I’ve taken Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tours all over the world. Sometimes they’re great value, sometimes they’re not. There are a few factors to consider when deciding if you should jump on one.
The Size of the City
I think the size of the city you’re visiting is the most important factor when deciding whether you should join a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Some cities, like Edinburgh, Bath and Verona, can easily be explored by foot. Others, like Rome, London and Istanbul, are huge cities. If you want to cover a good portion of the city, a bus or other form of public transportation is essential.
The good thing about the hop-on-hop-off bus tours is that they often take you to places outside of town that might be too far to walk to. In Edinburgh, while most of the attractions are quite close together, the hop-on-hop-off bus tour will take you out to Leith Harbor and the zoo which are a bit further out. In Verona, I would never have found the beautiful Santuario della Nostra Signora Di Lourdes church on the hill without the bus tour.
Rain or Shine
Walking around in the rain can put a serious damper on your plans, especially if you don’t have proper rain gear. Cities like Portland, Edinburgh and Bangkok are certainly known for their rain. If you’d like to stay dry, a bus tour would be highly recommended.
Your Physical Condition
One’s physical condition is a big part of choosing a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Personally, I love walking or running everywhere. When I travel with my dad (who’s 81), walking isn’t an option. If you struggle with walking for long periods of time, or if the city has a lot of hills (like San Francisco, Prague, or Kyiv, Ukraine), a bus tour will come in really handy.
The Quality of the Tour
Some hop-on-hop-off bus tours are definitely better than others. The company Isango manages many of the bus tours around the world. In Edinburgh, there are four different tours all managed by the local transportation company. So far, I haven’t actually found a bad tour yet.
There are differences between the tours. Some have a live guide while others have an audio guide; I much prefer the live guides! Both will give you good information about the city, which is something you usually wouldn’t get just walking around on your own.
Additionally, some cities offer discounts or even completely free entries to attractions around town with your bus ticket.
Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour vs Personal Exploration
Choosing between exploring a city on your own or jumping on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour really comes down to personal preference. If you’d prefer exercise and its a nice day, go for the walk. If you want to relax, get information about the city, stay out of the rain or visit the locations not easy to reach on foot, I’d recommend a hop-on-hop-off bus tour.