City kayaking tours around the world

Some cities demand to be admired from the water. I know – I live in one of them. As lovely as Sydney is, it is never lovelier than when you are out on the harbour. There are other cities too where the water is a huge feature. Copenhagen and Seattle are famous for their beautiful harbours. I can’t imagine London without the Thames snaking through the centre, nor Paris without the Seine. I have never been to Chicago but I gather that when you are downtown, you are never far from Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.

On my travels I never find any shortage of ways to get out on the water. Often the best option is simply to take a public ferry – harbour cruises are usually overpriced and cheesy. But if you like to be active, a kayak tour is an even better idea. There is something so immersive and pleasing about being out on the water – and so close to it – under your own power. The fact you can glide silently means you can get quite close to wildlife – though the whirring of automatic cameras is louder than you might think! As for kayaking in cold places, the exertion of paddling keeps you far warmer than you would be in any other sort of boat. I’ve noticed more and more places offering city kayak tours and I think it’s going to become an even bigger trend in 2012.

A quick Google search for Sydney kayak tours comes up with some options that sound good and Will Peach’s recent guest post on Christmas in London mentions kayak tours in London.  Meanwhile, I am an affiliate partner with Urban Adventures and I noticed that they have quite a few city kayak tours around the world. I wanted to share my picks. If you follow one of my links and then book a tour, I do get a small commission but the post is meant to be read and enjoyed – it’s not advertorial.

Hobart, Australia

Bridge over Derwent River
Sydney is not Australia’s only state capital with a beautiful harbour. Hobart is one of my favourite cities in Australia. Like Sydney, it has old convict-era architecture and a beautiful harbour – the final stop for the yachties who set off in the Sydney to Hobart sailing race today.

When I visited in 2007, I loved exploring the port area around Salamanca Market – Hobart’s foodie mecca – and I thought the Derwent River (pictured above) was especially beautiful. My explorations were confined to land but my friends in Hobart go kayaking regularly and love it so much they plan to take their baby son once he is big enough to wear a life jacket. I hope to join them next time I go to visit them.

Urban Adventures has a two-hour kayak tour of Hobart, starting and ending from Sandy Bay. It includes Battery Point, Salamanca Place, the tall ships lining Constitution Dock and a snack of fish and chips that you can eat in your kayak.

Melbourne, Australia

If you meet someone from Melbourne, I’ve got ten bucks that says they’ll try to convince you that Melbourne is better than Sydney. Supposedly there is a big feud between Sydney and Melbourne about which is the better city, but the truth is that only Melbournites really care. Sydneysiders usually just shrug and acknowledge that Melbourne is indeed a rather nice city.

And it is. Melbourne is a fun city with a lot going for it. It has beautiful buildings and parks, great food and a thriving art and fashion scene. And while the bay doesn’t compare to Sydney Harbour, the Yarra River is very beautiful. It would be a great place for urban kayaking.

Urban Adventures offers several Melbourne kayak tours. For early birds there is a Yoga Sunrise Kayak tour, starting at 7am from near the Princes Bridge. For night owls there is a Moonlight Kayak Tour or the River to the Sky tour, both timed so you are out on the water during sunset. There is also a day trip, the Discover Docklands tour.

Copenhagen, Denmark

I visited Copenhagen in 2006, on my way back to London from Spitsbergen in the Arctic. I stayed with my friend Natalie who was working there at the time. It’s a great city and I’m happy to be returning there next year, with my family and our friends Tash and Matt and their little girl. It also has a beautiful harbour, which I saw on foot at places like Nyhavn (pictured above) and the site of the Little Mermaid statue.

Urban Adventures has a Copenhagen Harbour Kayak tour that takes you past some of the city’s most impressive buildings like the Black Diamond, Royal Library and New Opera and into some formerly closed areas where you can see old navy ships up close. It sounds pretty cool!

Stockholm, Sweden

After Copenhagen, I will be going to Stockholm for the first time next July and I can’t wait. Even though I haven’t seen the city’s waterways first hand, I know that Stockholm is meant to be really beautiful and it’s also famous for being built on a series of islands. So I have no doubt that a kayak tour of Stockholm would be great. (Sadly, travellers must be 12 years and older, so it doesn’t sound like I can take our twin babies out on the water – but if any editors want to commission a feature from me, I’m sure I could persuade my husband to mind the babies for the afternoon!).

Seattle, United States

It has been many years since I went to Seattle – I was a 20-year-old backpacker, fresh off a 10-week stint as a volunteer in Costa Rica, and it was my first time travelling overseas on my own. As someone who came of age during the grunge era, Seattle definitely had a cool factor for me. I was only there a couple of days before taking the train to Vancouver. I stayed in a hostel downtown and I remember going to Pike Market during the day and a out to a bar to listen to live music that night. I met some boy who played tour guide for me the next day but I don’t remember if we even kissed.

I am sure Seattle has changed a lot and that I have changed even more but I know one thing hasn’t changed about Seattle and that is the beautiful setting. Seattle has a stunning waterfront and the mountains are never far away. There is just one thing I would have changed – it seemed like such a shame to put the freeway right alongside the water. I preferred the layout of Vancouver because they had a park on the waterfront instead.

Fortunately, the Urban Adventures Seattle Urban Kayak Tour is in and around Lake Union, not alongside the freeway! It is apparently an important habitat for wildlife and also home to assorted boats and floating homes – and the views of downtown Seattle are superb. There is also another, longer tour that includes walking and cycling as well as paddling.

And finally…

If you are wondering how much experience is required, talk to the tour operator. The tours are usually targeted at relative beginners but there may be some requirements. Bear in mind that kayaking in the shelter of a lake or harbour (or fjord) is usually easier than a river and that sea kayaks are also more stable and easier to keep straight than a river kayak. You may be able to share a double kayak with a more experienced paddler. Double kayaks also give you the option to take children on the trip, depending on the tour operator’s rules.

I have been a fan of kayaking for a while – it is fun, not too strenuous and it is also environmentally friendly. Check out this article I wrote for EcoSalon back in 2009: Messing about in boats.

Have you ever been on a city kayak tour? Would you go? What’s the best way to see your home town or favourite city? Let me know in the comments.

You can also browse the full list of Urban Adventures tours through the widget on my sidebar.

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