Ditch the Tourist Boats – Take the Local Ferry

Traveling short distances by land is nice and good, but taking to the sea (or lake or river) is an altogether different kind of experience. Combined with the fact that many cities around the world are built by the water has made ferry lines created to accommodate commuters, locals and travelers alike a common occurrence and something to be enjoyed in a wide variety of urban environments.

Here are some ‘voyages’ our Spotters have highlighted for their authenticity, proximity to locals, excellent views, low price, actually using ships to get around the city with nice destinations, or all of the above. If you don’t get seasick, we recommend you to take the boat now and then. Like a local of course. Enjoy!

Discover Hamburg’s harbor with the locals

HVV Fähre

HVV Fähre (by Kyra Garske)

Hamburg is a great example of a city where the ferries are completely integrated with the rest of the public transport system. With HVV Fähre (Hamburger Verkehrsverbund) you can travel on any bus, train, metro or ferry with a single 3.20€ day ticket.

Local Kyra recommends taking Ferry 62 that goes from Landungsbrücken to Finkenwerder and back via Altona/Fischmarkt, Dockland/Fischereihafen, Neumühlen/Övelgönne (Elbstrand) and Bubendey-Ufer. It’s a route that offers a great overview of the harbor, with ferries running every 15 minutes.

Why choose the ‘lowly’ ferry over a more touristic cruise? “There are no annoying voices from bad speakers trying to explain the harbor with unfunny jokes. Step up on the roof, enjoy the wind and the great view. If it is too cold, walk down inside the ferry, with great views, too. They even serve hot and cold beverages!”

Hail a cab of the sea in San Francisco Bay

San Francisco Water Taxi

San Francisco Water Taxi (by Keith Breitbach)

While not exactly public transport, San Francisco’s Water Taxis fill most of the same needs – with style. Local Keith actually considers them to be one of his city’s best-kept secrets: “everyone loves San Francisco for its waterfront, landmarks, storied past and photo opportunities of the spectacular Bay. While there are lots of boating options, I highly recommend Water Taxi as a fun and affordable way to get all that and more”.

For only $10 round-trip, “the breezy adventure is a short, but fun thirty-minute waterfront ride between Pier 1 just north of the Ferry Building to the Hyde St. Pier on the northern edge of Fisherman’s Wharf… The super friendly boat captains share history, trivia and point out landmarks along the way. Before embarking on my last trip, Captain Biz said there were only two rules: 1. Have fun 2. Be safe.”

On ball days the Water Taxis will also pick up and drop off at the popular Pier 39 and AT&T ballpark. Jacket recommended all-year-round.

Travel on Rotterdam’s Maas aboard the Waterbus


Waterbus (by Fedde van der Spoel)

Rotterdam’s Waterbus serves lines within the city itself as well as sites on the river Maas farther out from the city itself, e.g. Dordrecht and Kinderdijk – local Spotter José recommends approaching the UNESCO heritage site from the river as the best way to visit it.

Our Spotter Fedde, on the other hand, suggests having a go at Line 19 of the Waterbus that connects Esch with Feyenoord. “You can take your bike for free and have a beautiful view from the water of the Van Brienenoord bridge and of the skyline of Rotterdam.” This line is super-local, chiefly serving commuters. However, as such, it comes with a drawback: it only operates on weekdays during business hours, from 07:00 to 19:00.

Explore Budapest’s sights from aboard the Danube ferries

Take the boat

Take the boat! (by Teodorapix)

Budapest local Mihály recommends we take the boat when visiting his city, but not just any crowded touristic vessel that floats along the Danube: hopping on a BKK –  Budapesti Közlekedési Központ or Budapest’s Public Transport Services – ferry could take you to all the most important sites on the river while costing up to 90% less (or for free, if you’re a card/pass holder)!

Here’s the lowdown: “choose the D11 boat from Egyetemváros (University quarter), which is near the great white concert boat. I like to go up to Népfürdő station because all the important spots are on this route. Oh, I wish I could take it every day… I love the river and get some amazing views from the BKK boat. There are many ways to get to the downtown area again within 10 minutes. Use the BKK website to check the schedule.”

Gaze upon Lisbon from an orange “Cacilheiro”

Cacilheiro boat trip

“Cacilheiro” boat trip (by Nuno Lopes de Paula)

To say that our Lisbon Spotter Nuno is a fan of the ferries that operate on the Cacilhas line, an image as iconic of the Portuguese capital as the old trams or the old quarters, would be an understatement:

They’re crowded and running from sunrise to sunset. Some are old and rusty, but orange “Cacilheiro” boats are definitely part of our lovely town. Some say, that since the new Catamarans are being used they will soon disappear as they are becoming obsolete. Thank you again, modernists! Now I’m praying to all my gods, the city mayor, the left and right parties and our king who doesn’t rule, that someone please have a look at these wonderful unique boats and please… please… don’t throw them to the nearest junkyard.

Lisbon and its lights are different every time you look at it, and the ferry trip to Cacilhas offers another opportunity to relax and see the city from a different perspective mirrored on the river Targus. On top of that, Cacilhas itself is worth it for the seafood. “It’s only a cheap 12 minutes trip on a traditional old “Cacilheiro” boat, you’ll enjoy every second!”

More? We have local tips in 71 cities!

Last Changed Date: 2016-05-19 11:45:13 +0200 (Thu, 19 May 2016)