Whether it’s ocean, river, canal, lake or any other body of water, there’s nothing quite as much fun as messing around in boats. Today we’ve picked the brains of some brilliant travel writers to explore their best boat trips. Pick up your life jacket, or simply trail your fingers in the wake, and come and drool over these recommendations for the best boat journeys. From speedboat to lake cruiser, expedition Zodiac to yacht, and paddle steamer to dragon boat, we’ve got all kinds of vessels at your disposal in all kinds of climates.
Sunrise Sailing in Kerkini Wetlands
by Karen from Motoroaming
During our two years of camper-van travel, our love is to explore remote European locations where the locals hang out and you can sense the soul of a place without the tourist buzz.
Greece’s Kerkini Wetland Reserve, just south of Bulgaria is one such spot, presenting a sensory explosion from your very own Sunrise Boat Trip. We were treated to a magnificent dawn light show and a truly unique view of the 300 bird species, many of which are protected, from the sanctuary of their own natural habitat.
It’s true that the early bird does catch the worm, as our 6.00am start allowed us to witness the rising sun as it embraced the mountains. And as we chugged towards the hidden tributaries, Dalmatian pelicans exercised their wings as if stretching their limbs from their nighttime slumber. The cacophony that greeted our ears, as we glided up the waterways was like a tuning orchestra before the concert. Whilst above us, eagles soared over the region’s famous water buffalo wallowing in the bogs, taking advantage of the morning’s misty stillness.
Whilst our early summer trip was a delight, autumn is where the best experiences are savoured, as flocks of migratory birds visit this important reserve, giving them a safe haven for winter. For anyone who loves wildlife and tranquility this memorable two-hour boat trip, skilfully mastered by our ornithological captain, Vasilis, is a privilege and, only €15pp.
Gozzo boat Around Capri
with Katy of Untold Morsels
If you feel the pull of the sea, like I do, then take a boat ride around the beautiful island of Capri. This small island in the Bay of Naples, off the Italian mainland, has inspired myths and legends, poets and artists over the centuries.
Hire a traditional gozzo boat and skipper for an intimate circumnavigation of the island. The trip takes around an hour if you don’t stop. But you really should take your time and enjoy this incredible landscape. Capri’s dramatic shoreline holds many treasures including the famous Blue Grotto and Faraglioni rock formations.
Roman Emperor Tiberius built a beautiful villa high above the sparkling blue seas. You can see further evidence of the Romans from your boat including a 2,000 year old bridge that spans a rocky inlet.
As the wind blows your hair and sea water splashes your face, think of the beautiful Sirens who, according to legend, lured seafarers to their deaths on its rocky shores.
Your tour ends at Marina Grande where colourful fishing boats bob about on the water. I think this is the most perfect boat trip in the world.
Lake Windermere By Cruiser
with Anisa from Two Traveling Texans
Several people had told me that England’s Lake District was lovely, but it still far exceeded my expectations. In addition to the beautiful scenery, I just loved the peaceful atmosphere. Rightfully so, the Lake District has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a visit would not be complete without a boat ride. We visited on a perfect summer day and I couldn’t wait to get out on the water!
Windermere Lake Cruises offer several different boat tours on Windermere, the largest body of water in England. We decided to take the cruise from Bowness to Ambleside, do some exploring, then return back to Bowness. The boat ride lasts about 30 minutes each way. Once you buy your ticket, you can go on any boat on the route throughout the day. Boats run about every 30 minutes in the summer. If you prefer you can also rent a self-drive or rowboat and explore the lake on your own.
The water is calm and the scenery is picturesque. The boat goes along a different shoreline each way and there was narration so you could learn more about the area. I thought it was interesting that the children’s author, Beatrix Potter was instrumental in preserving the Lake District.
Expedition Cruise To Antarctica
with Matilda from the Travel Sisters
My expedition cruise to Antarctica was without a doubt the best boat trip I have ever taken. Although there was much joking onboard about how this was not a cruise but an expedition, the entire trip was incredible whether it really was a cruise or expedition. It took us almost two days of crossing the infamous and choppy Drake Passage to reach the White Continent but fortunately the waves were not too bad during this trip.
While on water our days onboard were spent enjoying the beautiful Antarctic landscape full of icebergs and glaciers, spotting the diverse wildlife and listening to educational and interesting lectures. We made at least one or two landings a day by Zodiac boats for close encounters and even had the opportunity to kayak and jump into icy water for a polar plunge.
Antarctica was beautiful, breathtaking, and magnificent beyond what any words can describe. Even though the entire boat trip was amazing, the highlight for me was getting close to the penguins. There were so many penguins everywhere but I never grew tired of seeing them or took their presence for granted. This was easily my most memorable boat trip and even my most memorable trip in general.
Dragon Boat Racing in Hong Kong
By Amy from Page Traveller
I never had myself down as a rower – I lack the upper body strength for one. However, in my first year in Hong Kong the company I worked for wanted to put together a dragon boat team to compete in the Dragon Boat Festival. I thought, why not? And so I became a member of the Chatteris Dragon Fruits (complete with bright pink uniform)!
