London, United Kingdom. Photo by Josh Mills, Unsplash

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Chances are if you are reading this, you’ve been a tourist or will soon be one. Travelers and locals may have a love-hate relationship with those Hop-On Hop-Off buses that are popular in many major cities, but I am mainly on the love side.

While I do enjoy the process of researching a destination on my own and planning how to get around, I also enjoy the convenience of getting around a new-to-me city via a bus tour.

Why Should You Try a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus?

This is where a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour comes into play. These provide transportation around cities in Europe, the United States, Canada, and beyond at a reasonable price for a set period of time-usually 24 or 48 hours. The tour operator (and there are a handful of names you’ll recognize) might also offer extended route options or add-ons such as boat rides.

Many have live commentary provided by locals who have their take on a city. Recently in Montreal, we had a 48-hour ticket and experienced two different guides and got two different points of view and tips.

We loved it! Sure, they covered the basic history and points of interest, but one driver was keen on sharing his knowledge of the local medical scene, and the other focused on entertainment- being a huge music fan, he was excited about the upcoming outdoor concert series.

What are the Tours Like?

These bus tours, usually on double-decker buses, allow you to see the city from the advantage of an enclosed environment on bad weather days or get a bird’s eye view from the open upper deck on a bright day. You can study the tour route in advance and decide when and if you want to get off and explore more or ride the entire loop and get a feel for the area.

In Montreal, our bus took us along the St. Lawrence River, through the hip Plateau neighborhood, around the arts district, up to Mount Royal Park, and more. The views from Mount Royal Park were wonderful and I can assure you, I would never have been able to walk up there on my own.

As we had a two-day ticket, we took full advantage of this and got off a few times to explore some more, keeping in mind the final hour that the tour operates and making sure we were either near the bus stop or close enough to our hotel for an easy journey back to our room.

While these buses are not by and large handicapped-accessible, for those with mobility issues, they are very helpful. If you can go up a few steps, you can ride a bus in comfort.

I know what you are saying, “those are for tourists”! Well, you are a tourist, so why not enjoy yourself?

Bus Tour in Liverpool, England

The Beatles statue in Liverpool, one of many statues celebrating Liverpool's musical heritage. Photo by Mary Casey-Sturk
The Beatles statue in Liverpool, one of many statues celebrating Liverpool’s musical heritage. Photo by Mary Casey-Sturk

While in Liverpool, we found ourselves with several rainy days in a row and took advantage of the many museums Liverpool offers, but by the end of our stay, we wanted to explore some more and the local Hop-On Hop-Off picked up right by our hotel at Royal Albert Dock, so we bought our tickets and climbed aboard (tickets for most tours can be purchased on the bus or in advance).

We enjoyed this tour immensely and it gave us a chance to see places we frankly weren’t interested in walking to in the downpours. Liverpool has two wonderful cathedrals (Catholic and Anglican) and the bus stops at both, you can see where the Beatles got their start by hopping off at the Liverpool ONE stop and exploring not only the shops at Liverpool ONE but also the lively Cavern Quarter. The Cavern Club on St. Mathew Street is known as the “birthplace of the Beatles”.

This was a good tour, and although Liverpool is quite walkable, we learned some facts that I hadn’t read in my guidebooks. We loved hearing about the history of Liverpool, from its founding, the story of the mystical Liver birds, to the Merseyside music scene, which has given the world the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Elvis Costello, Cilla Black and so many more.

Keep your eyes peeled for statues celebrating this heritage as well as music-themed museums, including the impressive Beatles Story Museum.

Read More: Top 10 Things to Do In the North of England

Bus Tour in Edinburgh, Scotland

Exploring Edinburgh Castle. Photo by Mary Casey-Sturk
Exploring Edinburgh Castle. Photo by Mary Casey-Sturk

Edinburgh’s tour was a huge help as I was having knee surgery soon after. This tour took us around both the Old and New Towns and dropped us off very near Edinburgh Castle along the Royal Mile. Having a short walk to the Castle on a bad knee was manageable and allowed me to enjoy the Castle in comfort. We then walked down the Royal Mile and over to the Museum of Scotland for a visit, and the bus stop was adjacent to their main entrance.

