Bountiful beaches, ancient architecture, rich histories, blended cultures and vibrant city centers—the world’s most inviting harbor cities allow travelers to have it all. For this collection of iconic ports of call, we’re highlighting nine cities that have leveraged their more industrial past to flourish into world-renowned, waterfront destinations.
Between the crystal-clear waters, green areas and impressive architecture, Stockholm might just be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A veritable mix of opposing forces, where cobblestone streets seamlessly merge into a vibrant metropolis; the azure blues of water and sky are offset by red, yellow and orange-colored buildings; and four distinct seasons define the scenic backdrop, Stockholm is a city perfectly in balance.
Old Town in Stockholm, Sweden - iStock/Scanrail
- Vasa Museum: Scandinavia’s most popular museum. The restored Vasa Ship, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628, is a must for maritime enthusiasts.
- Old Town (Gamla Stan): Get inspired by stunning 16th- and 17th-century architecture in the heart of the city.
- Scandinavian Cuisine: For the best gastronomy in Stockholm, try Matsalen, Frantzén or Gastrologik.
- Swedish Massage: A traditional and therapeutic way to indulge in Scandinavian culture.
- Skärgården Archipelago: Made up of nearly 30,000 islands and islets, the closest islands are just 30 minutes from Stockholm city center.
Considered the gateway to Latin and Central America, Miami is a vibrant and colorful city known for bikinis, beaches and beautiful people. Once a favorite destination of pirates—Blackbeard is rumored to have been a regular visitor—Miami is the go-to destination for travelers preferring beach vacations with a side of over-the-top indulgence. Sandy beaches aside, it’s the thriving art scene, the vibrant nightlife, and being the yachting capital of the Americas that really make the city.
Palm trees and neon lights line Miami’s Ocean Drive. - iStock/Frederic Prochasson
- South Beach: South Beach offers visitors an eclectic mix of high-end boutiques, galleries, beachside eateries and, of course, a glittering nightlife.
- Seafood: After filling up on Florida stone crab, try the ceviche at La Mer by Gaston Acurio.
- Florida Keys: A coral cay archipelago stretching over 120 miles and just a mere hour from Miami, visiting the Keys should be added to any Miami itinerary.
A city crafted by man, fire and water, Chicago is known for its sky-scraping architecture, eclectic neighborhoods, Midwestern hospitality and formidable winters. But what may surprise some travelers is how much Lake Michigan influences the city and its inhabitants. A protected lakefront gives Chicago 15 miles of bathing beaches and 19 miles of lakefront bicycle paths, and the lake’s oceanic waters provide ample opportunities for boating and other water sports.
Downtown Chicago - iStock/Dosecreative
- River Cruise: Chicago is a city given a second chance in many ways, but the most apparent is its architecture. A river cruise right through the middle of the city is simply the best way to appreciate it.
- Deep Dish Pizza: Locals are sure to have their favorites, but try this Chicago staple at Giordano’s, Pizano’s or Pequod’s.
- The Art Insitute of Chicago: Home to one of the largest and most extensive collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the world.
Venice has always been one of Italy’s most visited destinations. Tourism has given the city its multicultural environment since the 12th century, when travelers like Marco Polo were taking Venice and its culture everywhere. Though at times it may seem like Venice is home to more tourists than locals, the city’s ancient waterways, astonishing architecture and historic charm make it a port city not to be missed.
The Grand Canal in Venice, Italy - iStock/Iakovkalinin
- Ca’ d’Oro: Originally constructed in 1420 as a private palazzo, the “House of Gold” gallery features works by Venetian and international artists.
- Grand Canal: A gondola ride along this ancient waterway is a memorable and romantic way to take in the city’s inspiring architecture.
- Murano, Burano and Torcello: For an easy and colorful day trip, visit these nearby islands, renowned for their glassware and lace-making.
First established as Gastown in 1867, Vancouver became a bona fide city in 1886—and was quickly destroyed by fire and rebuilt. Since then, the city has grown into a culturally diverse metropolis with many different ethnic communities creating one of the world’s largest melting pots. And this has resulted in some of the world’s best and most diverse cuisine. Vancouver’s Pacific waterfront and myriad attractions bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, making tourism the city’s second largest industry.
Stanley Park, Vancouver - iStock/Abdullahecirli
- Granville Island: Peruse the city’s best farmer’s market and see what local artisans have to offer.
- Grouse Mountain: Take a tram to the top for the best city views, some skiing and a nice meal.
- Capilano Suspension Bridge: Travelers looking for something both fun and daring will thrill at the opportunity to cross this 450-foot bridge, which hangs 230 feet high above the Capilano River.
