In many parts of the world, the months of July and August are synonymous with beaches and sailing, but what about seeing a new destination from the water? With the best views and popular summer destinations in mind, the members and editors of virtualtourist.com have selected their “Top 10 Scenic Boat Rides.”
1. Golden Gate Ferry
San Francisco to Sausalito, Calif.
The San Francisco Bay is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque vistas on the West Coast and experiencing it by ferry is both affordable and a perfect way to explore the beautiful towns north of the city’s peninsula. Start at the San Francisco Ferry Building, which is a tourist destination in its own right, with a renowned farmers market three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) and a great selection of shops. Board the ferry to Sausalito for a short 30-minute ride — it sells wine and beer, so enjoy a drink while taking in the views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay. Cyclists can bring bikes for free, so Virtual Tourist members recommend taking or renting a bike so you can tour Sausalito’s quaint town before returning to the big city.
2. Star Ferry
The most well-known ferry ride in Asia, the Star Ferry connects Hong Kong Island with Kowloon Peninsula to the north. Ferries leave from both the Central and Wan Chai areas of Hong Kong Island, arriving at Tsim Sha Tsui’s Star Ferry Pier on the Kowloon Peninsula. It’s a fantastic way to take in Hong Kong’s skyline during the day and with ferries departing as late as 10:30 p.m., it’s also a great way to see the city’s nightly light display, “A Symphony of Lights.” The Star Ferry also has a Harbour Tour option which circles Victoria Harbor and lasts an hour. It offers Single Ride Round Trip tickets during the day, night and special Symphony of Lights Harbor Cruise.
3. Venice Vaporetto
While the most famous boats in this region might be gondolas, few rides in the world will give you the eyeful of a Vaporetto in Venice. Equivalent to a water taxi, these boats are an easy way to admire all the mansions and buildings that overlook the Grand Canal and the lagoon while also being helpful for gaining your bearings when first arriving to the canaled city. Although expensive, every visitor to Venice should ride a Vaporetto at least once.
4. Cruising Milford Sound
South Island, New Zealand
Internationally renowned as one of the most beautiful waterways in the world, Milford Sound in New Zealand had to be included on our list. Discovered by the Maori people more than 1,000 years ago and located in South Island’s Fjordland National Park, the majestic landscape can be accessed by road, but should be experienced on the water. The sound is bounded by steep cliffs and dense rainforest on either side, with Mitre Peak towering more than 5,551 feet above sea level as the focus of many photographs. There are a number of day cruises available to experience the sound as well as kayaking and nature guides. Sightseeing tours from Queenstown and Te Anau to Milford Sound are popular as well.
5. Washington State Ferries to the San Juan Islands
Residents of the Puget Sound region will agree with this assessment. Mentioned by multiple Virtual Tourist members for the great variety of views, the Washington State Ferries from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands are a great excursion for visitors to the Pacific Northwest. On a clear day, you can see Mount Baker, some of the North Cascades mountain range and even Mount Rainier. While the scenery is beautiful, the real draw to the San Juan Islands is the wildlife in the surrounding waters. Orcas inhabit the waters from mid-April to early October with the best chance to see them from late May through September.
6. Circular Quay to Manly
Similar to the Star Ferry in Hong Kong, the ferry ride from Circular Quay to Manly, Australia, is a tourist destination unto itself for visitors to Sydney. With exceptional views of Sydney Harbor, particularly the iconic Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, multiple Virtual Tourist members sited this ride as their favorite ferry ride. While it is often taken just for the views, Virtual Tourist members also noted that the seaside destination of Manly is also a great day trip. A true beach town located on the Pacific Ocean, Manly offers kayaking, biking, and lots of water sports to try, plus the trip from Circular Quay to Manly is only 30 minutes.
7. Cruising Ha Long Bay
Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam
If you’re headed to Southeast Asia and want to enjoy a few days on the water, make a stop at Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. The bay and its islands are a UNESCO Heritage Site, famous for the bay’s jade waters and limestone pillars rising from beneath the water level. Many Virtual Tourist members have booked two-day/one-night tours from Hanoi, though with more than 1,600 islands and islets you could spend much more time in the area. Virtual Tourist members also mentioned that exploring the natural caves and floating villages by kayak is a great experience.
8. Block Island Ferry
An opportunity to see two of New England’s most picturesque harbors, the recently opened Newport-to-Block Island high-speed ferry takes you from downtown Newport to Block Island in about an hour. Perfect for exploring a little bit more of New England for just the day, you can visit either location and catch a late ferry around 5 p.m. back to your origin. Famous for its wind and harbor, Newport was the site of the America’s Cup race for many years, while Block Island’s free beaches and bluffs are perfect for exploring by bike. It should be noted this high-speed ferry is seasonal and for passengers and bikes only. For vehicles, you’ll need to take the ferry from Point Judith.
9. Rhine River Cruises
Many assume cruises are for open seas or hopping between islands, but river cruises are a great way to experience European cities as they were meant to be seen — by coming into port. At 820 miles long, the Rhine River is perfect for cruising with views that include cliff-top castles, vineyards, and UNESCO Heritage Sites. Viking River Cruises offers a variety of options from seven-day trips based solely in Germany or an eight-day trip that includes four countries: the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland. For those with serious vacation days saved up, the “European Sojourn” tour from Amsterdam to Bucharest is 23 days long.
10. Ferry from St. Thomas to St. John
U.S. Virgin Islands
Easily accessible for U.S. residents, and particularly affordable in the summer because of hurricane season, the ferry from St. Thomas to St. John during July to September is recommended by Virtual Tourist members. Departing from Red Hook on the far eastern side of St. Thomas, the ferry runs to Cruz Bay on St. John every hour on the hour starting at 5:30 a.m. A short 20-minute ride, it’s incredibly affordable and the crystalline waters are reason alone to make the trip. For only a few dollars one way, visitors to St. Thomas can take a day trip to St. John where more than two-thirds of the island is a nature preserve with ample hiking and public beaches to explore.