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Your Best European Barging Vacation

A European barging vacation is very different from a river cruise

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River cruises sail…barge cruises meander…

Unlike river cruises, barging is an intimate experience.

These vessels floating on man-made canals that have no currents…hold between 4 and 24 people only and travel a slow-paced four miles per hour…you could walk faster as they cover between 30 and 50 miles per week.

You get to know everyone on board; or if you prefer, you can also charter an entire barge just for your family and friends.

With barging there are generally no set activities when you dock at a waterside town… you might go wine tasting, sample local cheeses, take a long walk or bike ride to a nearby village or do some sightseeing in a minibus.

You will find most of the barges in France. Barging is also popular in Ireland, England and Scotland, Holland (during Tulip Time), Germany and Belgium.

Is European barging for you?

  • If you’re an inexperienced traveler, a backpacker, or simply prefer the urban life, barging in Europe is probably not for you.
  • Barge cruisers tend to be retired, active but low key 50 – 70 year olds who are educated, well-traveled, and appreciate excellent food and wine…think about two hour lunches and three hour dinners…
  • These cruises are also popular with families who want to charter their own barge – grandparents, parents and children. It’s a great way for your family to reconnect and share new experiences.

Great benefits of European barging

It’s easy to get used to this kind of life…

  • Relaxing…you don’t have to do anything…walk or bike along shore, read, do a little sightseeing and a lot of dining on the regional foods and wines.
  • Eating three gourmet meals a day…you’ll get to know the dining room very well!

And some items to also think of…

  • Barge cruises are more expensive than river cruises…minimum $4000 per week. However, some barges on rivers in France are also available without a crew on a bare-boat basis.
  • You and your other travelers are the entertainment. No shows.

Some important information about European barging…

  • Dress casual…also for meals.
  • Staterooms on most barges are now spacious and well appointed, more like the cabins you find on a cruise ship.
  • Many are air-conditioned, have central heating (needed in the beginning and at the end of the barging season) and are carpeted throughout. Ask questions to make sure the barge offers what is important to you.
  • You also find some larger barges in France…up to 50 passengers. If you’re traveling as a single person it’s sometimes better to book on a larger barge (18 – 20 passengers or even more) so that you can meet compatible travelers.

A very important tip on European barging…

Not all barges are the same...and for that reason, when choosing barges in Europe, I suggest you either get a recommendation from a friend…or book with one of the few true barge travel specialists.

Specialists stay on top of everything, including staff changes. If a skipper moves to another barge…the atmosphere can change drastically…luckily several captains now own their barges.

Different barges in Europe…which one is the best for you?

  • Deluxe…cabins are a lot bigger with nicer bathrooms, a roomier lounge, maybe a swimming pool and air-conditioning.
  • First Class…barges tend to be a bit older and have smaller cabins, generally twin beds. They’re less spacious and have a smaller crew but still serve the lavish meals and wines.

Where can you go barging in Europe?

  • Barging in France is very important. Burgundy is one of the most popular areas. Others are the Loire Valley (think castles and ballooning) and the Canal du Midi in Southern France…think about the weather for earlier or later in the season.
  • The Shannon River in Ireland, the Caledonian Canal in Scotland and the Thames River in England also have barge cruises.
  • Most of the barges start the year in Holland for the Tulip cruises…but remember that at that time of the year the weather can be a bit chilly…
  • Finally, you find a few barge cruises in Germany and Belgium.

Most barges cruises last one week, however, in Belgium you can go barging for a few days to “try it out”, especially if you’re not sure barging is for you.

For additional information visit the European Travel Resource Center.

If you like it…you can go again the following year.

The good life is very easy to get used to!

Some barge cruise booking offices…

Booking barge cruises is a specialty…not every travel agent knows the ins and outs of it.

The Barge Lady, Barges in France and European Waterways are three of the major offices. French Country Waterways is one of the few companies that owns their own barges.

For Belgium contact the 4 Vaargetijden barge.

So…what’s the best way to choose your barging vacation in Europe?

  • Decide which country you want to visit…France, Great Britain, Ireland, Holland, Germany or Belgium.
  • Decide which area you want to visit in the country you choose…this is very important for France. The time of the year is important, too. If it’s early of late in the season you should go farther south to the Canal du Midi in France, for example...
  • Visit the booking office web sites…read all the details and call them if you have specific questions.
  • Most barge cruises last a week. If you prefer to try barging out for a few days, book the barge in Belgium.


Finding the best Hotel Barge Cruise for your party is complicated. You need a specialist.

CUT+Paste "http://www.bargeladycruises.com/barge-rating-system" for the most informative website.

Final tip

This is more important for barge cruises than river cruises…

The Barge season is from April through November, but the most popular months are May, June, September and October.

In the beginning and end of the European Barging season prices are lower…but the weather may not be as nice…the cruises are fine but be sure to bring some “things to do” if it’s raining for a few days.

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