Skip to content

Best travel destinations to see by water

June 25, 2022
8 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Before you hop on a flight and book a land package for your next vacation, consider instead what you might be able to see from the water on a ship. Traveling the world's vast oceans and waterways offers unrivaled views of some of the most magical destinations around the globe.

While you can reach most of these locales by plane, you may decide that the best way to see them is from a panoramic viewpoint at the bow of a ship. From remote vistas at the bottom of the world to stunning coastal scenes in southern Europe, these seven destinations will transport you to some of the most scenic places to see by water.

For cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s cruise newsletter.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Located in Alaska's Inside Passage, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a bucket list destination best viewed from its icy glacier waters. Much of the vast interior of the park's 3.3 million acres is composed of water and mountains covered in dense rainforest — and most of it is not accessible by road or hiking paths — so the ideal way to see the park is from a cruise or expedition ship or tour vessel.

Even large cruise ships spend a day traversing these pristine waters where you'll watch — and hear — ice calving from the brilliant blue glaciers. Grab your binoculars and you might be able to see bald eagles flying overhead or catch a glimpse of brown bears and mountain goats along the shoreline.

Glacier Bay is also a humpback whale sanctuary, so keep a lookout for these majestic, endangered animals — some as large as 50 feet in length and weighing up to 40 tons. Park rangers board each ship to provide commentary throughout the day and assist with wildlife sightings for whales, harbor seals, sea otters, sea lions and various species of shorebirds.

(Photo by DEA/Getty Images)

Related: Alaska cruise guide: Best itineraries, planning tips and things to do

The French Riviera

The coastal ports along the French Riviera offer some of the most dramatic and enchanting scenery in the world. There's nothing like sailing into Monaco and seeing Monaco-Ville, the Old Town, perched atop a 203-foot-high headland and the Oceanographic Museum rising out of the cliffside.

Known for its "lifestyles of the rich and famous," Monaco boasts yacht-filled marinas, palatial resorts and homes, winding roadways and hairpin turns that are home to the Monaco Grand Prix — all surrounded by the rugged cliffs of the Alps. While the glamorous scenery is beautiful by day, you won’t want to miss the view of this destination when it’s lit up at night.

(Photo by Samuel Foster/Getty Images)

Related: Western Mediterranean vs. Eastern Mediterranean cruises: Which itinerary will I like more?

Hawaii’s Napali Coast

Hawaii’s Napali Coast spans 17 miles on Kauai’s North Shore along the Pacific Ocean. The landscape looks much as it has for centuries with its pristine, remote beaches, jagged peaks, imposing cliffs as high as 4,000 feet, and waterfalls cascading into lush green valleys that end at the sea.

While there is an 11-mile hiking trail in Napali Coast State Park — the Kalalau Trail — that’s reachable via Haena State Park, the optimal way to view the majestic scenery is from the sea or by air. Your cruise ship may plan a cruise-by of the spectacular coastline, but to explore the marine life and sea caves along the coast, take a snorkeling tour to Nualolo Reef. Here you’ll have incredible views below the water and from the boat with a backdrop of the emerald green mountains and waterfalls.

(Photo by YinYang/Getty Images)

Istanbul

If you're cruising to Istanbul, you'll arrive by one of the world's most famous waterways, the 37-mile-long Dardanelles. This narrow strait separates the continents of Europe and Asia and is the only waterway between the Aegean and Marmara seas. During Classical times, the Dardenelles was known as Hellespont and the ancient city of Troy was situated along the Asian shoreline.

Today, you’ll pass hillsides, fields with olive groves and castles and strategic fortifications like the Kilitbahir Fortress as you sail. Once you reach the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and Istanbul, the seven hills of the ancient city and the minarets of the magnificent Suleymanlye Mosque come into view. You might even hear a call to prayer in the background.

(Photo by gece33/Getty Images)

Related: Mediterranean cruise guide: Best itineraries, planning tips and things to do

Norway's fjords

Coastal Norway is home to more than a thousand fjords boasting astounding natural beauty, with calm blue waters from the sea contrasted with jagged towering cliffs. It's hard to imagine that these rocky perches were once home to farmers — and still are in some places — as you sail from one fjord to another, admiring one of Norway's best-known attractions.

One of the most iconic fjords is the UNESCO-protected site of Geirangerfjord. Created by glaciers that carved out the fjords and mountain summits, Geirangerfjord has seven waterfalls, including the best-known Seven Sisters and Bridal Veil falls. For a closer look from the water's surface, plan to take a kayak, or go on a fishing or RIB Boat tour.

(Photo by liliportfolio/Getty Images)

Bora Bora and Moorea, French Polynesia

If you're dreaming of magical sun-filled days in a tropical island paradise in the far corner of the world, consider an island-hopping adventure in the South Pacific. While all the islands of French Polynesia boast glistening turquoise waters, pristine white sand beaches, lush green vegetation and vibrant flora, Moorea and Bora Bora top the list for their striking looks when seen from offshore.

The scenery is magical, with mountain peaks rising from the sea, palm trees swaying in the breeze and overwater bungalows situated along the coast atop crystal clear aquamarine lagoons. Below the water’s surface, the views are equally as mesmerizing, with abundant marine life such as hawksbill turtles, colorful tropical fish, several species of dolphins, manta rays, blacktip reef and hammerhead sharks and humpback whales. To explore this fascinating underwater world, plan to go snorkeling or diving around the islands, especially close to the intricate coral reefs, which are teeming with fish and other sea life.

(Photo by Vincent-Pommeyrol/Getty Images)

Sydney

The Emerald City is one of the top places in the world to see from the sea, especially when arriving in Sydney Harbour at night. This bustling metropolis with its sunlit skyscrapers by day is known for its spectacular harbor views after dark due to the illumination of the world-renowned Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. These iconic images of one of Australia’s largest cities in the Land Down Under are some of the most memorable views you’ll ever have from the water.

(Photo by Airphoto Australia/Getty Images)

Antarctica

The journey to the bottom of the Earth is a trip of a lifetime for most travelers. Known as the Last Continent, Antarctica's otherworldly icy formations and rugged snow-covered landscape are best viewed via state-of-the-art expedition vessels that can navigate their way around by crunching through icy impasses.

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first person to reac‎h the South Pole in 1911, described it this way, "Glittering white, shining blue, raven black … the land looks like a fairytale. Pinnacle after pinnacle, peak after peak -- crevassed, wild as any land on our globe, it lies, unseen and untrodden. It is a wonderful feeling to travel along it."

After a long journey to explore this unique wilderness ecosystem, adventurous travelers will be rewarded with unforgettable vistas of majestic mountains and icebergs, breaching whales and colonies of several species of penguins. While the scenery is breathtaking from the ship, part of the thrill of traveling to Antarctica is to see the ice floes and waterfalls up-close from a kayak or Zodiac. While you’re out on the water, it’s easy to be overcome with the vastness, ethereal beauty and extraordinary silence of this faraway place.

(Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises)

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases