, you just get off at one lock and get back on at another lock along the way.

If you just want a short walk, you can choose locks that are close together, or you can continue along to another one with more distance in between.

Hopping off for a walk is a great way to make sure you get your steps in. It’s also an opportunity to get away from everyone else and be by yourself for a little while, if you need the alone time.

White bike with flowers

Photo by Roman Boed

Guided Excursions are Included

It’s always nice to have your own personal tour guide along. On a barge cruise, the guide is with you at all time, even while on the boat. The guide may also double as the van driver, which allows them to give lots of useful information as you drive to the locations they have planned for you.

The type of excursions you go on depends on the area that you’re cruising through. In Burgundy, the excursions included visits to vineyards and wineries, to castles and chateaux, and to the small towns for farmer’s markets and to walk through museums.

The trips away from the boat last anywhere from 3-5 hours, and could be adjusted or changed based on what the passengers want to do.

Colmar is often quoted as the prettiest town in France

Photo by Fonzie D.

Plenty of Time for Relaxing

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of cruising is often relaxation. A cruise is expected to offer plenty of down time to do things like catch up on your reading, play a game, take an afternoon nap, or unwind in the hot tub or spa.

On a canal barge cruise, you will have plenty of time for all of those things, as you cruise between moorings each day. But don’t worry, it’s never a full day of cruising, so you won’t get bored if you haven’t brought enough books on board.

During your free time on the boat, you can enjoy watching the scenery pass by, and even have an opportunity to learn more about the boat. The captain may offer a chance to see the wheel house and even steer the boat for a minute or two (under his close supervision, of course).

The chef may offer a chance to take some impromptu cooking lessons as he prepares the meals in the open kitchen. The tour guide may offer to take you with him in the morning to pick out the croissants and bread at the bakery. There’s never a dull moment.

Make it Happen

As you can see, there are many reasons why you should book a canal barge cruise for your next holiday. You can check out the different options for barge cruises on European Waterways, a trusted company for hotel barging in Europe.

Cruises range in price from roughly $5,000-$7000 USD per person. A week aboard the Finesse luxury hotel barge is $6,750/pp USD (€5,690 EUR).


Lonely Planet Europe

Europe on a Budget

Lonely Planet Western Europe


Laura Lynch is the editor and writer of Savored Journeys, an affordable luxury travel blog that focuses on food and wine experiences around the world.

Pinterest image of Colmar France by Fonzie D.


  1. The only “canal cruises” I have taken have been have been local affairs. Stockholm, Paris, Chicago, DC…

    • Maybe on your next Europe trip you could try one with European Waterways :)

  2. I’m much interested to take Barge Canals Cruise journey in Europe! Can any one guide me more about this kind of journey please! I’d love to hearing from you all out there!!

    • Glad to hear you’re interested in a Barge Cruise :) The European Waterways website is, and you can find out more about the experience (rooms, service etc), as well as the destinations you can visit.

      Have a great trip!

  3. I’ve been on short trips in the UK – for a few hours – but never on a cruise where you can stay overnight and you eat on board. I’d love to try that – sounds perfect for me.

    • Maybe you can book one for 2018!

  4. Thanks for sharing this post, such a good read! Well, I agree that there will be no dull moments as you take this cruise. Foods that are features looks so scrumptious while biking along the canal sounds good also as you can have the chance to roam and explore. It is also nice that you can get those freshly baked croissants for breakfast.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! Hope you have the chance to take a canal barge cruise soon!

  5. I love cruising but have never done a canal barge cruise, only river and ocean. It looks fantastic – the food, the scenery, the activities. I’d love to try one!

    • Hope you do have the chance to try it soon – would be interesting to hear which type of cruising you like best!

  6. To be honest, I’ve actually never heard of a canal barge cruise, the term is new to me! But it does sound quite interesting, considering that it takes you between several cities and gives you a chance to disembark and explore the surrounding towns. I love the idea of getting off the cruise to cycle around the canal and it’s good that they even plan guided excursions for you (though I’m more of a DIY excursion person). I guess I’ll have to try one of these on my next Europe trip. France sounds like the perfect place to do it, for me.

    • Glad we could team up with Laura to introduce you! A fabulous way to explore more compact regions of Europe, and great if you love the idea of cruising, but want a more intimate, private experience than that of a large cruise ship.

