On a calm, sunny day, a ferry ride can be a magical experience. For those among us not afflicted with seasickness (sorry), it’s hard not to enjoy the slight lilt of the boat, the whir of the engines beneath the deck, salt-tinged wind tickling your face and expanses of ocean lengthening and shortening as coastlines recede and come into view.
For lucky locals, this is their daily commute. For travelers, ferries are not just a way to get from place to place, but an attraction in and of themselves. They offer up spectacular – often iconic – views of destinations and a chance to mingle with residents, all at more affordable rates than tourist-specific cruises. Here are some highlights from around the globe.
Hong Kong: Star Ferry
Hong King Island to Kowloon
Named the most exciting ferry ride in the world by the Society of American Travel Writers and one of National Geographic Traveler Magazine’s “50 Places of a Lifetime,” Hong Kong’s Star Ferry is not to be missed. Riders are treated to dramatic views of the city’s towering skylines on both sides of Victoria Harbor, all for the unbeatable price of $0.44 USD each way.
An hour-long harbor cruise is an option for tourists who want to stay on the water longer. The evening tour, when the skyscrapers display colorful light shows, is highly recommended.
San Francisco: Golden Gate Ferry
San Francisco to Sausalito
Passengers traveling by ferry between San Francisco and Sausalito see a host of iconic sights – Alcatraz Island, Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid scattered within the San Francisco skyline, the Marin headlands and the pièce de résistance, the graphic red-orange lines of the Golden Gate Bridge. Many choose to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge first, relax over a bayside lunch in Sausalito and save the ferry ride for their return trip to San Francisco.
Hawaii: Expeditions Ferry
Maui to Lana`i
The Expeditions Ferry provides its passengers with spectacular views of the majestic West Maui Mountains on one side, the pine tree lined hills of Lana`i on the other and the islands of Moloka`i and Kaho`olawe in the distance. Dolphins frolicking in the ferry’s wake often serve as escort for the 20 minute crossing. From January through April humpback whales on their yearly migration from Alaska are also known to make an appearance.
At $30 each way, for the 3,000 residents of Lana`i, the ferry is their only economical connection to the rest of the Hawaiian archipelago. Visitors from Maui who make the morning crossing can look forward to a day of driving on unpaved roads to deserted beaches and scenic valleys or a world-class game of golf at one of the island’s five star resorts.
New York City: Staten Island Ferry
Manhattan to Staten Island
Seeing the Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty from behind the rails of a boat is like living a piece of history. It’s priceless. And on the Staten Island Ferry, it’s free! Ferries make the 5 mile, 25 minute ride 109 times daily, transporting 60,000 people on an average weekday. Passengers also enjoy panoramas of the Lower Manhattan bridges and skyline.
Another great option for ferry lovers in New York City is the Ikea Express Shuttle run by the New York Water Taxi service. For $5, it delivers customers from the Lower East Side in Manhattan to Ikea in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn with spectacular views of the Brooklyn Bridge along the way.
Brisbane: Brisbane City Cat
The Brisbane City Cat connects areas of the Australian city with all the convenience of a taxi. It takes tourists and commuters upstream, downstream and across Brisbane River, past all the bridges and skyscrapers in between. Users say it is a fantastic and relaxing way to get a different perspective on the city. It runs on time 99% of the time and uses environmentally sound ultra-low sulfur diesel to boot.
Istanbul: Istanbul Sea Bus
Ferry is the most popular way to explore the Bosphorus Strait around Istanbul that forms part of the border between Europe and Asia. Passengers can drift from town to town and as they travel up and down the coast or enjoy views of Topkapı Palace, Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque as they travel to the offshore islands Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Büyükada. Ferries run frequently and fares are cheap, but they also run extremely full. It is recommended that you arrive up to 45 minutes early to secure a window seat. Otherwise you could find yourself standing the whole way.
Operators also run three hour Bosphorus tourist cruises. The boats tend to be smaller (100 passengers max) and run closer to the shore, but they are more expensive and cover a smaller area.