The Big Easy way to explore New Orleans
Navigating New Orleans' charming but quirky street layout can be a real adventure. But when you would rather spend time seeing the sights and basking in the city's culture than dodging traffic and finding (pricey) parking spots, the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour has you covered. The red double-decker bus drivers negotiate narrow streets around the French Quarter, Central Business District and Garden District so you don't have to, and you get the bonus of an on-board guide's running narrative as you pass by NOLA's favorite landmarks and neighborhoods. There are 18 stops on the circuit, so hop off and explore any area along the way, then hop back on to rest your feet and relax on the way to your next Big Easy adventure.
All aboard! Where to catch the bus
A map of the bus route can be found online at citysightseeingneworleans.com, the website of the double-decker tour service operator. Maps are also available in the bright red Hop-On Hop-Off brochures you'll find in the rack in most hotel lobbies, restaurants and tourism information centers.
The tour bus stops are easy to spot from the sidewalk. They're marked by red “Hop-On Hop-Off” signs hanging on tall red posts near the curb at each stop. Stop #1 is on Decatur Street at Jackson Square, but it's not necessary to start your ride there, as the buses run the full circuit multiple times a day. And if you miss one, don't worry. There will be another bus arriving to hop aboard in about 30 minutes.
How to get tickets
For travelers who like to plan their adventures in advance, you may reserve tickets directly from the tour operator's website. You'll receive a PDF of the ticket to print or to save on your mobile device. Exchange the voucher for a ticket when you get to New Orleans at the City Sightseeing ticket office at 700 Decatur Street (Jackson Square) or at 501 Basin Street (Basin Street Visitor Information Center).
If you're more of a spur-of-the-moment traveler, simply stop by one of the two ticket offices on the day you want to start your bus tour, or buy a ticket on-board. Ticket agents are on most buses, and if there's not one immediately available, the driver can call for one to come aboard at one of the next stops. Ticket agents can also exchange a pre-purchased voucher for a ticket during your ride.
Timing is everything
Hop-On Hop-Off is ideal for seeing New Orleans in the light of day. Buses start running at 9:30 a.m. and finish at 5:30 p.m. With an early start, you'll be out and about before the folks who partied all night are even up. You'll also enjoy exploring during the coolest part of the day. That's especially important if you're in town anytime from June through September when temperatures routinely reach 90 degrees F with accompanying high humidity. The on-board tour guide makes numerous announcements in the late afternoon so you won't be caught unaware and far away from your preferred stop when the buses cease operating for the day.
Seats on the double-decker bus are first-come, first-serve. During the most crowded times of the year, February through May, there is a possibility you'll have to wait for the next bus if all the seats are full. There are also several days of the year when the Hop-On Hop-Off buses don't run due to street closures for festivals and parades. These include the Sunday and Tuesday of Mardi Gras celebrations, the day of the French Quarter Festival and Christmas Day.
Getting the most from your Hop-On Hop-Off adventure
A single day's ticket is $39 (at time of publication), but if you're staying in New Orleans even slightly longer, spend an additional $10 to purchase the three-day ticket.
- In addition to covering transportation expenses to fully explore the city's landmarks with Hop-On Hop-Off ease, the three-day ticket includes guided walking tours of the French Quarter and the Garden District. Check the times the walking tours depart so you can plan to Hop Off for the fun, detail-filled dive into New Orleans history and culture.
- If it's your first time in NOLA, ride the entire route first to get the lay of the land. It takes about two hours to make the full circuit back to your starting point, including a 15 minute stop at the Basin Street Visitor Center for a restroom and refreshments break. By the time you're finished, you'll have a great idea of the places you'd like to visit most, in what order, and you're likely to have gathered tips from the tour guide on topnotch places to savor authentic New Orleans cuisine along the way.
- Find a seat on the top of the double-decker bus. Even if you have to wait a stop or two for some passengers to disembark, the climb up the stairs will be worth it for the full 360-degree view. There is a canvas canopy over the upper deck, but make sure you're wearing a hat and sunscreen as only some of the seats are fully shaded, depending on the angle of the sun and which direction the bus is going.