World's greatest canals you can take a ship through: Six of the best

CORINTH CANAL, GREECE

Only slim vessels can sail through the Corinth Canal because it is just 21.3 metres wide. Built in the 19th century, it was first considered in Roman times as a time-saving route between the Gulf of Corinth in the Adriatic and the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean; sailing around the Peloponnese adds about 343 kilometres to the journey. The 6.4-kilometre Corinth Canal was dug through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth, making the former Peloponnese peninsula an island. Its spectacular steep cliff walls rise as high as 63 metres and today it's either used by small-ship cruise lines such as Seabourn, Silversea and SeaDream or as an excursion from bigger cruise ships.

See: Captain's nightmare: The tightest squeeze in cruising

GOTA CANAL, SWEDEN

One of the largest construction projects ever undertaken in Sweden, the 190-kilometre Gota canal connects Stockholm and Gothenburg. It was the brainchild of engineer Baltzar von Platen and was built between 1810 and 1832 by  about 60,000 soldiers. It's a dream transit for lovers of locks – there are 58, one of which is the lock staircase at Trollhattan that consists of four locks with a drop of 32 metres. A visit to the Trollhattan Canal Museum is one of many highlights along this peaceful, picturesque waterway. The vintage steamship MS Juno operates four-day cruises between Stockholm and Gothenburg; the 50-passenger vessel is the oldest registered cruise ship in the world.

KIEL CANAL, GERMANY

The North Sea-Baltic Canal, as the Kiel Canal is officially called, opened in 1895 and links the North Sea at Brunsbuttel to the Baltic at Kiel-Holtenau. The 98-kilometre canal took eight years to build and was extended between 1907 and 1914. It was originally constructed for military purposes and cuts out a 460-kilometre trip on the stormy seas around the Jutland Peninsula. Known as Europe's Panama, the Kiel Canal sees  about 40,000 ships passing through a year; however it is crossed by 11 bridges and the height restriction is 42 metres. Smaller cruise ships such as Holland America Line's Prinsendam, Oceania's Insignia and Fred.Olsen's Braemar can transit the Kiel – it takes about eight hours.

PANAMA CANAL, REPUBLIC OF PANAMA

Arguably the most famous man-made waterway in the world, the Panama Canal allows ships to sail between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, thus avoiding the often hazardous and long (12,875-kilometre) route around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. The 77-kilometre Panama Canal has a bloody history; construction began in 1881 by the French company that had developed the Suez Canal but had to be abandoned in 1894 after several thousand workers died on the job. The canal was completed by the US in 1914.  A massive expansion project – which has created a new shipping lane for post-Panamax vessels – was completed in June 2016.

See: World's best shortcut: Passing through the Panama Canal

RHINE-MAIN-DANUBE CANAL, GERMANY

Also known as the Europa Canal, this 171-kilometre canal links three major rivers – the Rhine, Main and Danube – and allows ships to travel from the Netherlands on the North Sea to Romania on the Black Sea, a 3500-kilometre waterway that flows through 15 countries. There are 16 locks on the Europa Canal and between  Hilpoltstein and Bachhausen, in the Swabian Alps, the waterway is an incredible 406 metres above sea level. The original concept was dreamed up by Charlemagne in the 8th century; in 1837, work began on the Ludwig canal between Bamberg and Kelheim; and the Europa Canal as it is today was completed in 1992.

SUEZ CANAL, EGYPT

The 193-kilometre canal that connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas was officially opened on November 17, 1869, amid much fanfare in Port Said. It took about 15 years from planning to completion and the work was carried out by forced labour – thousands of Egyptians reportedly died of cholera. The route from Port Said in the north to Port Tewfik in the south allows ships to travel between Europe and Asia without having to sail 7000 kilometres around Africa and is a single lane waterway that has no locks. Many cruise ships transit the Suez Canal on repositioning cruises, or as part of their world voyages; definitely a trip for history buffs to tick off their bucket lists.

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