The UK is packed full of incredible canals and waterways that meander through stunning countryside and skirt past quaint towns and villages. A beautiful by-product of the industrial revolution and a testament to human engineering, these canals would have been heaving with cargo, people and energy in their heyday. Fast forward 200 or so years, and they now make for some of the most relaxing places in the country to explore.  

With Henley Regatta taking place between 29 June and 3 July, we’ve selected eight stunning canals and waterways well worth a visit this summer. Whether you choose to rent a canal boat for a day trip, or just explore the towpaths for a great country walk, they’re a great way to unwind and leave the stresses of work and city life behind you.

Cheshire Ring

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This impressive canal forms a circular ring in the North West of England. At 92 miles long, it takes in an exciting variety of scenery, including the edge of the Pennines’ mountain range, rolling Cheshire countryside, the lively city centre of Manchester and past Old Trafford Stadium. There’s a grand total of 92 locks and the ring features the Bridgewater Canal – the first canal to be built in the modern waterways era. Anyone exploring the ring by boat can use the Anderton Boat Lift; an incredible feat of engineering that lifts canal boats 50ft between the Weaver Navigation and the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Norfolk Broads
Despite being cut off from the rest of England’s canal and river network, the Norfolk Broads are among the most popular waterways in the UK. This complex network of rivers, lakes and dykes covers a huge area of Norfolk and Suffolk. The entire river system would take well over a week to explore, meaning that visitors come back time and time again to discover new routes and river ways. The Broads also wind through idyllic villages and quiet market towns, with access to the coast and Great Yarmouth, as well as historic Norwich.

Kennet and Avon Canal 
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Considered by many to be one of Britain’s most beautiful waterways, this 87-mile route links London with the Bristol Channel, via two stretches of river joined by a canal. The waterway passes through the spectacular landscapes of the Cotswolds and the Berkshire countryside and includes the impressive flight of 16 locks at Caen Hill Locks which is a must-see. The Kennet and Avon Cycle Route is Britain’s most popular long-distance waterside cycle route, following the canal or the Bristol to Bath railway the whole way. 

Oxford Canal
Winding sleepily through pretty villages, the Oxford Canal takes visitors from historic Oxford through to the three spires of Coventry. With waterways lined by cosy country pubs and colourful flower tubs, this gentle canal boasts wonderful views across the British countryside and opportunities to spot a rich variety of wildlife. A long distance walking route follows the towpath for 77 miles from Oxford to Hawkesbury, so hikers can enjoy experiencing the slow paced majesty of this lovely canal. 

Regent’s Canal
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A trip along the Regent’s Canal offers a leisurely way to explore bustling London away from the crowded streets and roads. This quiet and atmospheric route passes from Little Venice to Camden Lock Market, via Lord’s Cricket Ground, a variety of parks, ZSL London Zoo and several impressive Victorian Warehouses. Visitors can either explore the canal by boat, kayak or simply stroll along the waterside pathways. 

The Llangollen Canal
Crossing the border between England and Wales, the Llangollen Canal passes through picturesque countryside and the stunning Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the tallest navigable example in Britain. The aqueduct is over 126 feet high over the River Dee as it winds through the valley and can be crossed either by boat or by foot. The rest of the canal journey boasts a steam railway and gorgeous accompanying pathways for cyclists or hikers to explore the route too. 

Birmingham Canal
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Famously, Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice, so if you’re looking for a place to explore the great British canal network then it’s a great place to start. A gentle cruise through the meandering waters gives you a unique view of both Birmingham’s past and present. Once the hub of the industrial revolution, old factories and warehouses are now nestled in-between luxury shops, modern bars and cosy cafes along the banks of the canals. 

Falkirk Wheel
An impressive feat of modern engineering, the Falkirk wheel uniquely connects the Forth & Clyde and Union canals. Ideal for a daytrip, you can experience the world’s only rotating boatlift yourself or just watch this magnificent structure in action. To explore the surrounding area, bring your bike and follow the cycle trails or book in for a Segway tour. 

Words: PremierInn