Connecting the dots of a travel itinerary by boat by using public ferries

A small ferry in Sicily
Ferries come in all shapes and sizes, from massive people-movers connecting Italy and Greece to car ferries scuttling back and forth across the Rhine, to essentially little water taxis, like this one, taking tourists on the slow 20-minute putter out to the ancient Phoenician settlement of Mozia off the coast of Sicily.

Ferries are the overlooked workhorses of Europe's waterways. They enjoy neither the glamour of a cruise ship, nor the adventurous spirit of a sailboat, nor the languid easiness of a canal barge.

They just transport tens of thousands of folks from Point A to Point B all year round, and get no thanks for it.

Sure, these days you can take the Eurostar train to get from London to the Continent via the Chunnel rather than ply the English Channel from Dover to Calais, and you can hop a no-frills airline to get to Greece in a jiffy without mucking about on an 18-hour ferry ride from Bari or Brindisi in Italy over to Patras (and then a long bus ride from there to Athens).

But when you take such admittedly convenient, time-saving, and often cheap shortcuts, you somehow miss out on a big dollop of the romance of European travel.

I freely admit, I'm just like everyone else. I Chunnel it to Paris by train these days, and the last several times I've been to Greece, it was on an inexpensive low cost airline. But I gotta tell you, I miss the ferries.

Maybe it's that ancient call of the sea that all inveterate travelers still feel deep in their bones, but there's something exciting about being aboard a working ship, leaning against the rails to taste the salt air, feeling the wind blow your hair straight back, squinting in the sun, listening to the keen of the circling seagulls, and fixing your eyes upon that distant horizon, wondering what adventures it might hold.

Resources for finding ferry schedules and booking tickets in Europe

Aferry.to (www.aferry.to)

A booking site for most major ferry lines across Europe, at prices that seem to be equal to what you'd pay to the ferry companies themselves. Not that you have to book tickets in advance, really, but the site is useful for getting timetables.

Ferries.it (www.ferries.it)

Covers most major Italian ferry systems, including ones that can get you around the Mediterranean.

More ferry resources

Howder Family blog (Howderfamily.com/travel)

I love it when a homegrown site does what the big commercial ones don't. In this case, the Howder Family blog has created interactive maps to local ferry systems in the Caribbean (fantastic resource), the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the British Isles and Ireland, (just scroll down to :Complications and Collections). That way you can see how to connect the dots of islands and shorelines using a variety of ferry companies. Brilliant.

A few more

Inside Passage to Alaska (Ferryalaska.com) and the Caribbean (Caribbeaninspired.com)

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.