Barge holidays are one of Britain’s most loveliest staycations. Unlimited wildlife, shared experiences, waterside pubs. But purists will insist these are narrowboats, not barges.

What is the difference between a narrowboat and a barge holiday?

Narrowboats are uniquely British. They were designed to navigate the canal networks of England, Wales and Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries, to help transport goods during the Industrial Revolution. And in real terms they haven’t changed very much because neither have the canals. A narrowboat needs to be under 6’10” wide in order to enter the narrowest locks here. Most measure 50 – 72 feet in length, giving them their slender, distinctive shape. 

Marbled White narrowboat for hire

Elsewhere, you will find barges. This is a term used to define larger, flat-bottomed boats which typically might still be used to transport cargo. “Barge” is a broad definition which includes sea-going vessels, along with those of the inland waterways. The designs and dimensions are varied, but due to the width of the canals outside Britain, they are almost always wider than our home-grown narrowboats.  

The beauty of our narrowboats is that they are easily driven by inexperienced boaters. Their long shape needs some concentration and skill to manoevre, but these are fairly easily learned during a handover.

Widebeam canal boats are also available in the UK to hire – for a static holiday or hotel boat, for instance. But if you’d like to explore the heart of England during your break, you will need to opt for a narrowboat.


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