on the canals and rivers of France
years ago, while navigable rivers in the UK and Holland were already
saturated in parts by cabin cruisers, narrow boats, and other
rivercraft, French rivers were largely deserted. And relatively
speaking, that remains true to this day. As well as all its other
tourist attractions and opportunities, France also offers an incredible
array of opportunities for anyone looking for the calm and slow life of
a holiday on the water. And what's more, there are opportunities for
boating holidays virtually all over France, including on rivers that
have been reopened to navigation in recent years.
Main French river cruises
cruises are available in several parts of France; but there are four
principal routes for river-cruising in France: they are
For a choice of all-in cruises on these routes, click
- Cruises on the Seine
downstream from Paris
- Cruises up and down the Rhone and Saône,
from Chalon sur
Saône to Avignon,
cruises up to and down from Basel,
a Swiss city on the French border, taking in Strasbourg.
cruises, taking in wine-growing areas round Bordeaux.
local operators run cruises on other rivers, in particular higher
reaches of the Seine and Yonne, the Saone and Doubs, the Moselle and
connecting canals. Large cruise boats cannot navigate on these
waterways, mostly in the east of France, as they have locks built to
the historic Freycinet gauge, a width of 5.05 metres or 16ft 6 inches.
While considerably larger than the narrow-boat gauge used on most
canals in the United Kingdom, the Freycinet gauge was not designed for
the type of cruise boats seen on the Rhine, the Rhone or other major
cruisers can be hired at several locations
on these waterways, and on the Brittany waterway network.
The regions and waterway networks:
The most extensive network of waterways for boating holidays in France
is in central eastern and northeastern France. Anyone who has visited
Paris will have noticed how busy the Seine is, not just
with barges, but also with tour boats and holiday cruisers. But Paris
is just one important point on an extensive network of
waterways stretching throughout the eastern regions of France.
To the north
of Paris, the Seine is a busy waterway, connecting with
France's main port of le Havre.
South of Paris, there is a major
waterways open to pleasurecraft; as well as the rivers Seine, Marne
there is a
network of canals, once used to transport goods, connecting these
rivers to other river basins, notably the Loire
valley and the
a tributary of the Rhone.
of central eastern France, notably the Canal de Bourgogne (Burgundy canal),
the Loire Canal (Canal latéral de la Loire) , the Nivernais
the Canal du Centre, form an interesting network linking the Loire,
Seine and Saone valleys.
The Yonne at Auxerre
France, a dense network of canals links the main rivers,
many of which are navigable for many miles. The Saone and the Doubs rivers are
particularly attractive, and also connected to the Rhine
and to the Marne,
holidaymakers to discover the rural charm of regions such as Franche Comté
which are often well off the beaten track as far as traditional tourism
In the south of France,
there is one network of canals that is particularly famous, and that is
the Canal des Deux Mers,
which includes the Canal
du Midi, linking the Atlantic to the
Mediterranean. A UNESCO world heritage site, this is the oldest major
operating canal system in the world, completed in 1681. It passes
through southwest France, linking Bordeaux on the Garonne to
and the Mediterranean coast of the Languedoc region,
by way of attractive places such as the walled city of Carcassonne.
offers a selection of disconnected navigable rivers - or, to be more
precise, - navigable rivers that have disconnected sections
or are only connected by way of the coast. Among popular waterways in
western France are parts of the river Lot, the river Charente (over 150
navigable kilometers, up as far as Angoulême), or the
The lower reaches of the Loire are navigable, but the river
is not a popular boating area. In the Loire valley, there
are two popular boating areas. Firstly
the Erdre (which meets the Loire at Nantes), and connects to Vilaine and the the
Brittany waterway network; secondly the Sarthe / Oudon / Mayenne
north of Angers.
waterways network is centered on the small town of Redon, where the
north south link, cutting right across Brittany from the Rance to the Vilaine, crosses the
east-west link from Nantes to Lorient, by way of the still-existing
section of the Britanny coastal canal. Contrary to
information shown on certain maps and websites, this canal is no longer
navigable from end to end.
Click this link for a map of
the rivers of France.
on this page. Top, the Seine at Paris, below River Yonne at Auxerre
middle the Canal du Midi, bottom: dinner cruise on the Erdre,
To contact this website, send an email to info "at"
a river cruise in France
For visitors from the
high-speed rail travel from the UK