vancouver city with a harbour for yachts

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On the waterfront: Seven of the best cities to visit by superyacht

30 October 2023 • Written by Georgia Boscawen

With central marinas, quayside restaurants and vibrant cultural scenes, some cities are a cut above for visiting superyachts. Georgia Boscawen picks out seven waterside wonders to head for...


March to May; September to November

A coastal jewel in the Canadian crown, Vancouver lies on the serrated coastline of British Columbia, surrounded by an intricate network of inlets and channels that are primed for visiting yachts. From the water, skyscrapers tower against the backdrop of the North Shore Mountains and you can cruise right into the city to Coal Harbour Marina in the West End, which takes yachts of up to 100 metres. The West End is a gateway to Stanley Park, where you can hire a bike to cycle the green paths that intertwine with the lush forest. 

Just a 90-minute drive from the slopes of Whistler, Vancouver is a great spot for sport-seeking visitors, and you can even get the kayaks out to get up close to its green coastline. While the city itself is a buzzing metropolis, a short cruise from Coal Harbour Marina will lead you along the Burrard Inlet, a coastal fjord that offers a protected harbour for boats of all sizes. And it takes less than half an hour to sail from the city to the open waters of the Georgia Strait, where you can explore British Columbia’s hundreds of picturesque islands.


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April to October

Straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a blend of East and West, connected by the Bosphorus, a narrow strait that extends from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Yachts approaching from the Aegean Sea via the Sea of Marmara have their pick of full-service marinas close to the city, namely Ataköy Marina to the south- west (LOA up to 80 metres), which is about a 30-minute drive from Sultanahmet, the old city. Or opt to moor on the east bank at İstanbul Limani for the evening if you want to take in the skyline from the water and see the Hagia Sophia Mosque and the Galata Tower over the sprawling metropolis made up of Byzantine, Ottoman and modern Turkish architecture. 

If it’s bustling bazaars you want, take the tender to the quayside at Eminönü. There you’ll be enveloped in the delightful chaos of Eminönü Square, overlooked by the Yeni Camii Mosque, the last of the great masjids built by Ottoman sultans in 1665. From here you can head to the 17th-century Egyptian Bazaar or back to the Sultanahmet district. For those seeking 21st-century pleasures, Karaköy offers trendy rooftop bars and restaurants galore (try The Bank Roof Bar), while the Nişantaşı district has must-visit eateries like Spago on top of The St Regis Istanbul.

San Francisco

Credit: Wayne Zheng On Unsplash

September to November

Balancing urban sophistication and natural beauty, San Francisco is a yacht-lover’s dream. Views from on deck offer the finest perspective of the soaring Golden Gate Bridge, the Ferry Building, which dates back to 1898, and the infamous prison of Alcatraz, on its own island in the bay. Venture just a few steps into the city from St Francis Yacht Club (which can take yachts up to 38 metres) and discover San Francisco’s astonishing culinary scene with 31 Michelin-starred restaurants, including three with three stars right by the marina district. 

Onward cruising leads food and drink fanatics to the beloved New World wine region of Napa Valley, just 19 nautical miles up the San Pablo Bay. If it’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir you’re after, head for the Migration Winery (see page 182) which is accessible from the water.


June to September

Often described as a living museum, Valletta in Malta welcomes visiting superyachts to its heart via Grand Harbour, which can accommodate yachts up to 135 metres. A UNESCO World Heritage Site set on the north-eastern coast of the island, Grand Harbour is surrounded by narrow cobblestone streets that meander between sand-coloured Baroque buildings, which glow a luminous orange at sunset. This is also where the city’s top restaurants, bars and museums are most densely populated. 

Moor stern-to under the façade of the Malta Maritime Museum on the east side of the city and jump straight into culture at the Inquisitor’s Palace, which was the seat of the Maltese Inquisition from 1574 to 1798. Take the tender or a dgħajsa (traditional water taxi) across to the harbour’s north side to the ancient walled city and walk to St John’s Co-Cathedral, a fine example of high Baroque architecture. For dinner aim for the balcony of Michelin-starred ION Harbour by Simon Rogan – one of the best spots to watch the sun set. Upon leaving the harbour, visit the treasure trove of wrecks that give Malta its fabled reputation among divers, like the Lockheed P2V Neptune plane and the HMS Stubborn submarine.


Credit: Wayne Zheng on Unsplash

May to September

Lying on the Tagus River estuary, the Portuguese capital of Lisbon is steeped in maritime history. From your yacht you’ll see the Lisbon skyline punctuated by the São Jorge Castle and the Belém Tower, a 16th-century ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. For visiting superyachts, options include Doca de Belém marina in the Restelo neighbourhood. Here you can walk from Belém Tower to the Maritime Museum, which lies on the grounds of the Gothic Jerónimos Monastery, before enjoying a cocktail in one of the lively waterfront bars. 

Those who want to be in the heart of the action can head even further into the city and stroll along the quayside of Alfama – one of Lisbon’s oldest and most beautiful areas, with mosaic-tiled pavements tumbling down to the waterfront. Take a short walk from the yacht up the steep cobbled streets that will lead you to 13th-century Lisbon Cathedral, the city’s oldest place of worship. From here meander through the streets towards the buzzy Príncipe Real neighbourhood and A Cevicheria, famed for its pisco sours.


Credit: Jannet Serhan via getty Images

November to February

There are only two reasons Sydney isn’t the number-one target for superyachts – its remote position in Australia and, until very recently, the red tape that has restricted foreign superyachts from chartering here. This, however, changed when the Australian government passed the Special Recreational Vessels Act in 2019. Huddled around Sydney Harbour, the city’s relationship with the water is at the heart of its identity – from the soaring sail-like architecture of Sydney Opera House to Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

The Sydney Superyacht Marina (for yachts up to 75 metres) lies in Rozelle Bay, just a short drive from Circular Quay and The Rocks, which boasts the best views of the city. For those in need of some rest and relaxation on land here, head to Chi, The Spa at Shangri-La. For beach views, cruise outside the bay to world-famous Bondi, but instead of battling the crowds on the sand, opt for a dramatic clifftop walk to spot the aboriginal rock engravings and take in great views from the Mackenzies Point lookout.


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May to September

With Marina Port Vell in the centre of Barcelona (berthing yachts up to 190 metres) visiting yachts lie right in the action. Just a few hundred metres from the marina, you’ll start to spot the influence of Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudí, which permeates the city with his rippling architecture. Walk from the yacht to the city’s historic Gothic Quarter and you’ll descend into a network of narrow alleys, medieval buildings and the mesmerising Sagrada Família and Parc Guëll. You’ll find top Catalan cuisine in traditional spots like El Xampanyet. 

The waterfront here, however, provides a dynamic contrast to the historic core, with contemporary restaurants and luxury hotels such as the W and Hotel Arts Barcelona, where you can visit 43 The Spa for an afternoon treatment. There has never been a better time for a visiting superyacht to plan a trip to Barcelona: Marina Port Vell has been named the preferred marina for superyachts during the 37th America’s Cup in 2024. Set to host dozens of superyachts during the racing between August and October, the marina is expanding to accommodate the peak in demand alongside the hive of activity that is set to ignite the city.

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