Want to totally disconnect from a breakneck pace and at the same time tantalize your mind with interesting and historic scenery? Consider a canal boat vacation. Set a relaxing pace as you and your group, not a tour operator, decide on your own schedule and time and explore what interests you the most. Spontaneity allows you to capitalize on prime interests and make the most of your getaway.

A typical day begins as you wake from your comfortable stateroom bed, take a shower, and eat breakfast in the boat’s large lounge area. Then start your engine, retrieve the ropes, and begin a slow, peaceful, leisurely cruise down a bucolic river.

Gaze at nature’s beauty and historic ruins en route to a cool village to explore. Next, enjoy a fine meal at a surprisingly inexpensive price, gather helpful tips from a local, and head to a marquis site, like a 500-year-old castle. Or, take a bike ride through the countryside, and consume a healthy meal without calorie guilt.

In many ways, it’s like an RV vacation, but instead of traveling along highways with billboards, gas stations, industrial sites, and competitive drivers — or the stress of negotiating a big rig on tiny, curvy roads — you are blissfully and peacefully gliding through nature’s paradise to your next destination.

Sounds great, but can you do it? Experience really isn’t necessary. These boats are literally like floating bumper cars, with easy-to-use maps and directions. Of course, the first thing you receive is thorough training on operating the vessel by the local Locaboat personnel. Glenda and Shane were warm and welcoming, as well as extremely helpful.

Can you do it? Absolutely! And, as a team, it’s even easier. Better yet, if two or three couples are splitting the expenses, it’s cheaper than going to the beach. It also becomes a great bonding experience.

The boat has everything you need. Many sizes and configurations are available. Ours had four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a fully equipped galley, a lounge/living/dining room area, topside seating, and plenty of outdoor space.

Map out your options with the guides when you pick up the boat and receive your training and briefing. Our Locaboat staff members were the perfect source of local information. They’ve seen the sights firsthand and can assist you in optimizing your plan so as not to miss highlights you would enjoy the most.

Cruising Shannon River villages

Shannonbridge was a classic Irish village. We had a fantastic and very affordable meal at Luker’s Pub, literally across the street from the marina. A pint of Guinness and some fish and chips served as an authentic taste of the region’s heritage.

Across the old stone bridge, which was built about 400 years ago and renovated in the 1980s, we found fortress ruins. It seems most towns had this common feature of the old stone bridge at a river crossing and a castle or fortress (built in the time of the Napoleonic Wars), as well as numerous old buildings and cottages, authentic remnants of the past but surviving quite well.

Terryglass was a favorite of all. The perfectly preserved small town had an Irish pub and a traditional-style restaurant called the Derg Inn. Here, we enjoyed some great, live Irish music, and a fantastic meal. In fact, the restaurant is noted as a premier Irish Waterways culinary destination.

The town also had a magnificent “secret garden,” old church, and a well with curative powers. The marina there was exceptionally nice and offered a quiet shelter, superb views, manicured landscape, and top-notch facilities.

Portumna offered the ruins from an old abbey and a castle with informative tours that included the interior, grounds, and gardens. It also had a great full-service marina and nearby grocery to stock up on provisions, all easily reached by foot or bicycle.

Banagher is a traditional Irish village. The marina was free and nice, and everything was within an easy walk. Flynn’s is a great Irish pub with fantastic food, fireplace, and rich wood interior, and it was an unbelievable value. The Irish coffees after dinner were delicious.

We also had brunch at the Vine House Kitchen in Banagher. It is tucked in a little courtyard where the tourist office is located. We were surprised to find the most delicious spaghetti carbonara, sandwiches, and scones in this quaint, nicely decorated cafe owned by award-winning chef restaurateur couple Adam and Rachelle Ashton.

Clonmacnoise is a must-see highlight and soon-to-be World Heritage Site. Buildings from the mid-500s exist by the score, and you can take an informative tour or freely walk around on your own. Beautiful Celtic crosses adorn the cemetery. Be careful, though, as there are pitfalls (hidden holes and slippery grass) waiting for you in the cemetery. Stick to the paths to be on the safe


Athlone has a huge castle where you can learn about the history of the city and surrounding areas. It is also home to Sean’s, the oldest-running pub in Ireland. It’s one of the larger towns you’ll see along the way, with tons of shopping and interesting sights. We visited several antique shops which were brimming with finds.

Surprises await

All journeys come with surprises — many of them quite pleasant! Here were some of ours:

Super cheap food and high-quality meals

Typically, our group of six dined at a nice restaurant, got anything we desired, enjoyed sumptuous entrees, drank nice wines, and would have the entire tab come in under $30 a head, less than most chain restaurants in the U.S. A robust lunch could come in under $10 a head

Friendly people everywhere

The people we met were always looking to be helpful and share a smile. It was a carefree environment (and litter-free, too).

Well-marked waterways

On our fifth canal yacht trip, we found this to have, by far, the most-well-marked waterways, which reduced stress by having few, if any, confusing moments.

Countless old ruins

Found along the way, these encouraged our minds to wander, contemplating days gone by.

Swans, swans, and more swans

They were everywhere, nesting along the river.

Easy locks and bridges

Each lock or bridge opening had a keeper to operate it for you. There were very few of them, and they were easy to navigate.

Great beginner’s route

The low cost and ease of navigation made this route an excellent choice for beginners.

You can make your own dream vacation come true. Begin by visiting locaboat.com, decide on the best destination and vessel for your needs, and perhaps invite friends to join you.

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