I loved it. The roar of the paddlers calling time, the drummer at the head of the boat shouting orders, the pounding of paddles pulling through the water and the long, undulating dragons skimming across the top of the water (in boat form, of course). Even if you’re just watching as a spectator, the atmosphere is incredible!
Dragon boating has a 2,000-year history in China. Some say that Dragon Boat Festival is held in honour of an honest poet killed by an emperor, whereas others say the man was a political rebel who drowned himself after growing disillusioned with those in power. In mourning, fishermen threw rice into the river and pounded the surface of the water with their paddles to stop fish from eating his body.
Dragon boat races take place in Hong Kong from May, though the festival itself is in June. I highly recommend you time your visit to HK to see some of the races and if you live there – take part!
Cruising Up the Delta from San Francisco to Sacramento
By Emily from Henry and Andrew’s Guide
Driving from San Francisco to Sacramento generally takes anywhere from 1.5 hours to 3 hours, depending on traffic. It takes a whole day, or 2 days if you want to go at a comfortable pace by boat. So why in the world would you want to go make this journey on a boat?! Because you get to see so much of the San Francisco Bay Area that you won’t see otherwise! Between the bustling busy cities of San Francisco and Sacramento lie towns with laid back, quiet, and simple living style of what people call the “Delta life”.
You will pass by Alcatraz, Angel Island, under the Richmond Bridge, and go by places like Rio Vista and nearby towns of Walnut Grove. If you do decide to make this trip, make sure you know the opening schedules of the bridges you will pass, especially if you are traveling by sailboats. We stopped and spent the night in Rio Vista, which is right around the middle point, where there is a nice marina (Delta Marina) with a playground, and the downtown short distance walk away. Foster’s Bighorn Restaurant and Sports Bar is a restaurant with impressive taxidermy (elephants, zebras, rhinos, etc.), nothing you will see in San Francisco. This journey is full of those moments – you will see and feel things you just simply can’t in a big city.
Exploring the Archipelago della Maddalena, Sardinia, Italy
By Greta from Greta’s Travels
The islands of the Archipelago della Maddalenain Sardinia, Italy, are one of the best destinations for people that love beach hopping boat tours. Imagine uninhabited islands, white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise water and only your boat sailing amongst them. That is what your boat trip in the Archipelago della Maddalena will look like.
I have been lucky enough to visit Sardinia every summer for the past few years and every year we do an excursion with Palau Blue Tours. This company have been doing boat tours in the Archipelago for the past 30 years and the captain, Franco, knows the islands like the back of his hand. The last time I went the boat trip started at 10 AM, after a short cruise we reached the beach of Cala Soraja on the island of Spargi. While we swam in the crystal clear water Franco prepared an aperitif of local Sardinian cheese and salami, which we got to enjoy while the boat sailed on to the next stop of our tour.
One of the things I love about Palau Blue Tours is that they always take you to less known beaches, where there aren’t as many other tourist boats. We did the second stop of our boat trip in what they call “Le Piscine” (“swimming pool” in English) on the island of Santa Maria. As you can imagine, the name comes from the stunningly clear water of the island. This is the longest stop of the tour since it’s where the boat also stops for lunch and you can taste fresh seafood pasta.
The day boat trip ends after a third stop in either the island of Razzoli or Budelli. As we cruised back to the town of Palau, where the tour set sail from, we were given a fruit and coffee snack to enjoy. While it may be a boat trip, Italians love their food and will keep you well fed even on a boat!
Diving Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
By Emily from Two Dusty Travelers
The Ocean Quest – a live-aboard vessel carrying 42 passengers, two sundecks, and an impressive array of scuba diving equipment – was our home away from home for four glorious days on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. We watched the sun rise and set over the reef, and spent all the hours in between diving in remote, pristine sites with no other tourists around.
But the highlight of the trip was our encounter with dwarf minke whales. The Ocean Quest anchored at a known whale hotspot, and it wasn’t long before we spied them surfacing nearby. We wriggled into our wetsuits and hopped into the water in record time, though we needn’t have hurried – the pod of five friendly, curious whales swam around us for several hours! The crew had prepped us for how to share the water with these impressive creatures without disturbing them, and the whales seemed as interested in us as we were in them! They glided past us over and over, often rolling sideways to focus one giant eye on us from below. It was easily one of the most magical moments I’ve ever been lucky enough to experience.
Knowing that the Great Barrier Reef may not be with us for much longer, we’re so glad we chose to take a live-aboard trip to explore this natural wonder more deeply. We were fed and cared for like we were on a giant cruise ship, but even better – because the Ocean Quest was small enough to leave a minimal environmental footprint and offer a unique, personal experience where we felt like family!
