My wife and I were recently talking about the cruise we took last fall for our honeymoon. Our cruise started and stopped in the port of Barcelona, Spain, while the rest of the trip circumvented the Western Mediterranean. We had a wonderful time on the cruise ship itself, and taking excursions at the various port cities.
Our itinerary, however, did not include a stopover in Barcelona, so we made our own hotel reservations and made plans to see Barcelona on our own. We had 2 days on our own and we decided the most efficient and cost effective way to see the city was on the double-decker tour buses. We bought two, 2-day bus pass for €23 each (about $32 at the time). A one day pass was about €19, or about $27, so the 2 day pass was a much better deal!
The advantages of a bus tour
The tour buses had a lot of great advantages. Not only did we pay one price for a 2-day pass with unlimited travel, but we got other benefits including a city map with the different color coded bus lines, a coupon book, and a free set of earphones to listen to the pre-recorded tour (available in 10 languages). The stops were very convenient to all of the major attractions, and we were able to get on and off as we pleased.
Here are some notable advantages of taking the tour bus:
- Easy access to all the major attractions
- Transportation all over the city
- Flexibility in your schedule – you decide when and where to go
- Convenient hours (around 8am – 10pm)
- Frequent stops – both in number and frequency
- Audio in multiple languages
The disadvantages of a bus tour
There were very few disadvantages that my wife and I noticed. Some of the tour lines didn’t go exactly where we wanted to go, so we had to walk a mile or two. However, almost every major attraction was a short walk from the bus line. Another disadvantage was the one-way route. If you decided you wanted to backtrack, you had to go all the way around again. This is easily prevented by planning your trip based on which landmarks you wish to see and doing it in order.
These were the main disadvantages we noted:
- The buses ran in only one direction (you had to backtrack if you missed an attraction)
- Set routes might not cover every major attraction, especially those outside city limits
- No tour guides to answer detailed questions, although the bus workers spoke English and could help with directions and other topics
- Lines could get long around busy attractions, but the wait was not usually longer than 15-30 minutes at the peak time (depending on the route, buses would stop every 5-15 minutes).
Tips for riding the big tour buses
The best seats are at the front and on top. From there, you will be able to get great pictures and see a lot of amazing sights. If the bus is crowded and there are no more seats on top available, many people will wait for the next bus. Take advantage of this and get on while you can! It is very likely that someone will get off at the next stop and you can take their place up top. Don’t waste your valuable vacation time standing in line!
You also want to choose which side of the bus you sit on according to which country you are in. If you are in mainland Europe or the US, sitting on the right side of the bus will often get you better photo opportunities for buildings and other attractions that are located adjacent to the road. However, you need to be careful of tree branches! In the UK, Austalia, Japan, and a few other countries, riding on the left side may get you a better view and nicer photo opps.
Take the big tour bus!
If you enjoy doing things on your own and enjoy going with the flow, the self-guided bus tours are a great way to see cities without spending a lot of money. You get to see all the major attractions, can learn some of the history, but more importantly, you get to enjoy your vacation at your pace. If you are vacationing on a budget and have a free and flexible itinerary, I think a self-guided bus tour is the best value for your money.
Feel free to leave your travel tips in the comments; I love reading them!
Photo credit: woodsy.