Canal Du Nord: A Barge Holiday Guide

If you’ve ever dreamed of canal holidays in France, then the beautiful journey along the Canal du Nord in northern France could be just what you’re looking for. A combination of stunning landscapes, fascinating history and excellent food and wine make this an ideal destination.

On one of our luxury barge hotels, you will gently glide along this famous waterway, taking in the sights and sounds of the historic region of Picardi.

Here’s my guide to the must see-sights for all northern canal holidays in France.

About the Waterway

Running from an area south of Lille and Arras in the north to Noyon at its southern tip, the Canal du Nord ambles its way through some of the most beautiful countryside in Picardy. At a length of 95km, the waterway has some impressive tunnels, including the 4350m Grand Souterrain de Ruyaulcourt. The hotel barge makes its way through this impressive feat of engineering at a leisurely crawl, enabling you to fully appreciate the workmanship and history of the tunnel system.

The History

Although work on the canal first begun in 1908, the waterway was not actually opened to navigation until the mid 1960s. This is because it found itself at the centre of military action during the First World War.

Despite the fact that it was not officially open, the waterway proved an important strategic position during the First World War, protecting the German line from the allies. It wasn’t until the Battle of the Canal du Nord that the allies were able to cross it and begin to push the Germans back – a victory that was a key turning point at the end of the war.

Unfortunately, the damage caused to the canal’s structure during this time made it too expensive to complete after the war. In fact, it wasn’t until the boom time of the 1950s that work began on the waterway again. Thanks to the increase in transport needs during this time of strong economic growth, – particularly between the Seine Basin and the north – it was agreed that the waterway should finally be completed.

Attractions En Route

Along with providing a unique way of seeing the landscape and battle fields of the First World War, the waterway gives visitors access to an older history of the region. And nowhere is this more true than in the medieval town of Arras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visiting Arras is one of those things that makes canal holidays in France so special; it’s a town you may never have visited unless you were passing in your hotel barge. Once you’ve discovered it, however, I’m fairly sure that you’ll want to return.

With its fourteenth-century squares, in which merchants used to meet and trade, its pretty art deco town hall and its sixteenth-century belfry, there is plenty to see.

As you stroll around Arras, you’ll discover that this is not a town that’s stuck in the past, but that it’s actually a thriving, cosmopolitan space, bustling with the kind of café culture that draws so many of us to France.

So, the next time that you’re day dreaming about canal holidays in France, why not stop dreaming and nip across the Channel to the wonderful Canal du Nord? It’s closer than you may think!

Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury canal holidays in France. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.

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