Halong Bay 2-Day Cruise, Vietnam
with Teresa of Brogan Abroad
I have never considered myself a fan of cruises, but when I planned my trip through Vietnam, one of the must things to do was Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And the best way to enjoy this wonder is to get up close and personal and see it, feel it and breath it from a junk boat.
A junk boat is a ship that originated in China many centuries ago, and it’s still being used today through South East Asia, in particular in the Northern coast of Vietnam.
Junk boat cruises out to Halong Bay tend to last two or three days, depending on the package. I did a two-day one and I was surprised to find that I loved it, although the spectacular surroundings may have had something to do with this.
I loved that the boat not only took you out to the bay, to admire the rocky outcrops projecting into the sky from the sea, but they had a program of activities to experience the Bay closely. These activities included a visit to a floating oyster farm set amongst the karstic towers, kayaking to one of the islands where we visited a limestone cave, and a cookery class, where we learnt to make Vietnamese spring rolls.
It was a very social affair, and I loved that it was very easy to meet people. But my favourite part of the whole cruise was waking up to a spectacular view that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Speedboat From Split
by Nam from Laugh, Travel, Eat
One of the best boat trips I had ever had was a day out with a speedboat from Split to see the surrounding islands. While the Dalmatian coast if full of lovely islands like Vis and Hvar, for those of us who are short on time taking a speedboat out for a day to see all the highlights is the best option.
Setting off from the harbor in the morning, we were able to visit the surreal Blue Cave located on a secluded island. The water was a magical electric blue that shone in the darkness of the cave, and it was mesmerizing to watch.
Next, we went to the Green Cave, where the sunlight shone through a small opening above casting a green glow to the water. Finally, we sped over to Hvar Old Town and climbed up the hill to the historic Spanish fort, before returning to Split before dinner time. With the wind in our hair and the sun on our back, it was a fast but wonderful and time-efficient trip.
Island Hopping in Greece
with Pamela from Travel Like a Chieff
Island hopping in Greece is a must! There are thousands of islands scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Seas of which more than 200 are inhabited. Athens is the perfect hub if you wish to visit these islands. From there you can take a flight or set sail from the marinas located only 30 minutes away from city center. We opted for a private luxury ribbed boat which took us to several islands in the Saronic Gulf.
Our first stop was Hydra, a beautiful island with elegant stone mansions and great restaurants. Vehicles are prohibited on this island therefore all transport is done on foot, by boat or riding a donkey. While sailing you have the option of stopping at one of the many crystal water coves surrounding the island.
Next, we stopped on the islet of Dokos to admire its beauty and went for a swim. We also enjoyed Methana, Aegina, Poros and Spetses, one of the most cosmopolitan islands in Greece before heading back to Athens. The biggest advantage of a private luxury ribbed boat excursion is the freedom that comes with it; no crowds & no time constraints. If you want to deviate from your itinerary, within reason of course, you can. If sailing the Greek isles wasn’t on your bucket list, I sure hope it is now!
Sunset Sailing in Barbados
with Danielle from The Thought Card
One of the best boat trips that I’ve been on was the luxurious Calabaza sailing cruise in Barbados. Not only did we get to snorkel near hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles but we also stopped at the Bajan Queen, Barbados’ first tugboat turned shipwreck
The sunset boat cruise ended with a spectacular sunset on the hammock and later that evening, we met up with a few other cruise guests for dinner. The word “special” comes to mind when I think about sailing the Caribbean Sea with Calabaza.
Taking the Island Queen On The Mississippi River
By Bernie from A Packed Life (Yes, you have a baker’s dozen, because I couldn’t resist adding one of my own best boat trips!)
We’d been on the road for two weeks from Nashville down the Mississippi Delta and back to Memphis. We were tired, our ears full of sounds from blues to soul and our hearts heavy after a day at the National Civil Rights Museum. Looking to change gear, we saw a sign to the Beale Street Landing, and, full of curiosity, found ourselves looking at the approaching Island Queen. Half an hour later, we were on board.
Tour commentary can be hit and miss, but the breadth and scope of what we heard on the Island Queen was immense. From the growth of Memphis as a city to the ongoing grudge with Arkansas over a bridge that looks rather swankier on the Tennessee side, we moved from fascination to laughter and back again. It was exactly what we needed after seeing how much suffering people can cause each other. It’s not the longest or most spectacular boat trip I’ve ever taken. But it was a timely reminder that warmth, knowledge, a lot of laughter and time spent on the water can help mend a soul.
Best Boat Trips – What’s Yours?
I’ve loved seeing what fellow travelers have chosen as their best boat trips. From coracles (a complete story in its own right) to narrowboats, yachts, river boats and cruise ships, I’ve always loved time spent on the water. Which of these trips would you take? Or is there one of yours we should know about? Do tell!
For more watery adventures, you can check out our Baltic Cruise here, and a mini cruise to Amsterdam and Zeebrugge. We’ve also been messing about on rivers: the Neva in St Petersburg, and the Scheldt in Ghent. And you’ll find me in the grip of Sea Fever on the English coast.
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