Bunny’s (Perhaps Surprising) Seal of Approval for Hop on and off Buses
Yes, they are touristic and tacky. Yes, you look like the quintessential tourist seated among the many grandmas with their cameras. Yes, your hat may well fly off if you sit in the open air upper deck on a windy day. But against all her inner instincts, Bunny likes them!
Bunny has enjoyed hop on and off buses in such diverse destinations as Cape Town, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Malta, Miami, Singapore, New York, Budapest and Vienna. They seem to be particularly handy in the US where cities, alas, are not designed or planned to be pedestrian friendly.
Almost Like Taxis
In fact, Bunny has taken to using the hop on and off buses almost like taxis, particularly in big cities that are spread around a large area or have a number of distinct neighborhoods located far from each other. She jumps on and off, walks around the more interesting neighborhoods, goes for a carrot juice on that nice beachfront bar and stops to quickly snap a photo on a mountain top viewpoint before jumping on another bus again.
A number of different companies provide these services but Bunny does not have any particular favorites. City Sightseeing seems to be one of the most ubiquitous brands and they do as good a job as any of the others.
From Cape Town to Barcelona to Miami...
Hop on Anywhere
You can hop on anywhere (just Google the routes and go to the bus stop closest to your accommodation) and buy the ticket when you board. Sometimes the prices are cheaper if you buy online in advance but Bunny hasn't really observed any great savings there. Often you are able to get discounts for tickets covering two days instead of one, so you can spread the sightseeing over several days. Do be somewhat on alert when buying from street vendors selling bus tickets because there have been scams from time to time.
The buses come either with a pre-recorded commentary (usually available in at least a handful of different languages) or have an on-board flesh-and-blood guide providing real-time observations and facts. Bunny prefers the pre-recorded commentary for more flexibility as you can decide whether to listen to all of it, just parts or shut it off completely. Plus you don't need to tip the voice afterwards! That said, one memorable exception Bunny remembers would be on a Miami bus with a particularly entertaining Cuban-born commentator with a growly voice (sorry, Bunny didn’t catch his name).
Bring your own headphones if you're like Bunny and don't get any particular kicks from sharing ear wax with strangers. Truth to be told, the headphones offered by the bus company usually come cleanish-looking but who knows these days… Plus, it’s more environmentally-friendly to use your own rather than a throw-away pair.
"Bring your own headphones!"
One thing to keep in mind is the frequency of the buses. For example, in August in Barcelona there seems to be a bus every five minutes whereas in Los Angeles the wait was more often half an hour. That can be annoying if you're on a tight schedule or waiting at a particularly unappealing stop.
In most cities, there are usually a handful of routes (red line, blue line etc.) which you are welcome to use with your single ticket. Some bus stops are shared by multiple lines so you can change in the middle of your route instead of going to the final stop.
Increasingly, most buses seem to have Wi-Fi on board which of course is very handy for those compulsory real-time Instagram or Facebook updates while on board.
From Singapore to Los Angeles to Budapest...
Hop off Anytime
While on the bus, you may well be surrounded by loud French families or annoying toddlers but the beauty of the concept is that you can hop off anytime. Well, at the official stops anyway although in some cities (thanks, Miami!) the drivers may also be kind enough to drop you off at unofficial stops, if it is safe and quiet enough for them to do so.
Annoyingly, in almost all of the cities Bunny has been on board hop-on and off buses, they seem to stop running in the late afternoon. The last bus is usually around 5pm which seems to cut the day a bit short. Bunny supposes this happens to accommodate rush hour drivers. Barcelona, the perennial night owl, was an exception to this, with its hop on and off buses running until as late as 8pm.
Hop on and off buses are handy, comfortable and often good value for money, especially in a big city and when you want to enjoy the main sites at your own pace.
You can move around the city with ease and flexibility and soak up the atmosphere and scenery from the comfort of your "own" bus(es). And if your fellow passengers prove particularly irritating, you can just hop off, have an ice cream, catch the next bus and continue where you left off.