- Historic Gastown: Vancouver’s original neighborhood, Gastown’s cobbled streets now lead visitors to some of the city’s best new restaurants, shops and pubs.
- Stanley Park: This 988-acre rainforest is one of North America’s largest urban green spaces and is also home to the Vancouver Aquarium.
Often relegated to a day of obligatory sight-seeing before setting off for the Greek isles, Athens gets a bad rap. If you give Athens a chance, you’ll see it’s a walkable city with friendly, passionate people and a lot of history. There is so much to do and see here. But it’s this mix—bustling, history-laden city and sun-soaked Mediterranean beaches—that makes visiting Athens so special. Culture and history, sun and sand. Athens has it all.
A temple to Poseidon found just outside of Athens, Greece - iStock/Witr
- Acropolis: Often confused with its famous ruins, know this before visiting: The Acropolis is the hill upon which the Parthenon—the temple built for the goddess Athena—sits."
- Acropolis Museum: A highlight of the city. It’s recently been voted one of the world’s best museums.
- Pláka: Walk the streets of the city’s old historic neighborhood and be sure to explore its famous Monastiraki flea market.
- Island Hop: From the port of Piraeus, board a ferry, speedboat or yacht for some island-hopping—Mykonos, Santorini and Crete are favorites.
- Greek Eats: Lamb is a must—try a gyro at Thanasis in the Pláka.
Situated along the Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong draws travelers from around the world who view the island as the gateway to China. The efficiency of the city has given it world-class status and offers an insight into modern-day China. Offering sophistication, culture, heritage, the arts and the natural beauty of parks, beaches and one of the world’s most dramatic harbors, Hong Kong is Asia’s world city.
A distinctive junk boat in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour - iStock/Phaitoons
- Star Ferry: View Hong Kong from Victoria Harbor to witness how the city has evolved into the 21st century.
- Local Cuisine: If you can’t make it to one of the city’s Michelin-star restaurants for every meal, slurp on a bowl of noodles and dumplings at a sidewalk café.
- The Peak: Victoria Peak, also known as Mount Austin, is the island’s highest mountain and provides sweeping views of Hong Kong and Kowloon.
- Natural Beauty: If you want to spend time in the great outdoors while in Hong Kong, visit the outlying islands, which are ideal for hiking and admiring the natural scenic beauty.
- Old to New: Meander through the narrow laneways of once bustling warehouses and storage facilities that have since been re-imagined into cafes, bars and local designer shops.
Known as the fairest cape in the world, Cape Town is flanked by the currents of two oceans and is nestled below the breathtaking Table Mountain and Twelve Apostles. What started as a supply station in 1652 has grown into a city whose metropolitan appeal is matched only by its dramatic natural landscape. Cape Town is a small city with cultural influences from all over, creating one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Here you will find a mix of cultures, landscapes, architecture, lifestyles, customs and scenery and myriad things to do whatever your tastes, inclinations or budget.
Cape Town, South Africa - Photo by Wim van den heever - courtesy of Ellerman House
- Table Mountain: Enjoy sweeping views of the city, Robben Island, the peninsula and beyond from this wonder of nature.
- The Old Biscuit Mill: A market village home to markets, workshops, designer stores and restaurants. Book reservations well in advance for a meal at The Test Kitchen, voted South Africa’s best restaurant in 2014.
- Winelands: Less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the picturesque Franschhoek and Stellenbosch regions produce some of the world’s finest wines.
- Kirstenbosh Gardens: No visit to Cape Town is complete without a stroll through one of the most beautiful gardens in Africa.
Sydneysiders are some of the friendliest and most laid-back people in the world. The culture is very much about living the good life. With a seemingly endless array of attractions—world-class shopping and dining, beach (Sydney has no less than 37 of them) and harbor activities, quick day trips to the Blue Mountains and the wineries of the Hunter Valley area—Sydney and its grand waterfront leave little for any traveler to desire.
An aerial view of Sydney Harbor and the Sydney Opera House
- Opera House: Catching a performance at this gleaming Sydney icon is a definite must. A variety of tours are another great way to learn about the history and workings of the Opera House.
- Harbour Bridge: Those travelers wishing to push adventure to new heights should spend a day climbing to the top of this iconic landmark, which has a harrowing history all its own.
- Royal Botanic Gardens: One of Sydney’s most visited attractions, the garden opened in 1816 and is one of the world’s most important botanical institutions. It’s also an idyllic spot for a picnic.
- Sea Life Sydney Aquarium: Home to the world’s largest collection of all-Australian aquatic life, with more than 13,000 animals from 650 species.