City sailing: 10 cities to explore by water

With 71 percent of the earth’s surface covered with water, it should come as no surprise that so many magnificent metropolises can be found close to the shore. Whether naturally occurring or manmade for practical tasks like transport and shipping, these whimsical waterfronts are not just backdrops to charming cities, but rather destinations in their own right.

Here are 10 destinations that prove sometimes the best city breaks come with a water view.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is very walkable -- but why not give your feet a rest and see the city by boat?

Copenhagen is very walkable – but why not give your feet a rest and see the city by boat? © K’Nub/Getty Images

While locals will encourage you to explore the cobblestoned capital by foot (much of the city is reachable within a 30-minute walk), there are plenty of options for exploring this charming city by water. Rent a solar-powered GoBoat at Island Brygge, which lets visitors sail at their own pace. Each eight-seat boat includes a table and chairs, which offers the perfect picnic setting.

If you’re willing to help clean up the harbour, you can rent The Green Kayak from Kayak Republic. You can sail for two hours for free, in exchange for collecting waste and documenting it on social media.

If you’d prefer to admire the waterfront views from land, don’t miss an afternoon in Nyhavn. What was once a bustling port, Nyhavn is now flanked by some of the oldest homes in Copenhagen. Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront or hop on a sightseeing cruise like Canal Tours Copenhagen, which offers an hour-long tour that affords picture postcard views and photo ops of the city’s most iconic spots: Amalienborg Palace, home to the royal family; Copenhagen Opera House; and The Little Mermaid, a bronze and granite sculpture inspired by Andersen’s fairy tale.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Rent your own or take advantage of hop-on, hop-off boat cruises

Rent your own or take advantage of hop-on, hop-off boat cruises © dennisvdw/iStock Photo

Nicknamed the Venice of the Netherlands, Amsterdam has an abundance of attractions made even more attractive from the water. One of the many free things to do in Amsterdam is riding the blue and white ferries. There are nine routes that meander along the city’s 165 canals, including Grachtengordel, the Canal Ring, which is on the Unesco World Heritage List. Built during the city’s Golden Age in the 17th century, the 400-year-old Canal Ring is comprised of four parallel canals punctuated with 80 bridges and dozens of Instagram-worthy photo ops.

Other popular routes include the ferry from Amsterdam Central Station to Buiksloterweg, which puts travellers within walking distance to the EYE Filmmuseum and Tolhuistuin, a film and cultural hotspot, and NDSM Wharf, which is known for its restaurants and lively cultural events.

Hop-on, hop-off boats cruise past Amsterdam’s must-see architecture and stop within walking distance of the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, which features Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages to today, and the Anne Frank House.

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Venice, Italy

You’re never too far from a water view in Venice

You’re never too far from a water view in Venice © Sergei Stemprok/Shutterstock

Literally built on the water, Venice is an aquatic architectural wonder. Four “canali”, the city’s larger man-made canals, and 176 “rii”, smaller natural and artificial canals, intersect the city. While it’s a treat to traverse the pedestrian-only streets and 435 bridges, the allure is the canals that connect the network of 118 islands that make up Venice.

Whether you glide across the water in iconic gondolas serenaded by gondoliers donning black and white striped shirts, cram yourself on a public “vaporetto” or “motoscafo” (the city centre’s public water transport), or splurge on a private boat, you’re sure to have a brag-worthy time cruising down the Grand Canal.

Bergen, Norway

A fjord cruise is time on the water well spent

A fjord cruise is time on the water well spent © Solotry23/Getty Images

The gateway to Norway’s famed fjords, Bergen is brimming with culture and history. Before boarding a boat to tour the fjords, spend time strolling the back streets of Bryggen, a part of town rebuilt after a great fire in 1702 and included on the Unesco World Heritage List.

The most economical way to explore the area via land and water is with the Bergen Card, which includes free bus and light rail travel, discounted admission to attractions like The Hanseatic Museum, Bergen Maritime Museum, and Fløibanen funicular, which takes riders to the top of Mount Fløyen.

No visit is complete without a fjord tour. Hop on board a three-hour fjord cruise at Zachariasbryggen (next to the Fish Market) to Osterfjord and Mostraumen.

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Stockholm, Sweden

It’s easy to rent kayaks and gear for an afternoon on Stockholm’s canals

It’s easy to rent kayaks and gear for an afternoon on Stockholm’s canals © anniebaananie

Built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges, one-third of the Swedish capital is covered with water, making it a no-brainer to explore the city by boat. Rent a kayak and explore on your own, or try a hop-on, hop-off boat tour, which is a quick and easy way to see some of the world’s most picturesque canals. One-hour Royal Canal tours, which provide an overview of the capital, leave from the Royal Palace multiple times daily.

Some of the best vantage points for photographing the water are from Skeppsholmen, a tranquil island that is home to the Moderna Museet; Riddarholmen, an islet that forms part of the old town; or Strandvägen, one of Stockholm’s most iconic streets.