We continued, doing the balance of the tour loop, and got great views of the Palace of Holyroodhouse (which we returned to on another day) and the modern Scottish Parliament building. It was on this tour that we found out you can visit the Parliament building, so we did.

After a short wait for security clearance (similar to the security checkpoint at an airport), we were inside. There were interesting exhibits on Scottish history, you could visit where the Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) meet and debate then visit the café and gift shop. It was an unexpected and fun civics lesson.

We had purchased tickets for the basic loop around Edinburgh, and it worked well for the day we had to dedicate to it. If we were to go back, we’d opt for the larger route offered, which goes to the Port of Leith and beyond. In the Port of Leith, you can visit The Royal Yacht Britannia (the retired ship of the British royal family), the Port of Leith Distillery, Ocean Terminal (shopping), and more.

Read More: Attractions You Should Visit in Edinburgh

Montreal, Canada

Ride La Grande Roue in Montreal for an even higher point of view. Photo by Mary Casey-Sturk
Ride La Grande Roue in Montreal for an even higher point of view. Photo by Mary Casey-Sturk

Montreal is part of French-speaking Quebec, but don’t let that worry you. My appalling attempts at French weren’t necessary as most of the city is bi-lingual. This city is lovely and offers a truly international experience. Walking around Old Montreal, you get the feeling you’re strolling through Paris complete with creperies, markets, boutiques, and a river. Instead of the Seine, here you will find the St. Lawrence River.

Our Hop-On Hop-Off made a stop in front of the Bonsecours Market. Opened in 1847, it stands as one of Canada’s finest heritage buildings and today features many stores and is the gateway to Old Montreal. We wandered the shops, ate crepes (we just had to), and also enjoyed a ride on the La Grande roue de Montréal (Ferris wheel) nestled next to the river, which offers stunning views.

Beyond Old Montreal, the Hop-On Hop-Off bus took us to many of our must-visit destinations for our short time in the city. As it was early in May, the bus operator had not started to operate its longer route. For us, it worked very well.

We hopped on near the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal (stunning) and rode the entire route the first time around, then opted to hop off several times during our 48-hour ticket. Dorchester Square, the Latin Quarter, McGill University, Mount Royal Park, and more are on this tour, so options abound.

Read More: Montreal: Top 10 Things To Do

Hop-On Hop-Off Bus FAQs

Still on the fence about hopping on? No worries! Everyone travels differently and Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours may not be for you, but if they are, consider the following tips:

Compare Costs and Ticket Type

Do you need a multi-day pass? Is there more than one company to choose from? You may be able to get a discount if you pay in advance or a better deal on a multi-day pass. Some operators also offer discounts for boat rides or other tours. Most operators offer different pricing based on age.

Check the Bus Company’s Reviews

Check reviews on Viator, Omio or similar websites. Be sure you are buying directly from the operator for the best deal.

Check the Bus Route

Where does the bus go? Visit the bus company’s website and look at the route map. Is there a pick-up point near you? Will the route take you to see the sites you want to see? Is there more than one route option? Some operators offer a basic route around town and a larger route circling the city. Be sure you get the best route for your needs and keep in mind that offerings can be seasonal.

Make Sure the Schedule Fits Your Needs

Does the schedule work for you? Keep in mind that the buses operate on a fixed schedule. Will this schedule work for your needs? Will it allow you enough time to visit attractions and catch the ride on time? Many buses end around 5 p.m. Be certain your final stop is convenient for your hotel or dinner destination if that works best for you.

Is There a Language Barrier?

Some tours have recorded tours in several languages, others have live commentary from a guide. In Montreal, our live guide spoke both French and English. Be sure you select what best fits you or your group’s needs.

Check What Sites You’d See

What do you want to see and how much time do you have in the city? Hop-On Hop-Off buses work well for those on a limited timeline. If you only have a day in a city and want to get around easily, this might work great for you.

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Author Bio: Mary Casey-Sturk is an Editor and Writer for Living Magazines (Kentucky) as well as a contributor to Smoky Mountain Living Magazine (North Carolina). Mary is also a content developer, freelance travel, food, wine and features writer and the author of “Eating Cheese Curds With Strangers”.

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