I often think a big, red, sightseeing double-decker bus (like City Sightseeing) you see in nearly every big city (save for London where their double decker red buses are actually just public trans) get a bad rap for
being a way to check out a city. This could absolutely be because I am biased to more organic forms of touring and small companies that I think employ more informed guides with better public speaking skills. But, with that said, there is certainly nothing wrong with touring a city via a huge double-decker bus and there are actually some positive takeaways from choosing this way to sightsee.
- They go everywhere. Usually with your ticket purchase on the double-decker bus you can take any one of the routes the bus company offers. These routes are typically color coded and as long as you’re at a stop that services multiple colors, you can easily switch routes and see much more of a city—or even another state. For example, in Washington, DC some sightseeing buses service Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia
- You can hop on and hop off. This means that you don’t have to really stress about a schedule. If you’re with a group tour, you are often only allotted a certain amount of time at each location. With the flexibility of hopping on and off you can take more time at sights that really interest you and even skip sights that don’t do anything for you. Usually companies will have buses making their rounds every 20 minutes or so, so as long as you know their schedule you can plan accordingly
- They will provide commentary. While you’re driving around you should be getting commentary on the major sights you’re looking at. Sometime this commentary comes from a pre-recorded audio tape and other times it come from a live tour guide. Level of knowledge and ability to answer questions can naturally differ between guides so if you’ve noticed you’ve got a good one, it might be in your best interest to ride along a bit longer before hopping off—it’s never guaranteed that you’ll be on the same bus twice as companies have multiple buses servicing their routes all day long
- They make traversing a city easy. Let it be known that I am always a fan of public transportation to get around a city but I am also an experienced traveler who is comfortable with this sort of thing. Absolutely no judgement if you are not. Therefore, the double-deckers buses are nice because they provide you with a map of the city that conveniently has all of their (usually color coded) routes on it and you just have to show the driver your ticket stub or sticker upon returning to the bus. You don’t have to figure out subway maps, ticket kiosks or any other routing when you’re riding a double-decker around. This type of sightseeing is good for families who are juggling young children and have enough to worry about
When available, I personally always direct guests to Old Town Trolley. They currently only run in seven cities—Boston, Washington, DC, Key West, St. Augustine, San Diego, Savannah and Nashville—but I find that the guides on them are usually really knowledgeable and easy to listen to. I’ve personally taken rides with them in Boston and Savannah and know a load of guides who have worked for them in DC. The trollies are open air and some of the newer models have stadium seating. But more importantly, the guides that drive them around give live commentary and really do know what they are talking about—often times, they are a complete wealth of knowledge. I don’t always feel like this is the case with the larger, double-decker companies.
And if you are in London definitely take advantage of the iconic red double-decker bus. You won’t get commentary but at a low fare it’s a great way to cruise around the city and take it all in.
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