Discover Your City by Kayak

A rooftop can give you the perspective to take in a city’s bright lights and skyscrapers, but for the ultimate big-city, downtown experience, you might want to grab a life jacket. 
By: Jenny Adams

When traveling in an urban, city setting, it’s natural to want to rise above it all. A rooftop will certainly give you the perspective to take in a city’s bright lights and glossy skyscrapers.

However, seeing the financial district of New York City, the historic mansions of Detroit, or the wildlife of Vancouver’s harbors from a kayak is a game-changing perspective. We’ve rounded up the best ways to perfect your backstroke in the world’s most beautiful urban enclaves.


Photo by: Jenny Adams

Jenny Adams

Venice is famous for gondolas. And those gondolas are famously expensive. It’s nearly $90 for 40 minutes. For the same price, you could hop in a kayak and explore for two-and-a-half hours with the Venice Kayak company.  If you’re worried about the cleanliness of the water, don’t be. “We’re based in the eastern part of Venice, on an island just off the city … very close to the where the lagoon and the sea meet. We have the advantage of a far faster exchange of water,” offers Owner René Seindal. His tours to the lagoon are one of the most off the beaten track experiences you can find in Venice. You’ll need a little kayak savvy to book this 20km, active paddle between the marshes and around abandoned Italian islands.


Photo by: Jenny Adams

Jenny Adams

Book a Schuylkill Banks tour with Hidden River Outfitters. They leave from the Walnut Street dock and are the city’s most urban-based option. The river takes you along the city’s popular recreation trail and up to the base of the historic Water Works, Boathouse Row and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Each season presents something new for paddlers, from flowers blooming in late June to September’s incredibly blue skies and ideal temperatures, but the moonlight tours are a must for the paddlers seeking thrills and adventure alongside history and architecture.

New York City

Photo by: Julienne Schaer

Julienne Schaer

If you’ve got the chops, book an East River paddle in late afternoon. There’s no workout quite like racing alongside the boat traffic of one of America’s most notorious waterways, gliding under the bridges, and stopping for ultimate Instagram opportunities. Join the North Brooklyn Boat Club and $40 gets you a year pass to paddle whenever you want.

“We run free, public paddles every two weeks May – November,” explains Dewey Thompson, president/founder. “Additionally, we have programs that take students and other groups on guided paddles to explore different themes like history, ecology, and bivalves. We also work with The Headstrong Project, a Cornell PTSD treatment program for veterans, taking vets out for paddles as part of their therapy.”

Austin, TX

Photo by: Austin Visitors Bureau

Austin Visitors Bureau

There are lots of places in Austin to rent kayaks for leisurely, self guided paddles on the Colorado River, which winds right through the center of this quirky city. However, no other city gives you the option to book a paddle tour with bats. Yes, you read that right. Bats. Austin is home to one of the world’s largest urban bat colonies. More than one million took up residence under the reconstructed Congress Avenue Bridge back in the 1980s, and now they have become a city mascot of sorts. Live Love Paddle will give you a great, self-propelled ride to see these creatures take flight at dusk.


Photo by: Tourism Vancouver

Tourism Vancouver

Vancouver is a city designed for water lovers and beer drinkers. There are so many breweries that one neighborhood went from being called East Van to Yeast Van. Hit up the waters and shores of False Creek on a bright, sunny day. This waterway is home to incredible wildlife, from harbor seals to dozens of bird species. There was even a grey whale that took up residence for several weeks here a few years ago. You can get up-close-and-personal yet remain Earth-friendly thanks to the team at Ecomarine Paddlesport Center on their tours leaving from Granville Island. Once you’re done, hop off for a cold one at the city’s oldest beer operation - Granville Island Brewing.

Hong Kong

Photo by: Jenny Adams

Jenny Adams

If you’ve got more than a few days in Hong Kong, consider taking a 30-minute bus or taxi to Stanley, a beautiful little beach suburb on the peninsula. This coastal enclave is famous for shopping, artisan markets, fresh seafood and quaint beer bars with great views. Now, visitors are adding “kayaks” to that list. Aqua Bound offers easy, three-mile trips for beginners, and after a safety course, your guide includes an impromptu ecology lesson based on the wildlife. It always culminates with a refreshing swim at either Tung Tau Wan or Pak Sha Wan beach. 

San Francisco, CA

Photo by: Jenny Adams

Jenny Adams

Alcatraz seen by kayak should be on your 2016 agenda. Our location (in Sausalito) is directly across the Bay from downtown San Francisco and it’s the first town you come to after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge,” explains Leigh Claxton, staff member at Sea Trek. The company offers custom trips both in and around Sausalito and along the downtown waterfront with sweeping views of San Francisco, Angle Island, the Golden Gate Bridge and the infamous walls of Alcatraz. “There is also a very colorful Floating Home community, just to the north of our location,” she says, “and it’s a very popular tour option.” This company also takes your love of food into consideration with Starlight Paddles, which culminate at local waterside restaurants.

Denver, CO

Photo by: Stan Obert, Denver Metro Convention And Visitors Bureau

Stan Obert, Denver Metro Convention And Visitors Bureau

The mile-high city is famous for the mountains, but the Platte River Valley provides some killer kayaking options. You can float an incredible 15 miles from Chatfield Dam to Confluence Park, and this city provides an extra bonus for bird watchers, thanks to warblers, orioles and hawks circling the sky above.

Look to Confluence Kayaks as a tour operator. They’ve been in business for years, offering all skill level paddles available for booking online or in their office in the heart of downtown.


“When we first started offering tours in Detroit, many people didn’t think there would be any demand for kayaking in the city,” offers Tiffany VanDeHey, who now sells out her 20-person, May-October tours alongside her husband/partner, Patrick. Riverside Kayak Connection opened in 2004, and the couple launched RKC Adventures in 2015 - focusing on paddle sports and bike rentals in Metro Detroit. Their popular Detroit Historical Canal Tour is open to all levels. The leisurely Detroit River paddle takes you past the 1927 Fisher Mansion and the Little Venice neighborhood, where your paddle guide gives fun anecdotal and cool historical stories on the city. They are also adding a full moon night tour this year.

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