In most large cities around the world, waterways are the norm, not the exception—but some places capitalize on their location more than others. These 10 cities all have unique personalities centered around their waterfronts, where visitors can stroll along bustling harbors, sample the catch of the day, and climb to the city’s best vantage points to take in panoramic views of the water.
The Dutch capital is perfect for roaming through picturesque latticework canals. On sunny days cafes along the water will fill up with patrons, and visitors can take a cruise along the 60 miles of canals that circle the city. Stop by the Grachtengordel, or Canal Ring, to view historic homes or enjoy a leisurely day on the water. Amsterdam’s museum district boasts the popular Van Gogh Museum with changing shows of the famous painter’s work. The city’s most beautiful street, Brouwersgracht, features grand views and plenty of opportunities for photos. One of the best ways to explore Amsterdam’s canals and winding streets is by bike. Pick up a two-wheeler in the city center and take a spin.
Stockholm boasts an archipelago landscape with attractions for every traveler. Visit the central island Gamla Stan to explore small, café-lined squares and captivating medieval architecture. Take a ride on Skyview, a glass-covered gondola that offers unparalleled views of the city. Djurgården and Skansen, the city’s pleasure island, boasts a popular amusement park and a peaceful waterfront ambiance perfect for a relaxing picnic. Östermalm often flies under tourists’ radar, but the regal residential area is well worth a visit. Walk along the water for views of the city harbor or take a land route to browse upscale shops and restaurants.
Shimmering canals, sprawling palaces, and historic ambiance make Venice one of the world’s most enchanting waterfront destinations. Stop by the Piazza San Marco to browse the area’s best boutiques, and don’t miss the Basilica di San Marco, a Byzantine monument that doubles as the city’s religious center. Take a picnic to Torcello, a secluded island with a magical ambiance and hauntingly beautiful cathedral. End the day at one of the city’s bacari, or wine bars, for traditional Venetian tapas and a taste of local wines. Venice hosts many festivals throughout the year, with Carnevale and Biennale getting the most attention.
As Norway’s second largest city, Bergen enchants visitors with its pastel wood houses, bustling harbor, and picturesque mountains. Bryggen, the wharf running by the harbor on the northern side of the city, features colorful Hanseatic merchant houses and small, cozy shops perfect for exploring. Take a stroll down the tree lined Ole Bulls Plass, a popular avenue with some of the city’s finest restaurants. Bergen Kunstmuseum features paintings by modern and Renaissance painters. Buy a Bergen Card to save money and explore the city more affordably.
Visitors come to Sydney for its world-class beaches and natural beauty but stay for its plethora of cultural and wildlife attractions. Stop by the Sydney Opera House to catch a performance in one of the venue’s five theaters or take a backstage tour during off hours. For unparalleled views of the city, stroll down to Sydney Harbour Bridge and climb the 200 steps to lookout over the sparkling blue water. Get an up-close look at native birds and vibrant wildflowers at the Royal National Park or catch a glimpse of endangered species at Taronga Zoo.
Stunning riverside vistas, colorful pastel houses, and a buzzing port district are a few of the things you’ll find in Lisbon. Visitors can explore the city’s cobbled streets by foot and climb winding sets of steps to reach the town’s best vantage points. Ride an ancient streetcar to St. George’s Castle to view the ancient ramparts, or head to downtown Baixa to explore the bustling city squares. The old port district of Alcântara is the perfect place to relax by the river, while Belém includes some of Lisbon’s best museums and monuments. Families will enjoy Oceanário de Lisboa, Europe’s largest indoor aquarium. Don’t leave Lisbon without touring one of its two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. The church features an elaborately sculpted maritime motif and impressive Gothic and Renaissance double cloisters.
Few places compare to the city by the bay, and San Francisco makes the most of its waterfront location. Visitors can explore lush gardens or oceanfront trails at Golden Gate Park or stop by the historic Ferry Building for panoramic bay views and a taste of local cuisine. Science lovers will enjoy Exploratorium, a pier-side museum with supersize experiential exhibits and a glass Bay Observatory. Watch master shipbuilders assemble boats and step aboard a full-rigged sailing vessel at Hyde Street Pier, one of the city’s maritime epicenters. Visit the city between January and April to see migrating gray whales. Watch the majestic mammals from shore in Point Reyes or take a whale-watching trip for up-close views.
Travelers flock to Brighton for its vibrant seaside culture and lively arts scene. Once a fashionable vacation spot for Londoners looking for a quick retreat, the English city has since become a destination in its own right. Take a stroll down the pebbled shoreline at the city’s eponymous beach, or tour the Royal Pavilion, an enchanting seaside villa with exotic interiors and a popular tearoom. Don’t leave Brighton without sampling fresh seafood. Riddle and Finns offers a variety of fresh catches and traditional side plates like bubble and squeak (fried vegetables and potatoes). Visit in May for the city’s three-week Brighton Festival. The event boasts more than 600 events including drama, dance, visual arts, and music performances.
Towering skyscrapers and a chic, cosmopolitan vibe make Hong Kong one of the world’s leading waterside cities. The town capitalizes on its coastal location and has no shortage of land and sea attractions. Buy a ticket for the 125-year-old Peak Tram and climb to the top of Victoria Peak, Hong Kong Island’s highest hill. Explore Mong Kok markets to sample traditional street food and browse stands filled with colorful knickknacks, flowers, and jade. Visitors can escape the city’s hustle and bustle in Southside, a tranquil residential area with beautiful sea views and laidback sandy beaches. Don’t leave Hong Kong without taking a ride on Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour. The green and white boat offers spectacular views of the city skyline, and visitors can catch the sparkling Symphony of Lights show every night at 8 p.m.
Captivating natural beauty and a distinctly cosmopolitan flair make Vancouver one of the world’s most unique waterfront cities. The city balances its well-preserved wildlife with a host of tourist attractions and offers something for every traveler. Visit Stanley Park to explore 1,000 acres of serene forests and oceanfront. Take a ferry to Granville Island, a waterside hotspot with a bustling food and crafts market and about a dozen studios and galleries. For an authentic taste of Chinese food and culture, visit Chinatown. Visitors can stop by colorful produce stalls to pick up an afternoon snack or take a leisurely stroll through Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Vancouver is best explored outside, but rainy days can put a damper on activities. Popular indoor attractions include the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, and Lonsdale Quay, a colorful market on the city’s North Shore.