We have all seen them when visiting large cities - the big red buses with people keenly peaking over the edge as some guy's voice is blaring over the loudspeaker.
The hop on hop off bus has become a phenomenon unto itself as it made its mark on the tourism industry. For most people, it's just the ticket to seeing the highlights of most major cities like Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona, Toronto, New York City and Miami. By purchasing a ticket it gives you a window of unlimited travel in windows of 24, 48 or 72 hours.
Most of the benefits seem clear and you can choose your route according to the attractions you wish to see! Most Cities offer 3 or 4 distinct routes so you have plenty of choices. It offers an easy way to get from place to place without too much planning, thinking or rethinking. It's all done for you!
For others, it can seem a bit tacky to be perched atop a roofless bus as your creep along crowded avenues awkwardly smiling at the locals. If it's summertime that means peak hours of roasting in the sun, if it's winter it can mean limited seating since half the bus may be off limits. Then there's the fact that the metro/subway is certainly a much cheaper option.
For those who are still on the fence on whether to cough up the dough for a hop-on-hop-off tour, we've compiled a handy-dandy pros/cons list below. Enjoy!
20 PERFECT: See The City's Highlights
Hop-on-hop-off bus tours have been designed so that you can make the absolute most out of a short stay in a major city. This means you can just sit back and enjoy the ride as you go from stop to stop of the city's most famed attractions and decide in advance or in the moment whether you want to explore them.
If not, you can simply sit back and enjoy the scenery as you pass by onto the next spot. If you have limited time in a place, this can remove the burden of rushing around hoping to fit everything in while trying to organize your route. For many people that's a draw in itself.
19 PERFECT: Don't Have To Worry About Learning How to Drive In A Foreign Place
While it can seem pretty easy peasy if you are visiting a place where the steering wheel is on the same side of the car as at home, there's still all the nuanced (and not so nuanced) road rules that one should know before jumping into driver's seat in a foreign place. It may be tempting to rent a car and do your own route but by the time you factor in the cost of the rental, the time it takes to plan the route and the cost of insurance and fuel, you are well above the price tag of the bus.
For the sake of saving time and (in most cases) money, the hop-on-hop-off bus can be a real saviour.
18 3. PERFECT: Fun Facts!
If you are a lover of quirky trivia or even just appreciate learning the historical backgrounds of the cities that you're visiting, taking a trip on the old hop-on-hop-off tour bus can be a lot more fun than gluing your nose to Wikipedia on your phone.
Hearing legends and lore from a local can be really engaging especially if you're lucky enough to score a seat on a bus with a lively, animated guide rather than a recorded audio guide. Think of how fun it will be to return home and share all the fun facts that you've learned on your holiday with your nearest and dearest. It's the gift that keeps on giving!
17 4. PERFECT: Discounts to Attractions
Many of the tour groups will offer you a booklet of coupons or at least a few deals with your hop-on-hop-off ticket. This can more than make up for the cost of the ticket when you factor in the savings on some of the pricer attractions. Some tickets will even lump in a walking tour or a night cruise with the price of the ticket!
If you are wanting to get the most out of your city tour experience, research in advance which tour operators are offering the deals to the attractions that you wish to see and do a quick cost comparison.
16 5. PERFECT: On Your Terms
Since most hop-on-hop-off operators offer more than one route for you to choose from, you aren't locked into a one size fits all scenario. Not only can you select from the routes the one that features attractions you are interested in, you can also 'hop off' whenever you please. If you prefer to just use the bus as a mode of transportation while you're in the city you can also pick a route that hits a part of town you would like to explore on your own - attractions aside.
The hop on hop off has been designed to appeal to those who want an easy, informal and flexible way to get around so you decide at a moments notice what tickles your fancy.
15 6. PERFECT: Portable Terrace
If you aren't particularly keen on the hop off part and are just looking for a scenic backdrop, you can stick on the bus and treat it as your personal moving terrace. Enjoy the sights at a leisurely pace with a coffee or a sandwich. Tune in to the bits of info as you please, snap some pics and soak up the rays!
Just be sure to slap on some SPF 35 or more because even on a cloudy day it can be quite intense on the roof of a metal-engulfed double-decker bus.
14 7. PERFECT: Affordable-ish
The double-decker tour isn't dead cheap but if you factor in all the discounts and the fact that you aren't having to rent a car and pay for gas, it is pretty darn affordable! It's definitely a midway option between renting a car and taking the metro that offers you a modicum of flexibility of having your own vehicle without the added fuss. If you're a solo traveler or even in a pair, this is likely the cheapest way to get around a city with the level of flexibility, and peace of mind that is offered.
13 8. PERFECT: Meet Other Travellers
If you are a solo traveller, it can sometimes feel a bit daunting to be caught up in the whirlwind of a big city. The great thing about the hop-on-hop-off tour is that you will be surrounded by, well, tourists!
This can be a great way to meet other solo travellers or connect with people you meet from home. This can take a solo double-decker tour to a more social level and you may even end up seeing the sights with some new pals. At the very least it can be comforting to be surrounded with people who are experiencing the city the same way as you, even if only until the next stop.
12 9. PERFECT: Avoid Getting Lost / Wasting Time
Sure getting lost can be part of the fun if you have time to kill, but when you only have so long to see a city it can be a real drain if you take a wrong turn and end up losing time flailing about until your next destination.
New city, new street names and streetcar stops, it can all be a bit much to learn in a short time. With the hop-on-hop-off tour bus, you won't have to worry because your itinerary is pretty well planned out and everything flows according to the schedule you have in your lap.
