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Holland America's Eurodam in Curacao (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

10 Walkable Cruise Ship Ports We Love to Visit

Holland America's Eurodam in Curacao (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Contributor
Ming Tappin

Last updated
Jan 31, 2024

Read time
9 min read

Cruising takes us to some of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world – but not every port of call is created equal. Some cruise terminals are located outside of town or in a commercial, industrial zone inaccessible by foot, meaning costly shore excursions or privately-arranged tours are necessary.

Fortunately, many other cruise ports are located in the heart of town and are easily (and safely) walkable for passengers looking to do some independent exploration.

Here are 10 of our favorite walkable cruise ports of call that we love to visit:

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Nassau, Bahamas

Atlantis Resort in Nassau, Bahamas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Included in almost every Eastern Caribbean itinerary and short weekend cruise, Nassau offers tropical weather and sunny beaches just a stone’s throw away (actually 50 miles) from Florida.

The streets immediately in front of the cruise terminal are lined with shops, and Nassau’s world-famous straw market is just steps away. Within a 10 to 15-minute walk are several points of interest, including Parliament Square with its pink and white buildings, the Heritage Museum of the Bahamas, the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, and The Queen’s Staircase - the 66 limestone steps dedicated to Queen Victoria. Climb them – they lead to Fort Fincastle, with lovely panoramic views.

You can even walk to a beach from your ship - Junkanoo Beach is just one mile away. And if you’re tired, it’s easy to pop into one of many restaurants and bars for a refreshment and meal, or it’s a quick trip back onto your ship.

Nassau has also made improvements recently that enhance its walkable appeal. A new cruise terminal building opened in 2023, housing shops, bars, cafés, and a Junkanoo museum that celebrates the annual Bahamian festival.

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver's Canada Place Cruise Terminal (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

The Canadian gateway to Alaska cruising is one of the most scenic ports in the world, and it is perfect for exploring on foot.

Vancouver's Canada Place cruise terminal is located in the heart of downtown, with the FlyOver Canada motion ride right inside the terminal itself. You’re also just a 10-minute walk to the historic Gastown district with shops, galleries, and restaurants.

About equal distance away is The Pacific Centre shopping mall, and just five more minutes and you’ll get to the shops on Robson Street and the Vancouver Art Gallery. The trendy neighborhood of Coal Harbour, home to many cool waterfront restaurants and shops, can be accessed via the seawall walk that starts at Canada Place.

If you’re looking for an invigorating workout, take the waterfront promenade right outside your ship that will link up to the 6-mile seawall at Stanley Park. The views of Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains (which may be snow-capped even in summer) will take your breath away. There are things to do on the other side of the harbor, too. Take the 15-minute Seabus (part of Vancouver’s public transportation network) to Lonsdale Quay and enjoy its farmers market and pier-side shops and restaurants.

Juneau, Alaska

Quantum of the Seas in Juneau, Alaska (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

While we’re on the subject of Alaska cruises, Juneau (and the following two Alaskan ports) is terrific for walkers. Ships dock in the heart of town, and all along the wharf are restaurants serving fresh seafood, Alaskan craft beer, and shops selling souvenirs, fleece, and yes - gold and diamonds.

Juneau’s waterfront makes for a pleasant stroll, and you should check out the Red Dog Saloon with its sawdust floor and maritime memorabilia displays, but stay a while to enjoy the atmosphere.

The Mount Roberts Tramway is another big Juneau attraction, offering spectacular views of the harbor and the ships in port. Advanced hikers who want to work off cruise calories can hike up to the top of the tramway, but it isn’t a walk in the park, and the trail could still be snow-covered in the early season. The easier option is to take the tram up, and depending on where your ship is docked, the tram entrance is either directly in front of you as you disembark or within a short walk.

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway, Alaska (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Located at the north end of the Lynn Canal, Skagway is a very walkable port because the town is small, with streets laid out in a linear grid pattern. Your ship will be the tallest structure in town, from which you can get the lay of the land.

A few minutes’ walk will take you through a few old locomotive displays and gold rush sculptures, and you’ll be on Broadway Avenue. More than 20 historic and colorful buildings line the streets, restored to preserve the 1897-98 Gold Rush atmosphere, making Skagway a part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park.

Most notable is the Red Onion Saloon built in 1897, where you can visit the brothel museum. Skagway also has brewpubs, coffee houses, restaurants, and lots of souvenir shops. If you feel up to it, several hiking trails start from both sides of town, you can pick up a trail map from the visitor center.

And it’s always a good idea to take a ride up the historic White Pass & Yukon Route railroad while you’re at it, too, before an easy stroll back to your ship.

Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan, Alaska (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

The third port visited on almost all Alaska cruises is Ketchikan, known as the salmon capital of the world. Ships tie up along Front Street, and you can stroll along the wooden boardwalk or cross the street and head in any direction to find shops, restaurants, and photo ops.

The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is nearby for good quality family fun, as well as the ubiquitous fresh seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, and pubs. Venture 10 minutes further and you’ll get to Creek Street, with a wooden boardwalk built on stilts over the Ketchikan Creek.

