Who Needs Venice? 10 Floating Towns You Can Sail Through

10 destinations around the world where boats outnumber cars.

By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: George Pachantouris

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Giethoorn, Netherlands

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a car in Giethoorn, a water-logged village in the Dutch province of Overijssel. Instead of roads, inhabitants travel to and fro in boats on its many idyllic waterways. Those who venture here are certainly struck both by the gorgeous scenery, which includes centuries-old thatched roof homes, but also the silence — the loudest sound you’re likely to hear is the squawking of resident ducks.

Annecy, France

Annecy, a petite town in the Rhone-Alpes region of southeast France, more than deserves its nickname, "Pearl of the French Alps." Two cafe-lined canals — initially intended as a defensive feature — cut through the old city, lending Annecy a fairytale quality that understandably attracts admirers the globe over.

Bangkok, Thailand

Given Bangkok’s frenetic, traffic-clogged streets, it’s easy for non-residents to forget that the city’s many winding canals historically served as a major means of transportation. Today, many of them are dreary and polluted, but they still remain a fascinating window into the past for this fast-evolving corner of the world.

Fenghuang, China

Visitors to Fenghuang, a former frontier town in China’s Hunan Province, never fail to be amazed by the striking green waters that flow beneath its famous stilted houses. Tourists may cross the Tuojiang River by boat, or for the more daring, by foot — a stone path stretches across one section. Just don’t fall!

Utrecht, Netherlands

The most striking feature of Utrecht, a history-rich city with origins going back centuries, is the Oudegracht, a curved canal that follows in part an ancient branch of the Rhine. It flows straight through the center of the city, splitting off into a system of smaller canals. Although these waterways were once lined by commercial warehouses, today those spaces are inhabited by bustling shops and cafes.

Suzhou, China

In China’s southeastern Jiangsu Province, the ancient city of Suzhou was for centuries famed for its high culture and embrace of the arts. Today it’s a modern city in every sense of the word, but Suzhou still retains ethereal pockets of a canal-centric past, which remain dotted with pagodas, romantic bridges and well-tended gardens. At night, reflections of red lanterns, which line many of the canals, illuminate the calm waters below.

Alappuzha, India

Criss-crossed by a system of canals, Alappuzha is the oldest planned city in the Kerala state of southern India. Unlike other canal-based cities in the world, pristine Alappuzha hasn’t let its waterways be clogged with trash — in 2016, it was named the cleanest town in India. These days, tourists flock to this tiny town to experience a stay in one of its famous houseboats and take in views of its miraculously green paddy fields.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

The city perhaps most often compared to Venice is Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. It’s an apt comparison considering Amsterdam’s more than 60 miles of 17th-century canals — more even than Venice — almost all of which are navigable by boat, not to mention its more than 1,200 bridges.

Nyaungshwe, Myanmar

Most visitors to sprawling Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s most breathtaking natural sights, access it through Nyaungshwe, a rough-around-the-edges town that once served as an influential capital for the Shan Kingdom back in the 10th and 11th centuries. Today, it’s striking for its stilted bamboo homes and hurried canoes, which ferry tourists to and from its growing number of restaurants and bars.

Empuriabrava, Spain

The youngest canal-based city on this list is most certainly Empuriabrava, a community in the Spanish province of Gerona. Originally built on a swamp, construction of Empuriabrava’s more than 24 miles of canal was completed in 1975. It’s a popular jumping-off point for those exploring the nearby Greco-Roman acropolis of Sant Martí d'Empúries, or for the more adrenaline-inclined, the skydiving-centric Empuriabrava Aerodrome just north of town.

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