11 10. PERFECT: The Tour Guide is Always On Hand
Perhaps the biggest bonus to buying a ticket to a hop-on-hop-off tour bus is the fact that you have access to a tour guide at any given time when you're onboard! It's like having a traveling concierge at your disposal.
Given that tour guides are often locals (and professional tour guides) they can offer you advice on where you can purchase various necessities or the best (non-touristy!) spots to grab meals, coffee, and the like. If you need help, it's available most any time you are on the bus and that's not something you can always say for a taxi or metro ride.
10 POINTLESS: Rush Hour is Real (Slow)
Rush hour is already painstaking enough when you're in a car but when you're on a bus route with very particular stops to make, it can feel like a snail's pace. Inching along in traffic can be somewhat gruelling especially when you're only in town for a few days with limited time to see everything.
For people who have less than 24 hours to see a major city, the hop-on-hop-off bus can be less than ideal, seeing that rush hour can account for over 7 hours each day (depending on the city of course). If you're pressed for time, it might be worth it to make your way with transit until the rush hour calms down.
9 2. POINTLESS: Always Stopping, Not A Direct Route
Since the hop-on-hop-off bus was created to appeal to the masses, that means it will trail along and hit every and any major hot spot in the city. This also means that you could find yourself along for the ride on detours to destinations that you have zero interest in and therefore it can be a significant waste of time.
In other words, the bus doesn't usually take the most efficient route according to your plans and this can prove frustrating for those who are on a tight schedule. The question remains whether time is saved planning or taking a direct route to your destination.
8 3. POINTLESS: Public Transit is Generally Cheaper
Public transit, while not the most luxurious (or cleanest) mode of transportation it is certainly the cheapest. If you can organize yourself well with the help of a transit map and a plan then you would be well to take the public transit. In Rome a public transit ticket is as little as €1.5o and is valid for 100 minutes, in NYC it's $2.75 and in Toronto it's around $3 CAD per ride.
In London the tickets are a bit pricier and depend on the length of the trip and how many hot spots you plan to see. So, the hop-on-hop-off bus may just be worth your while.
7 4. POINTLESS: Weather Sensitive
If you have any kind of sensitivity to the elements, the hop-on-hop-off bus may not be your cup of tea. If you're sat outside you will get sun, wind, rain and lord knows what else hurled your general direction. If you are usually cold, hot or just don't like to be jerked around by the elements than the hop-on-hop-off bus will probably not be your ideal mode of transit.
If you've bought the ticket for 72 hours you may be tempted to make the most of your fare, but trust us, if it's pouring rain you'd be better off taking a taxi.
6 5. POINTLESS: Nighttime Hours Are Limited
The regularity of the hop-on-hop-off bus is great during the day with most of them arriving within a 20-30 minute span to all stops. That being said, hopping on at night will be more of a difficult feat. Depending on the type of holiday you are looking at it can totally offset the cost of your travel if you're touring around at night by taxi.
Most tour operators offer a separate night tour with different schedules and potentially different routes as well, so the regularity is definitely minimized. If you're unsure of when the next bus is on the way, most companies offer an app that can help you track the next available ride!
5 6. POINTLESS: Technical Issues Can Take The Ride From a 9 to a 4 Real Quick
If your bus is undergoing technical difficulties whether it's with the sound system, the air conditioning or any other sort of car trouble that can happen, it can cause delays that can be stressful but also can impede on the value of the hop-on-hop-off option. The purpose of the hop-on-hop-off bus is the flexibility and availability it offers, if you're stalled mid-traffic in a jam it can make you wish you were a pedestrian again or finding an alt route on the metro but you more or less, have no other option than to wait it out.
4 7. POINTLESS: Waiting in Line at Each Stop in Crowds
On a busy day you will find yourself among hoards of people waiting on hop on hop off bus stops that are darted around the city. Waiting in a long line in the heat of summer can be tiring, especially when you realize it could mean not having enough seats on the bus.
With delays in the height of high season when the city is crawling with tourists could mean waiting another 30-40 minutes for the next bus. When you consider that this time could be spent walking along beautiful city streets taking in the sights, it doesn't seem so efficient after all.
3 8. POINTLESS: Not An Authentic Way to Travel
For any traveller it can be a bit disheartening to admit defeat to the big red bus because it means that you couldn't hack it yourself. You didn't get the map, you didn't do the research and now you just want to sit back and relax while the guide spews humorous banter and fun facts your way. It is the certified lazy route.
For a lot of travellers there is an appeal in wandering around town in lesser-known areas, encountering serendipitous experiences. While you are guaranteed to have some level of intrigue while out and about in a new city, the bus most definitely takes you on the beaten path.
2 9. POINTLESS: Ousting Yourself As A Tourist (Watch Your Belongings!)
Speaking of the beaten path, it's usually laden with keen tourists. There is nothing wrong with keen tourists except that it is breeding ground for scammers and thieves because it is low hanging fruit.
You're happily enjoying your holiday with rose colour glasses on and feel comfortable surrounded by other tourists. So when you're traveling on the bus it can be tempted to lower your guard but it's important to remember that anyone can buy a ticket on the bus, even those who aren't tourists! You would be smart to keep your wits about you and watch your personal belongings.
1 10. POINTLESS: Mainly Paying For The Commentary
If all else fails on the hop-on-hop-off bus you will be, at the very least, entertained. Right? Well that depends. Not all busses are created equally so some busses default to handing out automated audio guides. What happens if the audio guide isn't working? Well then the economical fun bus becomes an overpriced metro bus that has no roof. The commentary itself can be rather hit or miss depending on the commitment of the touring group.
In the best case scenario, you are having a laugh while listening to the charming comedian type, in the worst case scenario you are sitting in silence wondering why you didn't just take a cab.