Cruising uncrowded, centuries-old canals in the sunshine, having the freedom to move on to a new spot whenever you want, destinations whose beauty is enhanced when seen from the waterways; there are plenty of perks to holidaying by boat.
If you’re daydreaming of taking a week-long boat trip around the Lake District or going for a short ride on a Venetian gondola (see below for the budget alternative), here are the world’s best boating destinations according to global travellers.*
Take a vaporetto, water taxi or gondola up the Grand Canal, Venice
Boating through the canals of Venice is imperative for anyone who likes to travel. One of Italy’s most-adored cities, the Gothic palazzos and elaborate bridges that line the Grand Canal look particularly resplendent from the water. For a Venetian boating experience, you can take a vaporetto (a big water bus) up the Grand Canal, a private water taxi (a Fellini-esque speed boat), a gondola (a traditional Venetian rowing boat), or a traghetto (a gondola-style ferry). The traghetti row back and forth across the Grand Canal almost continuously during the daytime, only cost 2 Euros and – given that they're a popular form of transport with locals – are the one of the best ways to experience Venetian life. Just a few minutes’ walk from the Ca' d'Oro Palace and the Rialto Bridge, Venice Suite Misericordia is a traditional but spruced up Venetian apartment. For those keen to splurge, staying in the grand, designer-decorated Liassidi Wellness Suites will make a trip very special.
Boat trips take you around Brazil's tropical Costa Verde
Paraty is a small fishing town on Brazil’s Costa Verde, where a few whitewashed Portuguese houses with blue shutters stand between the sea and the rainforest-covered mountains. A boat trip is by far the best way to take in the tropical landscape, with cloud shadows moving across steep mountain slopes that lead down to silent, sandy coves. As you explore the Bay of Paraty’s 65 islands, you can snorkel with sea turtles and swim in clear blue waters. You can also hop on an organised boat tour (whether on a small speed boat or a big party boat with free caipirinhas and music) or haggle with a local fisherman to take you out on the water. Stay close to Paraty’s historic centre at Maris Paraty, a light and spacious property with a leafy garden and terrace. Or Casa Mar Paraty, an upmarket hotel where your bedroom’s wooden shutters open up to a terrace and infinity pool overlooking the beach.
Lake Windermere is England's largest, and most romantic, natural lake
In the middle of the magnificent Lake District, whose moody peaks and misty fells inspired poet laureate William Wordsworth, Lake Windermere is England’s largest natural lake. And its romantic beauty is best enjoyed by boat. From the pier in the town of Bowness-on-Windermere, visitors can hire a range of luxury motor boats and old-fashioned rowing boats. You can also canoe, kayak and paddle board. May Cottage B&B is a lakeside cottage dating from the 1860s, offering guests a generous Cumbrian breakfast.
Take a boat to the paradisiacal tropical island of Ilha Grande
People travel from all over the world to witness the natural beauty of the island of Ilha Grande, where the village port of Abraão is found. Cars are prohibited on the island but travelling by boat will give you access to the best deserted beaches, paradisiacal lagoons and rare wildlife. Boat tours leave Abraão regularly (on motorboats, schooners and ferries). The decking at Atlantica Jungle Lodge looks out onto the beach over the rainforest canopy, making it feel like a luxurious, tropical treehouse. While the Marlin Hostel Ilha Grande offers simple, colourful accommodation just a one-minute walk from the beach.
Hundreds of canals criss cross the city of Hamburg
One of the world’s most historically-significant port cities, Hamburg was made for boats. Cruising the hundreds of canals that criss cross the city, you can admire the neoclassical landmark buildings, Alster Lake (sitting right in the centre), the Elbe River and the 17th-century red-brick houses. Boat tours through the canals begin in Alster Lake and most of them last a few hours (although quicker options are available). If you’re in town on a Sunday morning, visit the the Hamburg harbour and the lively, historic fish market. Volksschule is a modern hotel in a renovated former school building, while Henri Hotel Hamburg Downtown is also an eccentric-looking property with a sauna and a gym.
**The data analysts at Booking.com looked at endorsements for ‘boating’ by Booking.com customers. They then found the destinations that were most highly-rated for this endorsement.