European river cruises are gaining in popularity by the minute, and it’s easy to understand why: these itineraries allow for all-inclusive convenience and luxury without sacrificing the intimate look at local scenery and culture lost when booking a larger ocean cruise.
Scotland, with its canals and locks, is an especially ideal country to explore by waterway. A Scotland barge cruise should hit a varied mixture of must-sees, including plenty of lochs, castles and ruins, quaint villages, and countryside sporting that unique blend between domestic and ruggedly wild only Scotland can quite pull off. Adult and solo travelers have plenty of outfitters to choose from,
Pick an itinerary that travels the Caledonian Canal
Most barge cruise operators float this canal, which runs between Banavie in the south to Inverness in the north. The Caledonian is actually a series of smaller canals connecting four natural lakes: Loch Lachy, Loch Oich, Loch Dochfour and Loch Ness. Along the way, cruises float directly past multiple castles, battlefields, and lochs, including Urquhart Castle and the infamous Loch Ness. Highlights include Neptune’s Staircase at Corpath, a stop for all barges, and Cawdor Castle, home of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
All small ship cruises are on the higher end of the vacation pricing scale, but Scotland barge cruises are especially expensive (and luxurious). Because of the narrow size of the canals in Scotland, barges must be smaller than even industry standard for small ship cruises, with passenger lists as small as six and large as 15. The smaller, more intimate the cruise, the more luxurious you can expect it to be. For the best value, consider European Waterways or Cruising Holidays. On the higher end of the scale, go all out with A&K or Hebridean.
Cruising with kids
Scotland barge cruises make for incredibly kid-friendly vacations by their very definition: this type of European holiday is all about exploration, activity, and new sights and sounds daily. Parents can leave the itinerary planning and meal preparations up to the cruise operator, a godsend when on the go in a foreign country with kids. All this said, while looking to book a barge cruise, be prepared to book the entire barge for your family alone, should you be bringing school-aged kids. Due to the small size of barges, this is a requirement of every cruising company I’ve found (and was a requirement when our family cruised). At first, the idea of booking an ‘entire barge’ for a single family seemed over the top, until I realized that with even a family of 8-10, you’d be booking your own barge anyway. Invite the grandparents and cousins, and you’re set.
Barge cruise add-ons
Once on the canal, your itinerary will be set. Most barge cruises stop for the majority of a day at major sites along the way, giving visitors plenty of time at lochs and villages. Look for a barge operator that stows cruiser bikes onboard; you’ll want these to explore village streets and cycle paths. For almost all stops, it will be easy to navigate the area on foot or bike, but after arrival at Inverness, plan to stay a few extra days at this gateway to the Scottish Highlands. Rent a car, and spend 2-3 days exploring the greater region. See more of the Urquhart area, including 4,000-year-old Corrimony Chambered Cairn, in Glen Urquhart, and take a Loch Ness Monster tour. See Plodda Falls, six miles from Cannich Village, and the Culloden battlefield, the final battle of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. All these sites are a short drive from Inverness.
This post is written in partnership with Enterprise. All opinions are my own.
Photo credit: Dave Conner and Lacegna, Flickr