      If you’re heading to Europe this year, definitely check out the European Waterways website, they have some great options which take you through France :)

      Happy travels – and happy new year!

  7. Cruise tour sounds so good from your post. I have done canal tours… that is nothing in comparison.
    Guided tours that are included in such packages are really helpful and attractive. It helps do meaningful sightseeing in a short duration. I also liked the idea of having some spare time for yourself.

    • Glad you enjoyed reading about Laura’s experience Indrani – yes, it’s fabulous having a local guide at your disposal, and leisurely traveling having everything included for you.

      Can definitely fit a lot of sightseeing into a short amount of time this way, and see parts of the countryside you would have missed otherwise. Having the chance to explore on your own time too is a great reason to love a canal barge cruise.

      Hope you have the chance to try one soon!

  8. Last summer we had some friends visiting us and they took a canal tour from the Netherland until Basel in Switzerland. They really loved it! It must be so beautiful to see all the beautiful vineyards in France during autumn! I bet you get amazing views from the canal! It’s so cool that the boats come with bikes as well. Europe for example is great for biking. USD 10’000 for a couple sounds like a lot of money though, but I guess you really get something nice for that :)

    • Psyched to hear that your friends had an amazing time on their cruise too Thomas! Yes, from Laura’s descriptions it sounds like a wonderful way to travel.

      Definitely not a budget option for Europe, but it’s a luxury experience, and you also pay for the more personal service not having huge amounts of people on board. In contrast to the experience of a cheaper, but much larger, commercial cruise ship, this approach is more immersive :)

  9. We’ve never been on a canal barge cruise, or any other cruise in fact! Mostly because we prefer roadtrips, and love to plan our trips ourselves. Also, because in most cruises we know, excursions are not included in the total price. Good to know that they’re included in the Finesse luxury barge though, and that there’s even a personal guide! The food served onboard looks stunning too, and taking a cooking lesson there while watching the scenery pass by would definitely be something quite special. Maybe we should consider doing this one day! ;)

    • We love a good road trip too! I haven’t taken a canal barge cruise myself either, but we did take a smaller expedition style cruise to Antarctica earlier in the year, and my parents have been river cruising through Europe for the past couple of years and absolutely love it.

      When you book on a smaller more intimate cruise like the canal barge experience Laura had, there’s a lot more flexibility, you have more time at places, and there’s definitely free time to take excursions either those included, or if you want to plan your days yourself.

      The food definitely looks awesome doesn’t it!

  10. Happy New Year! I have done luxury cruise, morning cruise, lunch, sunset cruise, dinner cruise, multiple day cruise and so on but never a barge cruise! Never even heard of it. It sounds and looks like a lot of fun. I guess next we are in Europe I am going to explore this option too.

    • Glad we could introduce you to a new way of cruising Nisha! From Laura’s account, canal barge cruising definitely sounds like a lot of fun! Keep it in mind as an option for your next Europe trip :)

  11. I spend my life on traditional cruise ships, but this type cruising sounds fun. The food looks delicious and I’m sure the wine pairing is excellent. I would love to do this as you really get to see a country from a different angle. How is the accommodation?

    • Might be a fun change to what you’re used to – guessing you work on big cruise ships? I always thought that would be a fabulous job, traveling to different destinations for work!

      The accommodation is the same as you would find aboard a normal luxury ship, there are just less rooms. You’ve got options for twin and double- bedded staterooms to more spacious suites – but all with closet and drawer storage and private en suite bathrooms.

  12. You are right cruising has become the biggest travel trend and when you have made up your mind then why to settle for something less. It is complete fun when once in a while when someone do whole planning for your whole trip. Seeing the countryside, getting out for cycling on the locks sounds super fun. Overall the whole package of canal barge cruise is so relaxing.

    • Can definitely understand why cruising has become so popular, and we’re really loving the smaller more intimate options like canal barge cruising.

      Totally agree that it’s a fabulous way to explore, and one of the most relaxing!

  13. Very cool idea. I took a river boat trip through Eastern Europe, and that was pretty cool, too. But I love the barge idea. Great post, good info.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Keith! A river boat through Eastern Europe sounds incredible, glad to hear you had a fabulous time. Hope you have the chance to try a barge at some point too :)

  14. Thanks for sharing this post, such a good read!

    • You’re welcome Cikasur, so glad you enjoyed the post :)

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