I did it in London.
I did it in Chicago.
I even did it in Vienna.
And I hope to one day add to the list of places that I’ve done it in.
Although very different from each other, one thing that they all have in common, for me at least, is the time I spent in each one hopping on and hopping off.
Living in what many consider a small city (but which happens to reside in the fourth largest state in the US, right behind New York – ijs), the hop-on, hop-off phenomenon has yet to find its way here. To be honest, I am actually glad that it hasn’t. Although the absence of such a great tourism idea calls attention to the outdated-ness of my city, it is a relief to not have to worry myself with having to maneuver around large double decker buses that stop every 10-15 minutes and hold up traffic. Outside of the driving tourists, for the most part us locals are able to get around the tourist areas pretty easy. Sure, we have a trolley that takes visitors around the International Drive corridor and a free bus that travels through the downtown area, but the traditional hop-on, hop-off experience is a different kind of beast.
Hop-on, hop-off bus tours combine the information and sightseeing of a traditional tour with the flexibility of public transportation. These types of tours allow visitors to see a city on their own terms. Although the routes are prearranged, usually centered around the city’s most popular destinations, visitors choose when and where they get off the tour bus to venture more deeply into a chosen area and, most importantly, when they hop back on to continue their journey throughout the city. Hop-on, Hop-off tours are usually conducted on large charter buses. Some tour companies also include double-decker buses with the top open, which is awesome if you are in a city during its spring or summer months. When it comes to the tour guide, I have experienced three types: a live tour guide, an automated pre-recorded guide, and a combination of both.
The only live tour guide I’ve experienced during a hop-on, hop-off bus tour was in Chicago. Both he and the tour were amazing. He made jokes, asked us where we were from, and, best of all, he made personal recommendations to restaurants and sights to see outside of the tourist areas. From the bus, sometimes from the top deck, we were able to see some of the great sights and places Chicago had to offer: The Willis Tower (aka The Sears Tower), the John Hancock Center, the Navy Pier (hello Garrett Popcorn), Wrigley Field, and Millennium Park. While in London, we experienced a lively tour guide who would entertain us during the down time of the pre-recorded guide, which we listened to on the headphones that were provided. Each time we reached a place of interest, our live guide would end and the recording would begin. In Vienna, it was just us, the recording, and our headphones – oh, and the bus driver, of course.
Each tour has been different from the other, but they all have been great experiences. Here are my five reasons why you should consider a hop-on, hop-off tour during your next visit to a new (or old) city.
I have gone on a number of tours. I have done a food tour through Rome, a bike tour through Tuscany, a bus tour that took us to Stonehenge and through the quaint city of Bath, and a fabulous tour that made its grand finale at the Eiffel Tower. They were all wonderful. They were also wonderfully pricey.
Because hop-on, hop-off tours do not focus on one or a few specific areas or destinations, but rather on general and much larger areas, the costs are usually pretty low. The tour I took in Vienna was only 20 euro ($27), and I don’t remember paying more than $35 for the other hop-on, hop-off tours I took in the other cities. I was able to see and visit a boatload of awesome must-see places. The best part is that unlike a taxi, train, or other forms of public transportation, you only pay once to journey through a city for at least 2 hours. Unless you are looking for a very specific and detailed visit to a certain place or area, the hop-on, hop-off tour could be a great and economical way to see a city.
See a city quickly:
When we visited Vienna, we had less than a day to see the city. By the time we dropped our baggage in our hotel rooms and ate a quick breakfast, we had absolutely no time or energy to lollygag around and take in the city at a slow, tourist’s pace. We needed to see the city as fast as we could. Thankfully, the attendant at our hotel gave us information to a hop-on, hop-off tour that had a stop just minutes from where we were staying. Although we were only there for a few hours, we were able to see and visit some great places, one of which was the State Opera House where we jumped off and purchased a tour of the building, then jumped back on and high-tailed it back to our hotel rooms to rest before our early morning train ride the next day.
If you are visiting a city for business or during a world wind tour of different cities and countries and are short on time, be sure to ask your hotel concierge for information on a hop-on, hop-off tour. When people ask you about your trip, you no longer have to say “oh, I was only there for a few hours so I didn’t get to see much of the city.” With hop-on, hop-off tours you now have no excuse to see the cool sights of any city you visit, no matter the amount of time you will be staying.
Great way to get acclimated to the area:
Unlike our time in Vienna, when we visited London we had a few days to kick our feet up and stroll around the city at our own pace. So, we used the hop-on, hop-off tour to get our bearings and to understand the city’s lay out a little better. We saw everything! There was Big Ben, the London Museum, Westminster Abbey, the London Bridge, and the London Eye. Because the tour is only available for a few hours, any places that we felt we didn’t have enough time to tour, we simply caught the Tube and visited them the next day. Seeing these places first while on our tour really helped us with understanding where things were when we used the Tube to get around.
Doing a tour during our first few days in London gave us a great overview of the city. For the remainder of our visit, we used public transportation to revisit the sites we saw on the tour, which allowed us to move at our own pace and have a more focused exploration. What was also great is that we got to scope out the places that we wanted to spend our time at for the remaining days.
waste use of time:
If you are a traveller, you will definitely understand this. When we visit a new city, we can get pretty exhausted. Because of our excitement, we are usually up at the crack of dawn and don’t make it back to our hotel rooms until very late in the evening. Our bodies are tired, and our minds are mush. No good decisions are ever made during these times. When it comes to the final day or days of a trip, it seems no amount of sleep can really shake you from exhaustion. Instead of lying around our hotel rooms or aimlessly walking around, we opt for a hop-on, hop-off tour. While we do more hopping on than hopping off, during these times, these tours offer a great way to relax while also enjoying the city before you depart. My suggestion: grab a comfy window-seat in the back and just watch as the bus retraces the awesome time you had during your stay. Just be mindful that the tour will end, and you will have to get off at some point. ☺
Hear a tour in your chosen language:
I wish that I could speak German. Actually, I wish that I could speak French, but I speak neither. Thankfully, the hop-on, hop-off tours that I have experienced are available in several languages. You simply plug in your headphones, select your language, and you hear about all the places before your eyes. The cool thing is that while you are listening in English, the person sitting right next to you can be hearing his/her tour in Chinese.
As you can see, I am a huge fan of the hop-on, hop-off experience. It is such an awesome way to see a city, a new one or even one that you’ve visited several times before. The only drawbacks that I have experienced are the large numbers of people who could be on the bus at any given time and having to locate the bus’ stopping locations.
There are a number of great hop-on, hop-off tour bus companies in cities around the world. I would suggest asking your hotel about the available options. They can usually offer discounts if you purchase the tickets through them.