The world's best ferries

The world's best ferries
Norwegian fjord (Photo Thinkstock)
Many of the planet's most spectacular destinations are served by public ferries, and whether it's a short harbour hop or a day-long adventure, these water wonders offer the views without the cruise.
The Interislander

Where? New Zealand
If you're looking for a nice, relaxing bob on a duckpond, then the ferry connecting New Zealand's North and South Islands is really not the best option. The Cook Strait can get rather feisty, but any lurching around the deck is worth it when you reach the Marlborough Sounds. This series of sea-flooded valleys, with forest-covered headlands jutting out to create a frame, is as perfect an introduction to a destination as you could wish for.

The whole 92km journey takes just over three hours. If the sun's out and the water's calm, it's as close to paradise as you're going to get.

Oban to Barra

Where: Scotland
The Scottish Islands are linked by a network of ferries, and most of the trips are pretty darned scenic. It's easy enough to plot a trip that lasts a week or so, hopping between the islands according to the ferry timetables.

But if you have to pick just one journey? Make it the port of Oban to the island of Barra. The ferries sail six times a week, and the journey takes around five hours. The important thing is that you end up passing plenty of other islands on the way, and dolphins can regularly be spotted monkeying around in the water.

Laerdal to Gudvanger

Where: Norway
The Norwegian fjords are tremendously popular amongst tourists, and numerous boats plough along the most scenic stretches. But not all of them are purely there for the visitors. Distances between towns and villages on the fjords can be short as the crow flies, but due to watery diversions, by road they can be surprisingly large. Therefore, it's often better to travel by boat, and a number of ferries criss-cross the fjord-riddled horizon.

Between May and September every year, a ferry service runs between Laerdal and Gudvanger on Nærøyfjord, which is surrounded by steep mountains and is often regarded as the prettiest fjord in Norway. It's hardly a secret — it has long since run with three quarters of an eye on the tourist market — but the three hour round trip is still a relative bargain.

The Inside Passage

Where: Alaska, USA
Alaska has similar issues to Norway — a lot of isolated communities divided by a craggy landscape and lots of water. Luckily, there's a pretty comprehensive ferry system that runs up and down the Inside Passage. The route from Juneau to Sitka is a great option — there are often humpback whales in the water and brown bears on land, while the shoreline can go from snowy to sunny depending on the time of year you visit.

The Staten Island Ferry

Where: New York City, USA
The best vantage point for gawping at the Manhattan skyline is the water. Head out into New York City Harbour and you get tremendous views of the skyscrapers. There are plenty of boat trips that offer cruises around New York's waterways, but the Staten Island Ferry departs every half hour ... and it's free. Linking Staten Island with Manhattan, the ferry serves a curious mix of bored commuters sitting downstairs with their newspapers and excitable tourists trying to photograph the buildings and Statue of Liberty. Try to get to the back for the trip to Staten Island and the front for the return journey.

The Star Ferry

Where: Hong Kong
For sheer spectacle, Star Ferries in Hong Kong are hard to beat. Victoria Harbour may as well have been what was in mind when the old travel writing cliché of 'bustling' was invented. The buildings on both the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon sides sparkle, and the ferries are an integral part of the city life.

The best time to get one is at night when a light show plays out across the skyscrapers. It only takes ten minutes, but it's still cheaper to just head straight back a couple of times than take a cruise.

Other great city ferries

Other great city ferries

The Staten Island Ferry and Star Ferry are icons, but there are plenty of other great city ferry journeys. The vaporettos of Venice are a bargain compared to the gondolas, the ferries from Sausalito to San Francisco across the Bay offer top views of the Golden Gate Bridge, while the ferry across the Mersey river in Liverpool, England has the cheese factor. Yes, that song is played constantly...

And, of course, there's always Sydney to Manly closer to home.

View more of Australia's greatest ferry rides here
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