Britain may be an island surrounded by majestic sea-scapes and old, beguiling ports, but its finest waterways actually lie inland. The U.K. has 3,200 kilometers of navigable canals, left over from the 19th century, when it was the industrial manufacturer to the world. In recent years they've been transformed into placid greenways—complete with bustling marinas and a system of locks that still carry traditional-style narrow boats across the undulating British countryside—and have become popular for tours and day trips (waterscape.com). There are now more boats out on the water than at the peak of the Industrial Revolution.
For the classy urbanite, Annie's Launch offers luxurious narrow-boating at its best. Located just a half hour from central London (or less if using the helicopter service), Annie's combines leisurely tours with wine tasting and fine dining; menu choices includes English and Thai—Annie's specialty—with seating for up to eight people. For an even more relaxed outing, Annie's "Pampering Days" include onboard massages and a refreshing array of organic salads and healthy fruit juices. Short tours, between two and three hours, start at about $300, and three-course meals run $40 and up (annies launch.co.uk). Jason's Trip can ferry a more raucous party of up to 36 on the famous Regent's Canal, cutting straight through the heart of London. A night out runs about $1,200 (jasons.co.uk).
A more authentic, but no less indulgent, experience can be found in Wales, home to some of the most picturesque canal routes in the U.K. For longer getaways, Beacon Park Boats allows travelers to rent and pilot its five-star vessels, which include four-poster beds, cozy log fireplaces and a Jacuzzi on the main deck. A long weekend sojourn runs approximately $1,000, and piloting the Monmouthshire and Brecon canals takes passengers back to the days when iron ore and coal were shipped from Welsh mines to far-off places (beacon parkboats.com). Anglo Welsh rents narrow boats for touring the stunning Llangollen Canal, where tranquil waters cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct—"Ponty" for short—the most impressive structure of its kind in Britain. Completed in 1805, the Ponty awaits designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site this summer. Prices start at $1,000 for a week (anglowelsh. co.uk). Get onboard while there's still room.