Some places are best explored by boat. Whether you sail your way around an arpeggio or cruise down a picturesque river, travelling by water offers you an intimate experience of a place and allows you to slow down and really take in the sights. There are boat tours to satisfy adventurous spirits and boat tours that allow you to relax in luxury, boat tours that last a couple of hours and cruises that go for a month. Whatever you’re up for, touring a place by boat can be one of the most exciting and memorable travel experiences you’ll ever have.
Ready to start cruising? Check out our picks for the 8 best boat tours in the world:
1. Cruise through Milford Sound, New Zealand
Milford Sound is one of the most popular and breathtaking destinations in New Zealand’s south island. You can explore the area by car, foot or helicopter, but the best way to experience the scale and drama of Milford Sound is to get on the water. Day cruises and overnight cruises depart multiple times a day – or you can book a kayak tour if you’re feeling more adventurous. As you journey down the sound, you’ll get up close with waterfalls, dramatic cliffs and you might even get to spot some wildlife such as Fiordland crested penguins and bottlenose dolphins.
2. Take a ferry under the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is considered one of the modern wonders of the world, stretching 2.75 kilometres (1.7 miles) between San Francisco and Marin. The distinct orange colour and art deco design makes the bridge a sight to behold, especially when there’s a thin layer of fog drifting by. Travelling under the bridge via ferry is a good way to take in the impressive vista and explore the surrounding towns. You can even take a bicycle or electric scooter with you on the ferry for free.
3. Tour Europe on the Rhine
If you’re exploring Europe, a river cruise down the Rhine is a great way to do it. At 1233km long, the Rhine passes hillside castles, terraced vineyards, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and quaint mediaeval towns through five different countries – Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Austria. Go for a week or journey for a month – either way you’ll get to see some of the world’s most romantic cities and idyllic towns while cruising on the Rhine.
4. Encounter whale sharks in Exmouth, Australia
The Ningaloo Reef off the coast of Western Australia is the world’s largest fringing reef and one of the best places in the world to get up close to awe-inspiring wildlife, including whale sharks and humpback whales. The best whale shark tour in Exmouth will give you a chance to swim with whale sharks in their natural environment – and see other wildlife such as dugongs, dolphins, turtles and colourful fish while you’re at it. The best time to visit is between early March and mid August.
5. Explore Halong Bay, Vietnam
Halong Bay in Vietnam is a breathtaking World Heritage Site, known for its jade waters and 3000-odd limestone islands. A boating tour through Halong Bay will let you tour forested limestone cliffs, swim in emerald waters and interact with local fishermen. Tours on traditional junk boats are a popular choice for tourists, but you can also opt for a kayaking tour or an overnight luxury cruise.
6. Sail between Greek Islands
With more than 2,000 islands in Greece, it makes sense to explore the region via boat. Every island has a ferry service, but the most memorable way to hop between islands is by sailing. Sailing tours take small groups of tourists from town to town, giving you the opportunity to soak in the attractive architecture, swim in the pristine water and feast on fresh local produce.
7. Experience nature at the Galapágos Islands
Located about 1,000km from the coast of Ecuador, the Galapágos Islands are famous for their unique wildlife which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution when he visited in 1835. Exploring the islands today is like visiting a living museum, offering once in a lifetime opportunities to interact with the wildlife such as swimming with sealions. Choose from large cruise ships, luxury yachts or budget friendly motorboats – and stay anywhere from three days to three weeks.
8. Stay overnight on the Kerala Backwaters, India
The Kerala Backwaters are a network of tranquil lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals running through southern India. Traditionally used by the locals for transport and fishing, tourists can enjoy the picturesque region by boat tours – including overnight stays on large, slow moving houseboats which are themselves a sight to behold. As you drift peacefully through the waters, you’ll get to soak in the sights of lush palm trees and paddy fields, quaint villages and local fishermen at work. At certain times of the year, you can watch the famous Kerala boat races.
Whatever destination you’re travelling to, you’re likely to find a wide range of boat tours on offer. Be sure to do your research for the best time to visit and what to bring with you to make the most of the experience.