See Amsterdam’s low bridges, arching trees, and historic narrow houses from a sightseeing or dinner cruise.
The Panama Canal, Panama
Joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, this 50-mile (80-kilometer) engineering marvel is used by thousands of ships large and small each year. On partial or complete transits of the canal (a complete transit takes a day), you can sail beside giant cargo ships and the little tugs who guide them from one sea to another through three sets of double locks.
These canals—built in the mid-19th century—comprise 524 miles (843 kilometers) of waterways and towpaths between Albany and Buffalo, New York. The Erie Canal travels through Rochester, where you can tour Susan B. Anthony’s home. You can rent a boat and sail it yourself, or hire a crew.
The White Sea—an extension of the Arctic off northwestern Russia—is connected to St. Petersburg, on the Baltic, by a 140-mile (225-kilometer) canal system. It was constructed in the 1930s by prisoners, working mainly with spades and picks. You’ll pass traditional villages and old wooden chapels.
Travel around Denmark’s capital city on the hop-on, hop-off water buses that ply its many canals. Some of the routes give great views of the Little Mermaid statue. The boats are open in summer, glass-roofed in winter, and run year-round.
Low bridges, arching trees, and historic narrow houses line Amsterdam’s many canals. Take a sightseeing or dinner cruise; or, better yet, stay in a houseboat hotel and make the canals your base. Alternatively, you can pedal along the canals yourself; Canal Bike rents pedal boats, which you can hire at one mooring and drop off at another. www.blueboat.nl, www.canal.nl
The Black Sea Canal, Romania
The 40-mile (64-kilometer) Black Sea canal, completed in 1984, goes from Ruse, on the Bulgarian section of the Danube River, to Constant, a popular Romanian resort on the Black Sea. The canal is part of the wildlife-rich Danube Delta area, home to pelicans, herons, egrets, and up to 300 other species of birds.
The canal connects a series of lakes, allowing boats to travel almost all the way across Sweden from Lake Vänern, near Gothenberg, to the Baltic. Along the way are 58 locks; be sure to come on deck to watch the crew open them and maneuver the ship through. Dozens of different boats ply the canals and you can cruise for a few hours or a whole week. For a more active canal experience, rent a canoe or kayak and paddle along the canal.
Between Berlin and the Baltic, explore a network of lakes and canals that takes you past castles and quaint towns. Along the way you’ll see heron standing silently in the shallows and catch glimpses of irridescent turquoise kingfishers darting along the surface of the water. On lazy summer afternoons fishermen line the banks; that evening, sample their catch in the local restaurants where carp and other freshwater fish are a specialty.
France’s 5,000-mile (8,050-kilometer) network of canals can take you from north to south, or anywhere in between, exploring towns and villages on the way. To the south, the Canal du Midi passes through a land of vineyards and walled cities, many in easy reach of the canal. Tie up outside a small town, and go ashore to sample local food and wine. Many restaurants feature regional specialties. Most towns have weekly markets where you can stock up on provisions.
The northern half of the Shropshire Union Canal in England’s West Midlands meanders through gently rolling landscape. South of Nantwich it travels in a nearly straight line through hills and across valleys via deep cuttings and magnificent bridges. The canal is a monument to the early days of the industrial revolution; the brightly painted narrow boats also seem to come from another era. Boats go at walking speed so that their wakes don’t erode the banks.