Many tourists ride the free Staten Island Ferry just to see the skyline and the Statue of Liberty, but New York isn’t the only place where public transportation provides outstanding vistas.
In many major cities across the world, sublime views can be had for as little as a one-way commuter fare. And you’ll get the added bonus of spending time with actual residents, avoiding those pesky other tourists. If you too want the real local experience, hop on a city bus, take a tram, board a ferry or discover a unique form of public transit in one of these nine cities.
The skyline of central Hong Kong, with closely packed skyscrapers rising in front of lush hills, is stunningly reflected in Victoria Harbour. Moving passengers between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island is the Star Ferry, which has provided commuters and tourists alike with jaw-slackening vistas for more than 120 years. The cost for this mind-blowing view? Just $2.70 Hong Kong dollars (34 cents).
In Lisbon, everyone, especially those wanting to avoid a workout on the city’s steep hills, should purchase a one-day metro card. For less than 11 euros ($12.15), you will get access to the various canary-yellow trams, as well as Lisbon’s bus and subway system. Pile onto the popular Tram 28 and lurch past ornate churches and tile-covered dwellings, or take one of the other, less busy lines and savor the ride.
Your metro card also will get you access to the Santa Justa Elevator, an ingenious lift that opened in 1902 and connects the lower town to the jacarandas and earthquake-ruined convent of Carmo Square.
You also can find a good mix of scenery and commuter life on city buses and trains all over the world. In London, bus route 11 (1.50 British pounds, or $1.82) rolls past the Bank of England, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Millennium Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey, an ideal route for basic sightseeing.
The Expo Line light rail rises over Jefferson Boulevard for a clear-day panorama of the downtown skyline, the San Gabriel Mountains, the Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign, all punctuated by power lines and palm trees. Cruise all the way from downtown to Santa Monica for $1.75.
If you associate cable cars with ski resorts and amusement parks, chances are you have never been to Medellín, where the gondolas of the Metrocable system connect residents of the mountainside favelas with the main city down below. Part of a growing trend in Latin American public transportation, Medellín’s Metrocable route opened in 2004 as a lifeline for low-income commuters. A one-way fare costs tourists and locals alike 2,255 Colombian pesos (68 cents). You haven’t really experienced this city until you’ve queued up with locals and dangled over red-brick buildings while the morning sun pours into the valley below.
It can be difficult to decide which is more confounding: the view from the Pont de Bir-Hakeim on Line 6 of the Métro, or the way Parisians seem utterly unimpressed by it. The train zooms across the Seine River and offers an outstanding vista of the Eiffel Tower. Not a bad deal for €1.90 ($2.10).
Outdoor elevators are rarities in public transportation, but Lisbon isn’t the only place where you can find one. Ride the Lacerda Elevator in Salvador. The apparatus travels up a steep escarpment, connecting Tomé De Souza Square with the waterfront down below. The queues can be long, but the experience is easily worth 15 Brazilian centavos (4 cents). From the top of the Art Deco tower, you’ll see the Bay of All Saints spread out in all its azure glory.
To gaze out at Sydney’s awe-inspiring waterscape, there’s no need to shell out for a private tour of Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River. Instead, put $16.10 Australian dollars ($11.03) on an Opal card and get a full day of local travel, including the ferries departing from Circular Quay. The F8 ferry cruises along the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge on its way to Balmain and Cockatoo Island, with guaranteed greenery and maybe even a few dolphins along the way.
Across the world in Venice, simply board a vaporetto, one of the water buses that serve as the main form of public transport, and marvel at gothic palaces that hark back to the city’s 14th and 15th century grandeur. A 24-hour travel card costs €20, which might seem steep but is worth it if you plan more than two trips.
Keith Plocek is a journalism lecturer at USC Annenberg who regularly rides public transportation in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
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