15 Ferry Rides That Will Truly Transport You

These romantic ships will carry you far further than Point A to Point B—stand at the rail beside the locals and watch the destination truly come into focus. These ferry rides provide a new perspective on island villages, mainland ports, hard-to-get-to beaches, unfamiliar crossings: Don’t miss the boat.

Kigoma Region, Tanzania
The historic MV Liemba is the oldest functioning ferry in the world, and a voyage down Tanzania’s Lake Tanganyika on this landmark is a colorful experience. Your fellow passengers will include traders loading and unloading cargo (anything from pineapples to flip-flops) and locals using the ferry for transport. On the southbound journey, the boat departs from the town of Kigoma and travels 300 miles to Zambia, where its makes its first port of call on land. But in between those two stops, while still on the water, travelers can transfer to smaller ships in order to reach places like Lagosa (a jumping-off point for the Mahale Mountains National Park) or the peaceful beach area of Kipili.
Maafushi, Maldives
Most visitors to the Maldives head straight to a secluded resort to enjoy some R & R, but there’s another option for those looking for a more happening spot: Maafushi. Found in South Male Atoll, the island is 90 minutes from the capital by ferry, and has a couple of public beaches and snorkeling areas. Formerly a sleepy island that was badly damaged during the 2004 tsunami, Maafushi has since developed into a tourist area brimming with guesthouses, hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants. This is not the place for refined relaxation, but a good option for anyone craving a livelier atmosphere than at most resorts.
498 Bulls Island Road
If Bulls Island were far from Charleston, it would still be surreal in its wildness and biological diversity. It’s only a 30-minute ferry ride away, however, making it all the more magical to visit. The only way to reach the island is by private boat or the official Bulls Island Ferry, and the most qualified, dedicated naturalists in the state run the latter. There’s nothing touristy about boarding the ferry at Garris Landing and heading across Bulls Bay for a day of exploring Boneyard Beach, pedaling across grassy roads on a bird-watching tour, or searching for alligators in the freshwater lakes and marshes. Just be sure to bring sunscreen, bug spray, and a sense of adventure.
Sausalito, CA 94965, USA
Get a small-town experience just a short ferry ride or an easy drive from San Francisco in Sausalito. The town is known for its seaside charm, but there are a few not-to-miss things to do while you’re there.

1. Grab lunch at one of the many restaurants and cafés with views of the San Francisco skyline.

2. Walk along Bridgeway, Sausalito’s main drag, and browse the numerous souvenir shops, boutiques, and art galleries.

3. Sausalito’s houseboat community showcases anything from renovated architectural gems to repurposed barges to vessels that need some serious TLC. These are private homes, so be respectful when wandering around. Liberty Dock and Issaquah Dock are good places to start.

4. The Bay Model Visitor Center, run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is an acre-and-a-half scale reconstruction of the Bay Area’s waterways. From an observation platform, watch tides ebb and flow every 15 minutes, and marvel at just how big the bay really is.

5. Kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Near the Bay Model, Sea Trek offers several types of classes for both, catering to all skill levels.

