The Best Way to See Wales Is by Canal Boat — Here's How to Plan Your Trip

On a watery journey through Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales, learn to let fate take the wheel.

A narrowboat barge houseboat on a canal in Wales
One of Country Craft Narrowboats’ barges glides down the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, in Wales. Photo:

Courtesy of Country Craft Narrowboats

“Slower!” my partner, Alex, yelled from the footpath beside the canal I was barreling down. His warm Welsh accent and deliberate tone almost masked the panic in his voice. 

In response, I promptly pushed the wrong lever forward and ran our 45-foot-long narrowboat full speed into the metal underhang of the drawbridge Alex had just cranked open. Luckily, full speed on this vessel is about four miles per hour. Still, metal hitting metal produced a resounding bang, stopping a small crowd of passersby in their tracks. Nothing like an American taking the wheel in the U.K. 

“Really… slowly,” Alex repeated. Beside me, my golden retriever, Cali, eyed the shore as though she might abandon ship.

Two photos on a canal in Wales, one showing a woman on a barge, and one showing a dog on the banks of the canal
The author, Nina Ruggiero, on a canal boat in Wales; the author's dog along the riverbank.

Courtesy of Nina Ruggiero

For our three-day canal trip through Brecon Beacons National Park, in South Wales, we had rented the boat from Country Craft Narrowboats in the village of Llangynidr. Alex grew up about 30 miles away, and often went fishing and camping in the area with his family. Our boat, Country Girl, had a double bed with plaid bedding, a full kitchen, a lounge and dining area, a bathroom with a shower, and a deck big enough for two camping chairs, where we would sit with our morning coffees while ducks paddled beside us. 

Our 20-mile round-trip took us along the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, from Llangyndir to the town of Brecon and back. We floated past rural villages, sheep-filled pastures, and the red sandstone peaks of the Brecon Beacons, the mountain range for which the park is named. We followed a map of canal-side pubs, mooring up overnight so we could easily retire to our boat after dinner for a game of cards or go straight to sleep in our cozy floating home. 

Our days were spent in blissful solitude. For hours at a time, we soaked in the sights and sounds of the park, sometimes stopping for a stroll or picnic.

After a wet, windy day of lifting and lowering canal locks and maneuvering out of mudbanks, no place embodies a cwtch (the Welsh word for a cuddle, hug, or small, safe space) quite like a warm pub. We often pulled up — hair drenched, clothes dirty, damp dog in tow — and were welcomed with open arms. After stopping at the Royal Oak, in the village of Pencelli, it wasn’t long before we received a call that our boat had come loose and was floating mid-canal; Alex ran out into the rain to fetch it. Sitting by the fire with a glass of Brecon Gin — a Welsh spirit that’s distilled with water from the national park — helped take the edge off.

More Trip Ideas: 16 Fairy-tale Castles in Wales to Inspire Your Next Trip

Naturally, we celebrated our halfway point in Brecon with to-go gins with all the trimmings — rosemary sprigs, grapefruit slices, and black peppercorns — from Hop In Beer & Gin House. Later that evening we docked near Three Horseshoes Inn, a hilltop gastropub in Groesffordd, and feasted on braised leeks, pork belly, and Cornish monkfish inside a wooden beach hut in the back garden.

Two photos from Wales, one showing a private cabin space, and one showing an honestly box with honey
A canal-side cabin for private dining; local Welsh honey along the canal.

Courtesy of Nina Ruggiero

Other than mingling with a few volunteer lock keepers — who graciously walked me through operating the locks along the rest of our path while Alex steered the tiller (we learn from our mistakes) — our days were spent in blissful solitude. For hours at a time, we soaked in the sights and sounds of the park, sometimes stopping for a stroll or picnic. When the rain came, as it did each day, we would comically jump into survival mode, grabbing our waterproof gear and shouting directions, our voices lost in the wind as we teamed up to haphazardly guide our ship to safety.

A village in Wales, on a canal
The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal flows through South Wales.

Courtesy of Nina Ruggiero

Somewhere within that contrast of peace and adrenaline, I gained a deeper understanding of the fondness with which Alex always speaks of his childhood trips to the Brecon Beacons. His deep-rooted positivity and enthusiasm for the everyday, which felt so refreshingly foreign to me when I first met him, suddenly made sense: if the Welsh didn’t learn to dance in the rain, they wouldn’t have much time to dance at all. 

Canal Cruising in Wales

The six barges offered by Country Craft Narrowboats have all the comforts of home. Available March–October.

Pubs to Visit

The Coach & Horses Inn, Llangynidr

Find traditional ales at this 16th-century inn’s casual bar and sophisticated, seafood-forward takes on pub grub in its dining room, including fish pie with saffron mash and roasted cod loin with pea and mint purée.

White Hart Inn, Talybont on Usk

Just off the Taff Trail, re-fuel after a hike or cycle with a traditional Sunday roast or a hearty steak and ale pie, lamb shank, or chili con carne accompanied by a wide selection of local cask beers and gins.

The Royal Oak, Pencelli

Home-cooked classics including gammon and eggs, fish and chips, and chicken curry are best enjoyed in this family-run pub's waterfront beer garden on sunny days and inside by the open fire on rainy ones.

The Three Horseshoes Inn, Groesffordd

Seasonal gastropub fare like venison haunch with turnip and crispy kale; pork belly with granny smith apple and braised shallots; and charred braised leek with nori seaweed emulsion is served in garden beach huts so patrons can enjoy the hilltop view in any weather.

Hop In Beer & Gin House, Brecon

Opened in 2020, Hop In serves craft beer from “progressive breweries” and gin from all over the world alongside tapas made with ingredients from local purveyors, including traditional lamb cawl with Welsh cheddar; mussels in white wine, garlic, and leek; and confit of duck leg with spring onion and ginger croquettes.

To explore Wales more deeply, contact Nicola Butler, a T+L A-List advisor who plans trips throughout the country, including hidden gems like the Pembrokeshire coast. Email:

A version of this story first appeared in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "Tales of the Riverbank."

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