City Bus Tours: Are They Worth It?

by | Sep 17, 2013 | Travel Tips | 2 comments

As a traveler and a travel blogger, I’ve come across a million biased opinions on what might make a person a “tourist” and what might make another person a “traveler.” Honestly, I think it’s all a load of bullshit. If we are going to start classifying “travelers” as a notch higher than “tourists” then I think the whole travel society is going in a strange direction. People are seeing the world and I think we should let people see it however they so choose.

Take Hop-On, Hop-Off buses, for example. From the streets, you see these double decker buses filled with your average tourist; Hats, sunglasses, cameras in front of their eyes, taking in all of the wonderful tourist attractions from a bus. I used to mock them, thinking how can you truly experience anything from the seat of a bus? I thought about the many streets I would walk down to find something that I was looking for. The interactions that I would have with local people on the sidewalk, the amazing things I would find when lost in a strange part of a new city. I used to think I would never be one of those people.

And then I bought myself a ticket and hopped on. Granted, it took a bit of convincing on the part of the person I was traveling with, but I did. I got a set of headphones, clambered up to the top of the bus and sat myself down, camera poised to shoot. As we drove I learned about the history of the areas that we passed by. I circled the spots that I was interested in and hopped off the bus for a little while to explore. When I was fully satisfied, I hopped back on the bus and continued to go through the city.

My auntie and I on a hop-on, hop-off bus in San Francisco

As “touristy” as these buses are they’re actually pretty convenient, especially if you only have a short amount of time in a new city. For a decent price, you get the option of a full 24 hours or a full 48 hours and it takes you all throughout the city. You see an area that you like, you hop off for as long as you want and then, when you see another one pull up, you just show your ticket and hop back on. Just like that! I’m a huge fan of walking to discover a new city, but I will admit that after using the bus to see some sights, I’ve even used it the following day (within the 24 hour window) just to get from one area of town to the next if it’s a bit of a long distance to walk or cab.

While they aren’t something that I would use everywhere I go, I have used it twice before and both times I ended up really enjoying what I was seeing and actually learning a lot about the areas that I was about to walk around.

Now, I’m not all for them. I don’t think they’re the greatest form of transportation in the world. You could get around much cheaper by using the local transportation. There also seems to be a misguided opinion that you will get to see more in a shorter amount of time. While you may get to drive by quite a few things, half of them may not even be of interest to you. Unless there isn’t anything in particular that you want to see, you could manage your time better by planning ahead and doing it on your own.

Some people have really strong opinions on whether Hop-On, Hop-Off buses are good or not. I don’t really hold a very strong opinion either way. I’ve done them and they weren’t bad, but I would much rather set off on foot and take in a new city that way. If you’re a nervous traveler and don’t want to get lost on foot or you like when you can sit back and have the work to be done for you, these buses may be just what you’re looking for.

A little tip: Bring an umbrella/poncho/raincoat with you if you plan to sit up top. If Mother Nature decides to rain, the bus isn’t stopping and there isn’t going to be room for you on the bottom deck of the bus.

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