The French call it the ‘hexagon’ and it’s easy to see why. Within this geometrically defined land, neatly bordered by three seas and six countries, the physical geography is a story of rivers rolling down gentle gradients from the centre, the Alps and the Pyrenees to the three seas and the three north-lying countries. These rivers were all navigable with shallow-draught boats in their natural state. The history of settlement, consolidation of the nation and then its industrial and economic development is inextricably bound up in the growth of inland navigation first on these rivers, improved with weirs and locks, then on the canals that were built over more than three centuries, from 1642 to 1966, to link up the rivers and thus create the amazing network shown on this map.
All the richness and diversity of France are embodied in the 80 navigable rivers and canals that are presented on these pages, with descriptions and practical information for planning cruises.
The network is divided into eight regions, with between 7 and 15 waterways under each region, as listed below. The information, maps and images for each waterway are broken down for convenience into four tabs: Summary, Essentials, Details+Map, and Guides+Downloads. For complete detailed information, click on any of the region titles, or on an individual waterway name.
The Eight Waterway Regions of France ~ Rivers and Canals
** = Through navigation currently unavailable
- Dunkerque Canals
- Gravelines and River Aa
- Canal de Calais
- Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut
- Canal de la Deûle
- River Lys
- Canal de Roubaix
- Canal de Pommeroeul à Condé
- River Scarpe
- River Escaut
- Canal du Nord
- ** Seine-Nord Europe Canal (planned)
- Canal de Saint-Quentin
- ** River Sambre and Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise
- Saint-Valéry and Canal de la Somme
Each waterway page has been compiled and edited by David Edwards-May (waterways consultant and author of ‘Inland Waterways of France) and Jenny Ruff, and founded on the extensive 7,000km of personal experience of the french-waterways.com team since 2003.