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Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour Pin Image
Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour Pin Image

I’ve spent a good deal of time on the top of a dou­ble-deck­er bus – and not just in Lon­don where that sort of thing is expect­ed. In quite a few dif­fer­ent cities, dou­ble-deck­er bus tours have allowed my fam­i­ly to see the sights, get around town, take advan­tage of unex­pect­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties, and make vaca­tion memories.

A “Hop-On, Hop-Off” bus – mean­ing you can get on and off as many times as you want with a valid tick­et – is absolute­ly my fam­i­ly’s favorite first activ­i­ty in any new des­ti­na­tion since the bus route usu­al­ly cir­cles the entire city with stops at (or very close to) most major sights. Because of that, rid­ing the full loop on the first day not only gives us the lay of the land, but also pro­vides a list of “must-do” sights to return to. And, as any par­ent knows, when kids can ride instead of walk, it’s one less thing for them to gripe about.



Hop-on, Hop-off bus in London - © Joshua Friedman

Hop-on, Hop-off bus in Lon­don — © Joshua Friedman



“Hop-on, Hop-off tours are a sim­ple and smart solu­tion for fam­i­ly trav­el,” says Vinay Gup­ta, man­ag­ing direc­tor at isan­go! “Rather than drag­ging weary (and grumpy) chil­dren from attrac­tion to attrac­tion, younger trav­el­ers can enjoy the thrill of see­ing all the sights aboard an open-top dou­ble-deck­er bus.”


See the Sights


Mered­ith Wal­lace, a trav­el advi­sor with MM Trav­el (and the mom of teens) says that she often books Hop-on, Hop-off bus­es for her clients who list sight­see­ing as a top pri­or­i­ty on their trip because they aren’t just a good way to get from point A to point B, but because they always go to the pop­u­lar tourist attrac­tions, which elim­i­nates the has­sle of try­ing to fig­ure out how to get to them. She also notes that the guides are always enter­tain­ing as well as infor­ma­tive, which is a def­i­nite plus when trav­el­ing with hard-to-please teens – and who knows, they might even acci­den­tal­ly learn some­thing. We’ve found that, in addi­tion to being enter­tain­ing, guides are often great resources for off the beat­en path sights, restau­rants, and activ­i­ties that most tourists don’t even know about.


The guides are always entertaining as well as informative – Photo courtesy of Big Bus Tours San Francisco

Fun­ny and fab­u­lous – © Big Bus Tours San Francisco



PRO TIP:  Mered­ith sug­gests choos­ing a hotel that’s locat­ed close to a Hop-on, Hop-off stop. That way, you can step out the front door and right onto the bus.



Adri­enne Jar­rell, a trav­el advi­sor with Avoya Trav­el (and also a mom of teens), agrees. “I think a Hop-on, Hop-off bus tour gives trav­el­ers the most bang for their buck. I per­son­al­ly like them because they give you a feel for the city, espe­cial­ly if it’s one you don’t know very well or haven’t been to before.”



Hop-on. Hop-off bus in Dubai - Photo courtesy of isango!

Hop-on Hop-off bus in Dubai — © isango!



Jen­nifer Nagle, Exec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent, Inde­pen­dence Vis­i­tor Cen­ter Cor­po­ra­tion agrees that Hop-on, Hop-off bus­es are a great way to expe­ri­ence every­thing Philly has to offer. “There is plen­ty to explore…in any giv­en area of [Philadel­phi­a’s] down­town, from the Lib­er­ty Bell to the Rocky Steps,” she says. “But tak­ing a Hop-on, Hop-off tour brings your explor­ing to new heights.”



Get Around Town


An added bonus of Hop-on Hop-off bus­es is that tick­ets are often valid for more than one day (or if not, there’s usu­al­ly a dis­count for pur­chas­ing mul­ti-day tick­ets), and some tours even offer mon­ey-sav­ing fam­i­ly tickets.



Hop-on, Hop-off is an easy way for families to see all the sights and attractions – Photo courtesy of Big Bus Tours San Francisco

Hop-on, Hop-off is an easy way for fam­i­lies to see all the sights and attrac­tions – © Big Bus Tours San Francisco



My fam­i­ly always tries to max­i­mize that perk by hop­ping on as ear­ly as pos­si­ble in the morn­ing of the first day we acti­vate our tick­ets, so we can use the bus to get around the city until the end of the last day the tick­et is valid. This elim­i­nates the need to pay for a taxi or uber and allows us to see the city from above rather than being under­ground in a sub­way. In a city like San Fran­cis­co, which is extreme­ly hilly in some areas, the bus offers the lux­u­ry of rid­ing up and down the city’s famous hills instead of walk­ing them.