6. Stock up on dinnerwear made in Sausalito at Heath Ceramics. Among the houseboats and artist studios is the original 1959 factory, where the clay is made, and the plates, bowls and cups are shaped and glazed. There is also tour each Friday, and weekend tours Saturday and Sunday. The factory is slightly north of downtown.
56 Commercial St, Portland, ME 04101, USA
There certainly are other ways to while away a summer day in Greater Portland, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better experience than island-hopping aboard a Casco Bay Lines ferry. Sure, you can simply ride out to an island for a look-about and return, or enjoy a sunrise, sunset, or moonlight cruise. But for a real immersion, consider the Mailboat Run. You’ll be among islanders, visitors, pets, and freight to-ing and fro-ing between Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Long, Cliff, and Chebeague islands. The 2½-to-3½-hour working cruise is offered twice daily year-round; bring your own picnic lunch on the morning run or snacks for the afternoon one.
130 39 Sandhamn, Sweden
The thousands of islands that make up the Stockholm archipelago have something for everyone. Many are tiny and uninhabited. Some, like Sandhamn, are crowded all summer long and attract hundreds of private sailboats. You can find great food and great places to swim or stroll, and also hotels, hostels, and wooden cabins in which to overnight. You need half a day at the bare minimum to experience the archipelago proper, but if time is short take a ferry to Fjäderholmarna, which is very close to the center. There you can enjoy a waterside meal and get a taste of archipelago living.
Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong
Join throngs of locals on the five-minute ferry ride across Victoria Harbour between the Tsim Sha Tsui cruise pier in Kowloon, on the mainland side, and the Central Pier on Hong Kong Island (a slightly longer ride goes to Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island). This is not just any ferry: The historic green and white Star Ferries have been moving the masses back and forth for decades, with the origins of the company going back to 1880 with the service of a single steamboat, the Morning Star. Today, the classic wooden boats make the trip many times daily, and a ride provides a great view of the city’s famous skyline and a whiff of nostalgia to boot.
Ponce, Puerto Rico
One of Puerto Rico’s offshore islands, Caja de Muertos, or “Coffin Island” (so named for its shape), is an eight-mile boat ride from Ponce’s docks. Take a day to explore the area, which is a designated nature reserve with a lighthouse built in 1887, a cave, and trails, or to simply relax on its white-sand beaches. Neither fresh water nor food kiosks or vendors are available on the island (so bring a picnic, and pack in and pack out). Isla Caja de Muertos remains one of Puerto Rico’s best-kept secrets.
Robben Island, Cape Town, 7400, South Africa
One of South Africa’s most famous sights, Robben Island is located four miles to the west of Cape Town. Its history as a prison is almost as old as the first Dutch settlement on the cape, dating all the way back to the 17th century. Today, the island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and museum, offering guided tours by former prisoners. After visiting the graveyard and maximum-security facility, guests can finish with a stop at the cell of the island’s most famous prisoner, Nelson Mandela. The half-hour ferry ride to Robben Island includes breathtaking views of Cape Town and Table Mountain. Just note that the ferry only runs three times a day in the low season; in the spring and summer, there’s an additional departure in the late afternoon. Book your tickets far in advance.

Mwanza, Tanzania
To visit Mwanza is to head off the traditional tourist trail of Tanzania. Here, on the coast of Lake Victoria, commercial ships fish for Nile perch and sardines that will be sold across Africa; every year Tanzanians flock to Mwanza for work opportunities. Explore this thriving and interesting city with a stop at the Mwaloni fish market (where you’ll also find produce brought in from villages around the lake) and take in the pretty views of Lake Victoria. Bismarck Rock, a tall boulder balancing atop a jumble of rocks out in the lake, can be visited en route to the ferry terminal. Ferries carry passengers across the lake to Bukoba and points along the shore. From Mwanza, it’s also possible to hop a train across the country to Dar es Salaam, but be warned—it’s regularly delayed for as many as 12 hours.
Tiburon, CA 94920, USA
Hop aboard the ferry at Pier 41 in San Francisco, or from the town of Tiburon, and spend a day on the largest and most beautiful island in the bay—Angel Island State Park. You can bring your own bike, or rent one when you arrive, and ride the paved perimeter trail around the 760-acre island. There are open-air tram tours, too, with guides recalling the island’s rich history, as well as guided hikes. Of course, you are free to roam the trails on your own, one of the best of which is the hike up to the top of 788-foot Mount Livermore, where 360-degree views take in the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. Whatever your plan, know you’ll be immersing yourself in local history in a place that has been a fishing and hunting site for Coast Miwok Indians, a haven for Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala, and a U.S. Army post starting with the Civil War. From 1910 to 1940, hundreds of thousands of immigrants were processed here, and during World War II, Japanese and German POWs were held on the island. Several buildings and other relics remain as a reminder of the island’s varied history, including the United States Immigration Station museum (open March–October).
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