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I love a good open top bus tour. If we’re mooching round the internet for somewhere to visit, at home or abroad, package holiday or DIY, one of the first things I’ll do is check for a bus tour. I should add that I love other tours too – trains, boats, guided tours all have their place, but I really love a bus tour.  Boat tours are a very close second and actually, I think I like the open topped buses most because it’s like being at sea.

I reckon my love of the bus tour is sufficient to enable me to provide a guide to how to get the most out of them. So here we are.

tour 02

There are lots of different bus tour operators but City Sightseeing Tours are a familiar sight in lots of places and are definitely the company we’ve toured with most. I shall list my favourites.

  • Cambridge
  • Edinburgh
  • Stratford-Upon-Avon
  • Copenhagen
  • Barcelona
  • Oxford

They are my favourites for different reasons, which I’ll go into in a bit. Generally speaking, doing a bus tour is a brilliant way to get to know a new place or city. Tours take you to all the main attractions, with a commentary and are hop-on, hop, off so you can use them to get to any of the places you want to go. Most often you get a 24 hour ticket and sometimes there are longer options. Some tours have a selection of routes.

Our strategy is pretty much to fit the tour in during the first couple of days. It’s best not to go for an early start – remember, this is a 24 hour ticket. If you race to get there for 9:30 you don’t get anything the next day. Although some buses have tour 03human guides, most tours have recorded commentary and you get some free headphones from the driver when you buy your ticket. The ticket has to last so keep that safe but the headphones can be replaced on each bus so don’t worry if they break or you lose them. The recorded commentaries are good value with some cracking incidental music and a vast array of idioms.  Some tours have a children’s commentary from Horrible Histories but they’re pretty much the normal one with added poo and fart noises.

We always go round the whole circuit once without getting off. We get to settle down, look at the map and listen to the whole commentary. This is a good technique for familiarising yourself with the layout of a new city and working out where everything is in relation to each other.  It is also a good way to work out when to get the best photo opportunities. Buses tend to slow down for key attractions but not always and it’s good to learn where traffic lights are and perhaps more importantly, which side of the bus to sit on. Another reason to take a bus tour is for the different angle you get to take pictures from.

Once you’ve completed a circuit, decide where you want to go. Remember, you’ve got the next morning too but it’s a good idea to do things that are further out first and work your way in. If you don’t get it all done and still want to visit some of the places you can probably do it on foot or by public transport. Quite often we’ve found that seeing somewhere from the bus and getting a picture is enough and we don’t feel we need to explore it more. Of course it’s always a good idea to leave things for the next time you visit too! You may have discounts for local attractions or shops/restaurants with your bus ticket so have a look at the leaflet to help you decide. If you timed your ticket buying right (or starting time, you can buy tickets online) then you should find that you can get a full circuit in the next day, possibly with a visit. As long as you get on the bus with time on your ticket, you can get back to where you need to be!

So. Why are the ones above my favourites? I shall let you know.

Cambridge

tour camb

Not actually the most rockin’ of all the tours we’ve done but for the one thing that I have missed with all the other tours we’ve done. One of the stops is at a Park and Ride. Might seem a small thing, but when you’re paying a lot for a bus ride it’s a pain to have to spend extra money and time parking the car. Quite a lot of tours have a train station stop but this was brilliant especially on day 2.

Edinburgh

tour edin

Five different tours (not all City Sightseeing). It cost more for a ticket that got you all the tours, but it didn’t break the bank and was really worth it. Some of the routes overlapped with major attractions but it was a good orientation technique and one of the routes took us out as far as The Royal Yacht Britannia which is quite a way. We were there for the Festival so we did our fair share of hill climbing, but it’s always nice to be driven up and down a city!

Stratford-Upon-Avon

tour strat

Our most recent tour so I can give you prices and everything!  We opted for the £30 each tickets. With this we got 24 hours of bus, a boat tour on the Avon and three of the five Shakespeare houses. The price seems steep but there is an option without houses and that still gets you the boat tour. It’s definitely a money saver if you’re going to do the houses anyway and again, a couple are a few miles out of the centre. Another positive is that the boat ticket didn’t have to be used in the same day as the bus ticket was bought and the house tickets last for twelve months.

In addition to all this, in the peak tourist season there is a second tour ‘Heart of Warwickshire’ runs and this takes you much further afield. The 48 hour ticket includes both tours and I think that would be a great option.

Copenhagen

tour copen

We had a 48 hour ticket here and there are two routes included (Summer only). We really did use it to learn where everything was and as a form of transport. Copenhagen doesn’t have a metro system like Barcelona or Paris and there’s quite a bit of stuff spread out. I’ve been to Copenhagen a few times as I have a friend near Malmö just over the bridge in Sweden but we spent a week here for the first time and really got to see the city well. The bus tour gave us lots of ideas of places to go that the guide books and maps hadn’t so I really do recommend it.

As a side note, if you do visit Copenhagen, the one thing that I tell everyone to do if nothing else is the Netto boat tour. Netto really is Scandinavian for cheap and this tour is half the price of the other boat tours but takes you all round the canals, with live commentary. Promise me you’ll try it even if you don’t go anywhere near a City Sightseeing bus.

Barcelona

tour 01

Three routes this time! Can’t remember if we did a 24-er or 48-er but this really was one where we felt we’d seen things from the bus and didn’t need to trek through 40 degree Barcelona to take a picture from ground level. A good, comprehensive tour of the city from Gaudi to the football stadium and down to the beach. Sun screen is definitely a must for one like this but with the wind in your hair and history in your ear, it’s a great way to cool down and there are worse ways to travel.

Oxford

tour oxf

Last for a mention, the Oxford tour really only gets on the list because it was a brilliant holiday and I loved the whole long weekend of it! It was hot, it was Easter and we were away for our wedding anniversary. Add to that the fact I was in Oxford and new Lewis was on the telly at the same time it was amazing! I made Howard recreate a scene where someone vomited near the Bodleian.  It was a great tour too of course, but I think they all are.

There are quite a few more tours we’ve done and I like them all. I love that you can’t be anything but an unashamed tourist on an open topped bus. I’ve got the route planned out for one of Nottingham if anyone’s interested in taking up the franchise.

If you’ve not done one, give it a go but remember my super top tips for bus touring wonders:

  • Time your start well to make full use of ticket.
  • Go round once to get your bearings – maybe once on each side of the bus…
  • Have a look for discount deals in the ticket options or on the leaflet.
  • Make sure to put sun cream on if there’s a hint of Sun (don’t forget hair partings)
  • Don’t use umbrellas – they blow inside out at the slowest of speeds. Go downstairs if you’re a wuss.
  • Take your own headphones if you’re fussy (Howard is but I think the cheap tinny sound adds to the experience).
  • Charge your camera and wildly point and click!