With few tall buildings and a skyline mostly populated with 18th-century buildings, water, and church spires, Monteliusvägen, a 500-metre walking path that overlooks Lake Mälaren, and Fjällgatan, perched on the edge of a cliff, are two of the best spots for capturing the magical cityscape.

Budapest, Hungary

Be sure to take in views of the city from above

Be sure to take in views of the city from above © Jonathan Richards/EyeEm

Slicing Budapest in half, the alluring Danube is best explored on land and on water. RiverRide, an amphibious bus offers just that – a city tour over the 19th-century Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a suspension bridge that spans the River Danube between the capital’s western side, Buda, and eastern side, Pest.

Catch sight of popular places like Széchenyi István Square, the Hungarian State Opera House, and the Budapest Zoo before plunging in the water to float past Margaret Island, a bucolic island in the Danube River between Buda and Pest.

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Prague, Czech Republic

With floating bars and restaurants on offer, there’s no reason to leave the water

With floating bars and restaurants on offer, there’s no reason to leave the water © Isabel Pavia/Getty Images

Locals often advise that Prague is best explored on foot, but, for a different vantage point, take to the Vltava River via a sightseeing boat trip on offer from Prague Boats or Prague Venice. There are also several ferry lines operating from spring to autumn, affording perfect panoramas of the city’s iconic Charles Bridge.

While a stroll past the Prague Castle and the Old Town Hall and its astrological clock is obligatory, locals love to take a walk off the beaten path and stroll the Saturday farmers market in Naplavka, a long strip along the river between Vysehrad Castle and Dancing House, which is an unofficial centre of nightlife and a popular venue for picnics, concerts, exhibitions, and festivals.

If you’re hoping for even more time on the water, you’re in luck – floating bars, restaurants, galleries and a floating sauna are also worth exploring. When you’re ready to head back to land, there are plenty of worthwhile wallet-friendly (read: free!) things to do in Prague.

Vienna, Austria

Orient yourself around the Danube and you can’t go wrong

Orient yourself around the Danube and you can’t go wrong © sleeplessinvienna

With four times as many bridges in Vienna than in Venice, the Austrian capital rivals the world’s most beautiful waterfront cities. First-time visitors should grab a drink and people watch from one of the many bars along the Danube Canal, the city’s most central spot on the water.

Whether you opt to swim, take a boat trip, or rent your own “swimming island” (yes, you read that correctly – the floating oasis features a sun bed, terrace and dining area), no trip to Vienna is complete without spending time on the famed Danube.

If you’re travelling in June, don’t miss the 35th Danube Island Festival, Europe’s largest free open-air festival on Danube Island, featuring 200 live acts on 11 stages spread out over 18 islands. Also on offer in the summer are floating classical music concerts on the Old Danube.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

Experience New Orleans from the Mississippi River

Experience New Orleans from the Mississippi River © CampPhoto/Getty Images

The Big Easy is easy on the eyes thanks to its colourful French Quarter with buildings accented with wrought iron balconies, vintage streetcars and vibrant spirit. When you’re not tucking into a po’boy sandwich, listening to live jazz, strolling the French Market, or sampling Creole cuisine at institutions like Arnaud’s, Galatoire’s, or Commander’s Place, why not take a ride on the river?

The New Orleans Ferry whisks commuters and sightseers along the Mississippi River throughout the day to historic Algiers while offering up views of the NOLA skyline. Start your morning off with a beignet dusted with powdered sugar from Cafe Du Monde (and have some packed up for an afternoon snack) enjoyed on the water.

A trip aboard a steam-driven paddle wheel boat like the Creole Queen is also a must. While there are a number of different cruise options, the dinner jazz cruise pairs skyline views with a Creole feast – think chicken and sausage gumbo and jambalaya – after which you can sway to the sounds of a local jazz band with a classic New Orleans cocktail in hand.

Lyon, France

Sometimes city views are best experienced by boat

Sometimes city views are best experienced by boat © veggiepassports

Whether exploring Lyon by bike, funicular (cable railway), or foot, it’s clear why the urban city at the junction of the Rhône River and Saône River has beckoned guests for decades. While most visitors are drawn to the area to sip fine wines in nearby Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône, savvy travellers retreat in Lyon to explore its rich history and cuisine for more than a day.

The convenient Lyon City Card includes unlimited access to public transportation, which includes the metro, tram, bus and funicular, but don’t overlook the river cruise tour that is included via Les Bateaux Lyonnais.

A sample itinerary includes a one-hour cruise along the quays of the Saône River in Old Lyon, passing Basilique de Fourvière, the can’t-miss Cubes orange et vert, an office building that is part of an urban renewal project along the riverbank, and Musée des Confluences, a science centre.

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While we can’t help you choose which city to visit first, we can help you find flights and accommodations for your trip. Once you’ve decided on where to start, let momondo help make your holiday one for the books.

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