“Hop-on, Hop-off tours take vis­i­tors beyond the main tourist areas and intro­duce them to a wide vari­ety of San Fran­cis­co’s neigh­bor­hoods in a rel­a­tive­ly brief time, with the option of hop­ping off to explore fur­ther,” says Lau­rie Arm­strong Gossy, Senior Direc­tor, Media Rela­tions for San Fran­cis­co Travel.

She also notes that cross­ing The Gold­en Gate Bridge on an open-top bus – one of the most famous and beau­ti­ful bridges in the world – allows vis­i­tors to immerse them­selves in the icon­ic expe­ri­ence instead of wor­ry­ing about traf­fic and dri­ving. Plus, she says, “You can’t help but get great pho­tos, no mat­ter what direc­tion you point the camera.”



Best views includ­ed – © Big Bus Tours San Francisco



Nicole Rit­thaler, vis­i­tor cen­ter man­ag­er for Big Bus Tours San Fran­cis­co agrees. “Hop-on, Hop-off is an easy way for fam­i­lies to trav­el with kids to all the sights and attrac­tions in our city,” she says. “See­ing your child’s excite­ment of going over the Gold­en Gate Bridge on the top of a dou­ble-deck­er is an amaz­ing feeling.”

My fam­i­ly also makes the most of our mul­ti-day tick­ets by plan­ning our vaca­tion itin­er­ary around the bus. For exam­ple, if we know we are going to want to take a day trip out­side the city or book a full-day activ­i­ty, we don’t acti­vate our bus tick­ets if we can’t use them the whole day. Because of that, we usu­al­ly set aside the first cou­ple of days of a trip to see the sights on the bus route, and then plan to do activ­i­ties out of the city cen­ter – or vis­it sights that take longer – after our tick­ets have expired.



Hop-on, Hop-off bus on the Champs-Élysées in Paris - Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

Hop-on, Hop-off bus en route to the Champs-Élysées in Paris — © Saman­tha Davis-Friedman



“The Big Bus Philadel­phia’s open-top bus­es run year-round (weath­er-per­mit­ting) and offer spec­tac­u­lar views as you ride around the city,” Nagle says. “Big Bus also gives you the flex­i­bil­i­ty to hop on and off to explore the areas you hear about on the tour on your own.”



Take Advantage of Unexpected Opportunities


Explor­ing on your own is def­i­nite­ly great, but one of the oth­er things I love about Hop-on, Hop-off bus­es is that many com­pa­nies offer addi­tion­al walk­ing, boat, or even night­time “city-lights” tours at no addi­tion­al cost (or at con­sid­er­able sav­ings), so that’s a great mon­ey-sav­ing ben­e­fit. In our case, some of those unex­pect­ed “add-ons” have end­ed up being our favorite activities.

One exam­ple was a walk­ing tour in Lon­don to see the chang­ing of the guard. Our guide was super savvy and took us to a lit­tle-known spot at the side of Buck­ing­ham Palace to see the guards prepar­ing for the offi­cial pro­ces­sion. We were lit­er­al­ly the only peo­ple there, and my sons got to see every­thing right up close. We were also able to snap some awe­some photos.



changing of the guards in London

Solo per­for­mance — © Saman­tha Davis-Friedman



“When my fam­i­ly uses the Hop-on, Hop-off bus, I love that we end up doing some things that we would not have done if they were not includ­ed with our pass­es,” Mered­ith says. “They often end up being a great addi­tion to our trip.”


Don’t Miss! Cruis­ing Kayaks in the San Fran­cis­co Bay with Teens



Make Vacation Memories


The goal of any fam­i­ly vaca­tion is to share expe­ri­ences and make mem­o­ries, and Hop-on Hop-off tours have def­i­nite­ly cre­at­ed some great mem­o­ries for my family.



Hop-on, Hop-off bus in Orlando - Photo Courtesy of isango!

Mak­ing mem­o­ries in Orlan­do — © isango!



One such occa­sion – though not nec­es­sar­i­ly my proud­est par­ent­ing moment – was on a bus tour of New Orleans. As we passed a very pop­u­lar brunch spot, the guide explained that brunch is a big deal in the Big Easy and then said, “After all, you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morn­ing,” at which point, my son looked at me and loud­ly said, “That’s total­ly you!” He said it because I’d just had a Mimosa at break­fast that morn­ing, but nobody else on the bus knew that! Need­less to say, that quote has not only become a fun­ny vaca­tion mem­o­ry but has also become a say­ing at every fam­i­ly brunch since.





Adri­en­ne’s fam­i­ly also has a mem­o­rable bus-relat­ed tale: “We were in Ottawa and it was beau­ti­ful out. The dou­ble-deck­er bus was full and we thought we scored by get­ting seats togeth­er on the top,” she says. “That was until all of a sud­den it start­ed pour­ing rain, and we could­n’t move. It is a fun­ny sto­ry now, and def­i­nite­ly memorable!”


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