Exploring the Big Apple: tips for sightseeing on a tour bus
New York City offers a majestic and diverse cityscape, as neon lights illuminate Times Square, green meadows roll across Central Park and Gothic spires atop St. Patrick’s Cathedral climb toward the heavens. But you lose the full scope of such world-famous attractions when traveling on an underground subway or flying by hurriedly in a taxi. Instead, soak up the surrounding sights by climbing aboard an open-air, double-decker bus complete with hop-on, hop-off privileges, which let you exit at designated stops to further explore NYC on foot. Discover the ins and outs of such a tour, from where to purchase tickets, to how to prepare for New York’s unpredictable weather.
Getting around NYC: routes and timeframes
New York City is so large and spread out that many hop-on, hop-off tours offer multiple routes in specific areas such as Upper, Midtown or Lower Manhattan. Several companies also overlap certain stops along their Manhattan routes, so it’s easy to connect between the different routes. For tours that take place outside of Manhattan, such as in Brooklyn or the Bronx, you may have to take a train or subway to reach your first stop.
Although New York is known as the city that never sleeps, the vast majority of hop-on, hop-off tours take place from the morning through the late afternoon. If you ride a tour all the way through without getting off at any stops, the tour may last anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on the route. Most companies offer service at every stop every 15 to 30 minutes, but traffic is always a possibility, so delays can occur. If you’re worried you won’t have enough time to visit every attraction on the tour, keep in mind that most tickets are valid for anywhere from 48 to 72 hours, although they typically must be used on consecutive days.
Buying tour tickets
Ticket buying policies vary by company, but for some, if you book a tour online, you’ll receive a voucher. Once you redeem the voucher for an actual ticket at an authorized visitors center, you may board the bus at any designated spot. Some tickets may be printed or downloaded to your phone if purchased online. You may also get a discounted rate if you purchase directly from a company’s website. Select hotels sell hop-on, hop-off passes, while some businesses allow passengers to purchase tickets once onboard the bus. Buy only from authorized dealers, such as reputable online sites or official tour booths. You may see some street vendors selling tour tickets, but it could be a scam.
Crowds and weather: preparing for seasons in NYC
Although New York is packed with tourists year-round, crowds get particularly large during the summer and holiday season. It’s entirely possible for the hop-on, hop-off tours to sell out during peak tourist seasons so make sure to buy tickets ahead of time online.
Most tour companies run year-round, although the schedule may vary by route. Companies typically operate during snow and rain as well, as many add a cover to the top deck of the tour bus. New York can get a little chilly during the spring and fall as highs hover around the mid-50s, so dress in layers as temperatures may vary drastically over the course of one day. It’s hot and muggy during the summer, with temps reaching into the high 80s, so protect yourself from the elements with sunscreen, lip balm and a baseball cap or hat. Winters in NYC are sometimes cold, dark and snowy so be sure to wear a thick jacket, hat, scarf and gloves during a tour. Consider bringing an umbrella year-round as rain is pretty common, even in summer.
Getting the most out of your tour
While live tours are almost always offered exclusively in English, some companies offer pre-recorded commentary in a variety of languages. Devices with these recorded commentaries are often available for rent at visitor’s centers and are included with the price of the tour. Some companies offer apps for your smartphone which may provide a map of your route and additional insight into NYC’s historic landmarks.
Select tour groups offer discounted rates for tickets to attractions located along the route, such as the Empire State Building Observatory, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the 9/11 Tribute Museum. For a unique view of the city, add a narrated ferry ride across the New York Harbor to the rest of your tour.