Some of the most spectacular cities in the world have a sea- or harbour-side setting. Think of Sydney, with its breathtaking harbour; or downtown Vancouver, hemmed in by Coal Harbour and the Burrard Inlet; New York, Cape Town, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and the list goes on. The best way to really appreciate the beauty of these cities is often from the water. Most of these cities have tourist boats to take visitors on a leisurely cruise, with guides on board to point out the sights. Most of these cities also have a water transport network, an alternative way for tourists to enjoy the sights in the company of local commuters.

I’ve been on many city cruises and local ferries in cities around the world and all of them are absolutely noteworthy. However, I’ve limited myself to listing ten of my favourite city harbour cruises (it would be a very long list if I didn’t!) 🙂 If you’re in any of the cities below, get on a boat and enjoy the views!

1. Cape Town – take the Robben Island ferry from the V&A Waterfront for spectacular views of the Cape Town skyline with its famous Table Mountain backdrop.

Cape Town view from Robben Island.
San Francisco
San Francisco

2. San Francisco – San Francisco is blessed with one of the most magnificent harbours in the world. For some absolutely stunning views of the city skyline and the harbour, hop on a ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf to Angel Island (a gorgeous state park). An alternative is to hop on a cruise that takes you from Fisherman’s Wharf around Alcatraz island, under the Golden Gate Bridge, to the harbour entrance.

3. New York – one of the best ways to appreciate the Lower Manhattan skyline as well as Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the impressive Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is to hop on the world-famous Staten Island Ferry. The best part is: it’s free!

4. Rio de Janeiro – Flanked by hunchback-shaped mountains and gorgeous white sandy beaches, Rio’s bay certainly has a high ‘wow’ factor! A great way to see the skyline, including the Sugarloaf mountain, is to take the ferry from the city centre across the bay to Niteroi.

Rio de Janeiro

5. Sydney – the Sydney water transport network is extensive, making it a breeze to use public ferries to enjoy the wonders of Sydney Harbour. From Circular Quay, I can recommend the ferries to Manly (a popular ocean-side town) and Taronga Zoo. Both lines offer truly unforgettable vistas of the harbour and the Sydney skyline.

Sydney Harbour Bridge seen from Circular Quay

6. Hong Kong – the ‘Manhattan of Asia’ surely lives up to its name. The best way to view the stunning skyscrapers on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon (on the mainland) is to take a ferry along Victoria Harbour. Of all the ferry services, the Star Ferry is the most famous and plies between various points along the north shore of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. An alternative is to take the ferry to the outlying Lamma or Lantau islands, or further afield, to Macao.

The Hong Kong Star Ferry

7. Istanbul – a cruise across the Bosphorus is an absolute must for anyone visiting this amazing city. There are many tourist cruise lines that take visitors past the gorgeous sights such as the Dolmabahçe Palace, the Golden Horn, the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosques, and the many splendorous villas and palaces that dot the Bosphorus. A cheap alternative is to take the municipal ferry from Eminonu. The ferry route offers unrivalled panoramas of the city skyline and passes various palaces (including the Dolmabahçe) and fortresses, as well as quaint villages and smart neighbourhoods as it zigzags between the European and Asian banks of the Bosphorus.

8. Yokohama – Tokyo also has a lovely harbour cruise but I prefer the Yokohama cruise. It takes visitors on a leisurely ride under the city’s impressive Yokohama Bay Bridge and around the port, one of Japan’s busiest. It also offers fantastic views of the Yokohama skyline that includes Landmark Tower, Japan’s tallest building. On a clear day, the majestic Mount Fuji provides a spectacular backdrop.


9. Shanghai – Located at the mouth of the Yangtze river, Shanghai certainly has one of the most impressive skylines in the world. A great way to experience the sights and sounds of this magnificent city is the Huangpu River cruise. It takes visitors along the Bund, with its stately colonial buildings, and past the glittering skyscrapers in Pudong such as the Jin Mao Tower and the World Financial Centre. Along the way, the never-ending flow of boats that ply the river will keep you entertained if your neck starts to ache from looking up at some of the tallest buildings in the world.

10. Vancouver – Vancouver has arguably one of the most spectacular locations in the world. A typical harbour cruise around Vancouver offers panoramas of the gorgeous city skyline, imposing snow-capped mountains and views of the city’s many parks and beaches. Some harbour cruise lines head out under the Lion’s Gate Bridge and past Stanley Park into the Burrard Inlet. One of my favourite lines is the cute False Creek Ferry which offers services between downtown (Aquatic Centre) and Granville Island, and to the Plaza of Nations.

False Creek in Vancouver

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