When time is tight and you want to explore a major city for the first time, a hop on/hop off bus can offer the perfect solution. You’ll receive transportation throughout the city for an affordable price, see all the major sights in the shortest period of time, and be able to prioritize which attractions warrant more of your time. These tourist buses are also especially comfortable in the case of inclement weather such as when we experienced a rain storm and high winds while in Panama City, Panama.
All hop on/hop off buses are not created equal however, so I’ve put together a collection of my favorite buses that I perceive as good value. I’ve also included a list of those where it might be more effective and even more affordable, to explore on your own.
Paris offers an excellent Hop On/Hop Off bus system. And like many of the major cities, you’ll have more than one option. The bus is perfect for a first-timer in Paris as you’ll see all the major sights in just a few hours, absorb the layout of the city, then loop back around and get off at the sights you want to check out further.
Also, you can select a bus and river cruise combo ticket which allows you to enjoy another romantic aspect of the city. Take the cruise at dusk for an amazing view of the lights coming on at the Eiffel Tower and throughout the city. As you get familiar with the city and learn the metro system, you’ll have little need for the hop-on/hop off bus but it’s a great way to see the city for the first time. The cost is around $33 for a 24-hour pass.
Sydney has more than one tourist-bus option but they have similar routes and times. With two 90-minutes tours the Sydney Explorer hop on/hop off tourist bus traverses the city on one route and heads out to Bondi Beach on the other. There is also a Blue Mountains hop on/hop off bus running just an hour in length through the Blue Mountains National Park. Big Bus Tours is another option which also has two 90-minutes tour routes. Prices run $30-35 for a 24 hour pass. I took the Explorer routes and found it good value.
With a two-day ticket costing around $25, the City Tour Madrid bus is well worth the money. They have three routes including the Historical Route, the Modern Route, and the Night Tour. In two days you can see all the city has to offer and have time to explore all the sights you found interesting. Another alternative is the Madrid Hop-On, Hop Off Bus Line offering two routes. It runs until 10pm March-October. Both tours offer free WI-FI on board. Madrid is a fun city to explore on foot so allow plenty of time for dining, shopping, and a tango show. It also has an excellent public transport system.
There’s nothing like exploring the streets of Rome but walking great distances between sights or using expensive taxis may not be the best way to see the city. The hop-on/hop-off bus solves the problem plus you’ll enjoy some truly magnificent views from the top of the bus you won’t see otherwise. Rome is a very busy place with lots of tourists so you’ll find several options for tour buses. I like the Big Bus Tours system and at around $34 for a two-day pass, it is worth the price. It also has a large enough fleet of buses to have frequent pickups at their stops. Grayline Tours and Hop-on/Hop off Buses are other options. The hop-on/hop-off bus has a cruise and bus combo ticket which is great for also seeing the sights from the water.
While I have enjoyed the hop-on/hop off bus in Amsterdam, my favorite by far is the hop-on/hop-off boat that travels through the canals. It is so relaxing to be on the waterway and hop off at an area you want to explore. You can purchase a combo ticket that includes both the bus and boat. You could also secure just the boat ticket then rent a bike to peddle around the city.
Cities where the hop on/hop off system may not be the best value
Santiago, Chile: The hop on/hop off bus system in Santiago is not worth the money in my opinion. The subway system is easy to navigate and the bus doesn’t offer much of an advantage. At $33 for a two-hour route, it’s also quite pricy, especially considering you can easily do it all on your own.
Bogota, Colombia: The TURISBOG, Bogota’s hop-on/hop-off bus system offers an extensive three-hour route and you do see a great deal. The buses were in need of a paint job however, and the traffic is indeed terrible. The bus costs around $20. An Uber ride anywhere in town is just a couple dollars so you are better off just scheduling transport as you need it.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: The bus has its problems including long stops and audio disruptions. While we felt the route gave us an overview of the area, we resorted to taxis on the second day and that worked much better. I guess we weren’t the only tourists who felt it wasn’t good value as evidenced by these reviews.
I think utilizing hop-on/hop-off buses are a great way to see a city for the first time. However, the price has to be right, the stops need to be frequently serviced, and there has to be enough attractions in the city in order to make the bus option worthwhile.
Have you taken a hop-on/hop-off bus that was enjoyable or one that didn’t live up to your expectations?
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