Canals and waterways give a city a certain charm, whether it’s the relaxing effect of flowing water, the creation of wildlife habitats in an urban setting, or the buzz of a city which was once a trading hub. And who hasn’t dreamt of a romantic night on a traditional canal barge or narrowboat.
Amsterdam: Canal fever in the Lowlands
Amsterdam is one of the most famous canal cities, of course, and there are plenty of barges available for weekend stays if you want to sleep on the water. If this isn’t for you, then there are hotels of all grades from luxury and boutique, to quirky B&Bs lining the rings of ‘grachts’. Take a boat tour or cruise on the canals and get a unique perspective on the city and its colourful history. No trip to the ‘Dam is complete without a visit to the Poezenboot (‘Catboat’), a sanctuary for stray and abandoned felines lodged on houseboats on the Singelgracht.
If you’ve caught canal fever and a taste for the Lowlands, the smaller cities of Groningen, Delft and Utrecht have their own quieter waterways and fascinating canal side architecture. Utrecht’s canals, for example, are ‘sunken’ – featuring a lower level of former boat workshops and cellars, many of which are now cafés, bars and restaurants.
Venice of the North?
Venice is another obvious choice but can be crowded and expensive – especially if you’re looking for a hotel room or restaurant table overlooking the Grand Canal. It’s easier to get closer to the water in Stockholm or St Petersburg – cities vying for the title of ‘Venice of the North’.Stockholm is built across 14 islands and is the starting point for the 190km-long Gota canal, which runs coast-to-coast across Sweden to Gothenburg on the Baltic coast. St Petersburg, meanwhile, is laid out over the delta of the River Neva and is easily navigable on tour boats and water taxis.
If neither ‘northern Venice’ appeals, you could try a very different Venice on the US West Coast. Venice Beach, Los Angeles, is famous for its seashore boardwalk and its celebrity residents, thanks to its proximity to Hollywood, but just a few blocks back from the seafront are the surviving canals. If your budget won’t stretch to renting a holiday house backing on to one of these, there are footpaths and bridges through the district, allowing you to get a glimpse.
Yet you don’t have to go too far to experience canal life. It’s easy to over look England’s rich heritage of waterways, which are a reminder of an industrial past.Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield are just a few of the cities which have been regenerated in recent years with redevelopment of their dockland areas for tourism and entertainment.
Finally, don’t forget the capital. From Camden Lock to Regent’s Canal – via Little Venice – and down to the Limehouse Basin, you can walk or cycle the towpaths in some areas for a very different outlook onLondon.
Whenever you travel, you may wish to buy your travel money (Euro’s or Swedish Krona) in advance.