We see these almost every time we go to a new city. They look intriguing enough, but are they really worth it? Over this past year, I’ve given these tour buses a try in Chicago, Washington D.C., London and Milan. Although I have varied between bus companies (like City Sightseeing and Big Bus), I have generally had the same experience with each one. Join me as I travel between the pros and cons of using a tour bus as your travel guide.
Pros and Cons
Price vs. Crowds
Pro: For starters, one thing that keeps bringing me back to these bus tours is the finite cost. Ranging around $30 for a 24-hour pass, it’s nice knowing the cost of the day’s transportation. When traveling I try to soak in as much as possible, which is harder when taking public transportation systems that are often underground. The tour buses offer the convenience of movement throughout the city, and give you the option to come and go as you please.
Con: At different times of the day, these buses get extremely crowded. Sometimes I have to separate from the other members of my group to find a seat on the upper deck. Although sitting together isn’t necessarily priority, it does take away from the experience. The bus provides a set of headphones (although I encourage you bring your own) for an audio guide, but sometimes you have to reach over the stranger next to you to plug in or adjust volume. Talk about awkward.
Reach vs. Hindrance
Pro: These tour buses offer many different languages in the audio guide. After you plug in your headphones, simply adjust the channel to your preferred language. I love this because it’s equally informative without leaving anyone behind. Without a doubt you’ll be surrounded by a diverse group from all over the world. How cool, right!?
Con: The biggest problem with any audio guide is it’s potential technical difficulties. There have been a few times in which my audio wasn’t working or the volume/language couldn’t be adjusted. This is especially frustrating, because you miss out on a big part of the experience. It may be a first world problem, but it’s extremely annoying!
Efficiency vs. Delay
Pro: If you have limited time, a hop on – hop off bus tour becomes increasingly beneficial. Without a doubt, you’ll be able to at least ride through the city and get a quick peek at all the sights. There will be no hassle with how you’ll get from place to place, and you can spend more time exploring the places you most want to see.
Con: I like to take the upmost advantage of any amount of time I have when traveling. At every destination, there’s been a long wait for the next bus. Sure they’re scheduled to arrive every 20-30 minutes, but that’s time that I don’t get back! Standing out in the cold or blazing heat is no fun either, especially when the bus stops don’t provide any sort of shelter.
Accessibility vs. Limitation
Pro: There’s no doubt that these tour buses offer the best highlight reel of the city. If you haven’t done much research, these tours do all the work for you! Sit back and relax while you soak in the sights. I personally would recommend looking into the spots you want to experience closer up, but to each their own!
Con: Probably the most inconvenient part about these tour buses is that they close early, usually before nightfall. While the last bus time is listed on your map, it’s easy to lose track, especially while exploring! When I was in London, I ended up stranded and had to catch a cab! Not the best option if adventure is calling well into the evening.
Overall there are a lot of good things about using hop on – hop off tour buses, but the potential for inconvenience shouldn’t be ignored. I would recommend trying them out especially if you’re traveling alone or visiting for the first time. I usually get the tour bus map and circle the places I want to see beforehand. There’s more to be gained from the experience if your flexible, but make sure to have general plan so that you don’t get stranded!
I like taking these on my first day to get a general overview of the city, where some of the landmarks are, places i maybe didn’t know about and want to visit, ect. Also because of flights and check in times – i’ll often drop my bags off at my hotel, jump on the bus and kill some time until my room is ready. After traveling it feels like a good way to make the most out of the rest of the day when i’m both excited to be in a new place, but also a bit mentally/physically beat from… Read more »
I liked the ones in London, which had a live tourguide. He was sitting on the top deck with a microphone and added a lot of local color for English speakers. I guess the non-English speakers were listening to their headphones. Anyhow it was totally worth it.
OTOH the one in Paris, problems with the headphone jacks, traffic, just not as enjoyable.
Most European cities offer much better value day or multi-day passes that combine museum/attraction admission/discounts with a public transit pass. Plus a guidebook. Can’t see wasting money or time on these Hop-on-off buses and i’ve travelled extensively and never found one that represented any value over hoofing it yourself and getting to know a city by riding with the locals.
Totally depends on the city and local operator. Cape Town = amazing scenery, several different route options, interesting commentary, and very inexpensive; there’s even a short boat portion. Auckland = kind of boring, didn’t seem like they’d put in much effort to make it interesting. Lima = somewhere in the middle, and a large portion of the hop-on / hop-off tour is actually off the bus walking around some catacombs. These tours can definitely be worth it, but doing some research beforehand can pay off depending on the city.