This was Ketchikan’s red light district during the prohibition days, and you can drop into Dolly’s House Museum to catch a glimpse of life in the brothel back in the day. Browse a variety of shops for souvenirs inside the quaint buildings that line the boardwalk, and a short walking trail through the woods passes by a salmon ladder where you can watch the fish jump upstream (in season).

Papeete, Tahiti

Atoll Island Motu and Coral Reef in French Polynesia, Tahiti (Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock)

The capital of Tahiti, Papeete is a dreamy destination visited by cruise ships passing through the South Pacific, and it’s also a home port for cruises visiting French Polynesia.

We love that the port is located right in town and you can easily walk to shops and restaurants. From the cruise ship dock, a paved path runs along the waterfront, passing a natural aquarium full of colorful fish. You can walk as far as you like before turning around, but we recommend making it to the Robert Wan Pearl Museum, about 20 minutes away.

Named for the man who pioneered the pearl industry in Polynesia, this fascinating museum tells the history of the pearl through beautifully curated displays and is well worth a visit. Back in town, don’t miss the lively Papeete Market (the flower arrangements there are gorgeous) and the 19th-century Notre Dame Cathedral. There are many galleries, restaurants, and shops where you can browse for Tahitian souvenirs – fresh vanilla, pareos, and of course, Tahitian pearls!

If your ship stays late or overnight, check out Les Roulottes in Vaiete Square, adjacent to the cruise dock. Every early evening, these food trucks roll into the square to serve up delicious eats at reasonable prices. A world of culinary flavors awaits – everything from local fare to fried noodles, seafood, curries, steaks, pizzas, desserts, and more. It’s a not-to-be-missed Tahitian experience!

San Francisco, California

MSC Magnifica in San Francisco (Photo: MSC Cruises)

Cruise ships that call in San Francisco dock at Pier 27 along The Embarcadero, the thoroughfare that hugs the waterfront. From the ship, it’s less than a 15-minute walk to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Pier 39 is where the action is, with two levels of retail, restaurants, bars, and attractions, including the resident sea lions that bask on the wooden piers. Seafood lovers can enjoy fresh fish and shellfish cooked to order, and plenty of additional eateries serve up meals to satisfy every palate. You’ll also find several family-friendly attractions, including retired naval ships, an aquarium, and a science center.

If you have the energy to make it to the other end of Fisherman’s Wharf (about 30 minutes), there’s a beach, and Ghiradelli Square - home of the city’s famous chocolate. With so much to see and do, it’s easy to spend your entire San Francisco visit just in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

Quebec City, Quebec

Quebec City (Photo:mervas/Shutterstock)

A favorite port on Canada/New England cruises, Quebec City is filled with old-world European charm. In fact, the entire area of Old Quebec has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From your ship, cross the street and head towards the imposing Fairmont Château Frontenac hotel, and you’ll soon be walking amid cobblestoned streets lined with stone buildings and charming squares. This entire area is filled with shops and eateries to occupy a few hours of your day. Take the funicular or hike up the stairs to Dufferin Terrace, an expansive wooden boardwalk overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

The Château makes an impressive backdrop for your photos, and it’s worth popping inside to have a look. At the south end of the Terrace, you’ll find stairs leading up to the historic Citadel of Quebec, the British fortress built after the War of 1812. The adjacent Plains of Abraham also has a museum that relives the history of the famous battle of 1759.

Other points of interest include the Museum of Civilization and Notre-Dame Basilica, or you may simply want to stroll along the old port area.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Queen Mary 2 on a foggy day in Halifax (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Another walkable port on a Canada/New England cruise itinerary is Halifax, the largest city in Canada’s Maritimes Region.

The Halifax Seaport is a vibrant waterfront, its modern cruise terminal houses souvenir shops and cafés and the Museum of Immigration, showcasing 400 years of immigration to Canada. Just outside is a collection of shops, brew pubs, and a farmer’s market (open on weekends). A pleasant seaside promenade links the cruise port with the Halifax waterfront, which is filled with shops, restaurants, playgrounds, and kiosks selling ice cream and sweet treats. Pop into the Maritime Museum of Atlantic and tour the HMS Sackville naval vessel.

Nearby is The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and as you head uphill away from the water, you’ll see the green mound that holds the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, a star-shaped fortress built in 1869. Inside is an Army Museum and other exhibits and displays about the fort’s history. From there, it's just a 20-minute walk back to your ship.

Willemstad, Curacao

Curacao is highly walkable for cruise passengers (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

The beautiful Caribbean island of Curacao is the ‘C’ of the Dutch ‘ABC’ islands (the other two are Aruba and Bonaire). Located off the coast of Venezuela, the island is below the hurricane belt, which makes it an appealing cruise destination. Cruise ships dock in two different spots, but even the farthest one is just over a 15-minute walk along the seaside to the heart of Willemstad.

The Queen Emma floating bridge that spans the bay is an attraction itself. After crossing into the Punda side, you’ll be surrounded by colorful Dutch colonial buildings. Most of them are shops and restaurants, but you’ll find Fort Amsterdam and Fort Church Museum here, both of which tell the story of Curacao’s past. The Floating Market is also worth checking out. Although none of them actually float, the market stalls lining the waterfront are chock full of fresh produce, seafood, and other goods.

Publish date January 18, 2024
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