Take it from the top during a bus tour of a new destination

Karl and Michelle Teel

Magnificent sights such as the ruins of the Roman Forum are just one of dozens of sights captured in a two-hour tour by bus.

You finally made it to that exotic destination you’ve been waiting to see. It doesn’t matter what mode of transportation you used to get there — you need to decide what you’re going to do now that you’ve arrived. It could be a city where you’ll spend a week, or just a one-day stop on a larger itinerary. Either way, we have an idea for you — take a tour bus.

You’ll especially enjoy the view from the top of a double-decker bus if one is available. Virtually every tourist destination with a variety of sights to see has a bus tour. We’ve found these to be quite economical, as well as informative. It doesn’t matter if you are in a large historic city, such as Rome, or in a Caribbean port, such as St. Thomas or Tortola, or in an American city, such as New York or San Francisco.

Magnificent sights such as the ruins of the Roman Forum are just one of dozens of sights captured in a two-hour tour by bus.
Magnificent sights such as the ruins of the Roman Forum are just one of dozens of sights captured in a two-hour tour by bus.

Recently, we were in Barcelona, Spain, one of many stops on a Mediterranean cruise. All of the ship’s excursions were between $150 and $400 each, but we found the hop-on, hop-off bus a bargain — it left right from the ship’s pier for only 27 euros (roughly $35). There were two routes, and you could do both on one ticket. The routes averaged 1-1/2 hours each and there were roughly 20 stops where you could get on or off. With the number of buses operating, we never had to wait more than 15 minutes to catch one. Complimentary headphones allowed us to hear information along the way in seven different languages, including English.

A complimentary map highlighted the route and noteworthy sights along the way. Panoramic vistas offered photo ops of the city from the site of the Olympic complex atop the highest elevation. We continued on to see Roman ruins, numerous beaches, the cathedral, the shopping district, the old town center, and winding side streets. All of this was narrated by an interesting and informative tour guide. We filled our 8-hour day and had time to take in mass at the cathedral, shop, eat, and hit the beach. We don’t think anyone got more out of their day, and certainly not for less money.

A hop-on, hop-off bus tour is great for people with mobility limitations. Depending on the city, there are some that are wheelchair accessible. It’s a great way to conserve your energy and strength.

We’ve found these excursions to also be superb in Rome, Greece, Paris, and a variety of Scandinavian cities. In Stockholm, Sweden, nestled in an archipelago of islands, the hop-on, hop-off was actually a boat instead of a bus. Once again, we felt the tour guides were the experts. They knew where to go, what to see, why it was special, and the fascinating historical notes that really rooted in our memories.

In the Caribbean, too

While our European hop-on, hop-off bus tours were all similarly delightful, we also found this option to be fantastic in the Caribbean. St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was a stop on a family cruise. This increased the need to economize and the larger group multiplied the savings. Once again, the price was about a third of the ship’s rate and the tour departed from the cruise ship terminal.

This time, the commentary was from our driver and not through headphones. As expected, great photo ops were available from points along the mountain ridge. We found fewer places we felt like hopping on or off, but the stops we made were superb. For example, the beach at Megan’s Bay was a place we could spend several hours dining, snorkeling, sunning, relaxing, and just enjoying the day.

Other Caribbean island tours have offered similar experiences and averaged around $20 to $25 each plus a few dollars admission fee if you stop at a beach. We’ve seen fascinating sights, such as windmills used to process sugar cane for rum making, murals on retaining walls, whale-watching routes, old fortresses, man-made salt flats for harvesting salt, and historic sites we never knew existed.

It really didn’t matter if our stop was a one-day cruise ship expedition or the beginning of a weeklong vacation — the “sampler” experience either gave us a great low-cost overview of the port at a glance or a great introduction to a city we were to spend a week exploring. For the one-day event, you can’t get more for less. For a full week, we found it a great way to decide which areas merit deeper exploration. Many times, you can get two days of a hop-on, hop-off bus tour for the price of one.

While some cruise ports may entice us to partake in a particular activity, such as a day of sailing, our go-to option more and more has become the hop-on, hop-off bus. It’s a no-brainer in many cases.

Get there early and, if it’s a double-decker bus, take a seat on the top!

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