See Europe's Best Cities In Comfort On A Canal Cruise

It seems like there is a never-ending list of ways to travel and experience a city, a region, and even an entire hemisphere these days. Part of this expansive wave of travel modes is all thanks to cruises. Ocean cruises can cover the entirety of the South Pacific from Australia to Tahiti. River cruises down the Nile will make you feel like you've been transported back in time. Now, canal cruises (also called barge cruises) are joining the ranks as a premier experience for those wanting to explore Europe in a more unique way.

However, when you think of cruises along rivers and canals, they don't seem like they would differ that much. After all, they're both just on narrow-flowing bodies of water, right? In reality, premium canal cruises are actually much different from river cruises. Typically, the vessels are smaller since they operate on narrow canals as opposed to large rivers like the Danube. Incidentally, this makes the experience more intimate, with many canal cruises only hosting between 12 to 24 passengers at a time. But what else can you expect from a canal cruise and where in Europe do they operate? Let's dive in!

What to expect on a canal cruise

If you've traveled to Europe before, a canal cruise is a great way to see a different side of the region's most famously beautiful countries such as France, Italy, and Ireland. However, even if you have never traveled to Europe or haven't seen much of it, you may enjoy these types of cruises, especially if you're curious about what a slow travel experience might be like.

And while slow travel is a figurative way to describe a philosophy of travel, canal cruises do literally travel more slowly. How slow? Most small canal cruises will go no faster than a brisk walking pace, about 4 miles an hour. So you won't have to worry about missing anything if you're sitting on deck, enjoying the view with your fellow passengers.

As mentioned, canal cruise boats are much smaller with fewer occupants, so expect to spend a fair amount of time with the other passengers on your boat. If you love the idea of making new friends and socializing with groups from all around the world, this is absolutely a great way to do that. While it might feel awkward to chat with strangers at your fancy resort in Sorrento, it will feel totally natural in these more intimate spaces as you slowly bob along the waterways. Additionally, fewer passengers also means better food experiences, too. With just a small group of mouths to feed you can be guaranteed that the food is fresh and locally sourced.

What you can see in Europe on canal cruises

As the name suggests, canal cruises typically operate on canals. However, some itineraries may partially journey along rivers but at a slower pace. For the most part though, canal cruise lines will set sail in destinations across France, Holland, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Italy.

If you're a wine enthusiast, you'll definitely want to take a look at your options in France. Canal cruises here explore the famous wine regions of Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, and Champagne. In Italy, you are likely to start or end your journey in Venice but also explore lesser-known cities like Mantua, Chioggia, and cities along the River Po at a pace that matches the Italian sentiment of la dolce vita.

In the U.K. and Ireland, you'll get to explore the beautiful lochs of Scotland along with their many medieval castles. In Ireland, you can mosey down the Shannon Waterway to enjoy endless rolling green hillsides as you meander by on what feels like your own private boat.

Though France, Italy, and the U.K. may be popular, canal cruises and Holland go together like chocolate sprinkles on buttered bread. Seeing as much of the Netherlands is built on bogs, a maze-like canvas of canals intersects the country. This makes it the perfect place to dip your toes in the canal cruising experience.