Tour buses, which provide visitors the option to disembark and re-embark at designated
points, make it easy to cover a lot of territory while on vacation. With knowledgeable tour guides and pre-recorded information available in several different languages, taking a tour bus also offers a quick overview of points of interest along the way.
But is a tour bus tour right for you? It depends.
If walking around a new city makes you nervous or uncomfortable, if a semi-structured tour is more your speed or if you don’t have much time, then a tour bus tour is your best option.
If you’re like me, however, and you like to be on your own schedule, wander around, stop, take photos, talk to people, don’t mind getting lost, etc., then a tour bus tour might not be your cup of tea.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve taken a tour bus tour. When I’m in a new place, I want to explore, preferably on foot. So a tour bus, for me, is like an expensive cab ride.
But after walking for what seemed like hours in both London and Paris, I decided to hop on a bus so I could cover a bit more territory. In London, the tour bus tour I selected was led by a pleasant and knowledgeable guide who had us laughing at his sometimes corny anecdotes. However, not even that kept me on longer than the first leg. The same thing happened in Paris.
So what did I learn from my brief encounters with tour buses?
- Get on the bus early. Typically, tickets for tour buses are valid for 48 hours from time of purchase – they are time-stamped. The earlier you start, the more you’ll get to see. (It’d be interesting to find out how many people do take advantage of the full 48 hours.)
- Plan your route carefully. You don’t want to have to loop back.
- Pick a seat on the top deck. Weather permitting and if you don’t mind heights, select a bus with an upper level. It’s a whole different experience seeing a city from one story up.
- If you want photos (and who doesn’t?), choose a seat at the front of the upper level or take a tour bus with few people on top. That way, you’ll (hopefully) avoid other people’s heads when you go for that all important shot. Unfortunately, if you’re sitting in any other seat and you’re not quick, by the time you get into position and line up the shot, the bus has moved on or someone or something else is in your way.
- If you decide to leave the tour bus early, pick a spot that has a lot of different attractions or is well-populated.
- Know when and where the last tour for the bus you’re on finishes and avoid being stuck too far away from anyplace you’re familiar with.
- Consider taking a tour bus to get a general orientation of a place, then explore on foot the following day.
A tour bus is a great way to get the lay of the land. But walking allows you more freedom to see the sights, interact with people and adds new layers to the memories you’re creating.
A few of my missed tour bus shots.