Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sun March 20 2016

Hop-On Hop-Off Buses Open Cities Like an Oyster

Features & Advice | Michael Howard | March 20, 2016

Hop-On Hop-Off Buses Open Cities Like an Oyster

Photo by Michael Howard

If you’re clambering off a cruise ship, in town for a conference, or have a free day before the real action starts, Hop-On Hop-Off buses open cities like an oyster.

Let’s face it, if you are a first-time visitor or casual traveler, even “must-see” sights are unfamiliar. Hop-On Hop-Off buses beat most packaged tour options in price, flexibility and convenience. They really beat handing a taxi driver a fifty-dollar bill and trusting to his or her vaguely researched patter to convey a sense of the city.  Or a tour guide in a minivan, determinedly steering you to souvenir stands, eateries and arcades with not-so-hidden agendas. Besides, Hop-On Hop-Off buses are certainly cleaner, safer and less prone to unexpected complications.

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Here’s how it works. If you are off of a cruise ship, chances are there’s a stop right there at the terminal. Otherwise, go online, check out an information kiosk, or ask your concierge for the nearest Hop-On Hop-Off stop. Buy an all-day ticket (includes earphones and map), head to the top level of your colorful double decker bus (the roof retracts in nice weather) for a 360-degree panoramic view.

Pick a seat, plug in, dial up your language of choice, and you are on your way. The recorded patter is perfectly synchronized to the physical route — providing historical anecdotes, architectural notes and insider tips en route to the next stop. You can hop off whenever you want, explore as long as you want, and return for pickup when ready — buses stop by every half hour. 

Better yet, if you have time, see the whole tour and once you have a solid grasp of the best sites the city has to offer, go around again, pick your favorite five or six stops, hop off and explore. 

Oslo, Norway’s sights mesh perfectly with the Hop-On Hop-Off way. See the City Hall, Norwegian Parliament and Oslo Central Station. Wander through the Royal Palace Park, or Vigelund Park — the largest open-air sculpture park in the world. Hop back on the bus and choose between the Norwegian Folk Museum, the Viking Ship Museum, or the Kontiki Museum… or check out all three. Go shopping at Aker Brygge and have lunch. Swing by the Nobel Peace Center and/or take in Akershus Castle. You’ll be an expert in a day with all transportation courtesy of the Hop-On Hop-Off bus.

Oslo may be particularly well suited to the Hop-On Hop-Off experience, but the formula works, regardless of the city. Most international urban centers offer at least two competing “Hop-On, Hop-Off” bus lines, which keeps the prices down and the quality up.

Seriously, they’re ALL good.

Prices vary, but average $35-$45 in equivalent currencies and round trips range from 45 to 90 minutes. Many tickets stay good for 48 hours, or can be extended for a few more Euros, Pounds or Dollars, so if you have the luxury of time, you have the next day to finish exploring. If not, no problem, you’ve already seen more than most visitors (and many locals) ever see.

Hop-On Hop-Off tours are the ultimate equalizer. My fellow “hop-onners” have worn minks and they’ve worn tennis shoes.  They’ve carried expensive multimedia devices and they’ve lugged well-worn knapsacks. I suspect they’re all better for the experience.

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Take Oslo. I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never heard of Gustav Vigelund, and if it hadn’t been for the Hop-On, may never have made acquaintance with his world-class work. Instead of blowing off a boring sounding option on a more conventional tour offering, I spent a long hour admiring his life’s works. I certainly had heard of the Kontiki Museum, and spent another hour marveling at Thor Heyerdahl’s legacies from Peru to the South Seas, Easter Island and Morocco — with time to spare for the Nobel Peace Center.

Now that’s cultural immersion.


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