When I travel to a new destination I really do my best not to look like a tourist. I don’t walk around with a camera in my hand, a Hawaiian shirt on, or a map in tow (mostly because I am terrible with maps). My one exception, embarassingly, is with a good bus tour.
Travelling through Europe, I only had a few days in any city as I tended to go away for long weekends. 3-4 days is never enough time to really get to know a place, but I have found that a hop-on, hop-off bus tour gave me a good snapshot.
Not all Tours are created equal. Here are my thoughts on my best and worst bus tour experiences.
London, England – Big Bus Tour – I’d do it every day if I could. I’ve actually taken this tour 3 times and am still not tired of it. The Red Line offers a live guide, meaning that you’ll get interesting new bits of information. There are three different lines to enjoy an it really goes through all of London (which is a big feat). The tour takes an entire day to complete, so plan your day out accordingly. Big Bus London
Vancouver, Canada – Trolly good fun. Maybe I liked this tour just for the novelty of the trolly cars that drive you around the city. I found this tour really informative, stopping at all of Vancouver’s hot spots. The tour only has two lines, also making it really simple to ride along. Vancouver Trolley Company
Paris, France – comme si comme sa. I have a confession. I didn’t really love Paris in general. Perhaps the cold, rainy weather clouded my opinion of the city, but it didn’t touch me like other destinations have. Given this, I have a hard time judging the bus tour. For a first-timer with limited time, I would still recommend taking the tour as it gives you a good layout of the city. If you have more time to spend in Paris, then hopping on the Metro and exploring things yourself is the way to go.
Barcelona, Spain – One Big Yawn. I know multiple people that have literally fallen asleep on this bus tour. There isn’t enough information provided. More importantly, there are very long musical interludes, making the entire process a yawn.
Toronto, Canada – Simply Painful. Toronto is my home and I love it. There is so much to see and know, but this bus tour was the worst thing I have ever sat through. The pass works for 24 hours and we split the tour over two days. The live guide we had was just awful (no names mentioned) and, as fate would have it, she was our guide on the second day too! On the plus side, there is a boat tour that takes you through the Toronto Islands for some great pictures. Lesson learned, pay for a boat tour and not a bus tour.
Although my experience with bus tours has varied, I still love them. They’re a simple way to see a city when you’re in a cruch or when your legs need a rest. I’m not sure when my next tour will be, but you can be sure you’ll know about it.