Are Hop on Hop Off NYC Tours Worth it?

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New York City, New York

Despite staying in New York City for five nights, you really have to decide what you want to see and what you can skip.

I was happy that no one wanted to go see the Statue of Liberty but also a bit hesitant about their enthusiasm for the double-decker hop on hop off NYC tours bus.

I have traveled NYC solo but I have never taken one of these buses, or the kind that also go into the water. There is a very good reason for this.

I am a travel snob.

I really don’t want to admit it but I am. I try to believe that there is no one right way to travel yet I secretly believe I am better than the people on those buses.

But they heard it was fantastic so I swallowed my ego and bought a 3-day pass that had options for uptown, downtown and Brooklyn.

Deciding that this vacation was for them and not me I realized I should look into other bus tours because if we were going to do this we were going all the way!

New York bus tour

We decided on On Location’s New York City TV and Movie sites, which was a tough decision because the Sex and the City tour looked fantastic but we couldn’t spend all 6 days on a bus.

I will eat my words.

We spent the first afternoon in New York City on the Grayline hop on hop off doing downtown Manhattan and it was a perfect way to become familiar with the city.

We saw lots of things that we wouldn’t have gone out of the way to see and the tour guide was really great.

My mother loves to ask me lots of questions: historical, architectural, geographical – all assuming that for some reason I know the answer. The guide covered all of these things.

New York City Library
NYC park
apollo theatre
New York City

On other days when we needed a break we did the Brooklyn and Uptown tour. We didn’t have time to go see Apollo theatre or the Brooklyn Bridge on our own but the tours gave us a taste of the areas if we wanted to see more on another trip.

I have always viewed these buses scornfully but I think in a big city they make a lot of sense and I will definitely do one in the future.

But what about the movie and tv tour?

At first I was a bit disappointed when I saw the On Locations bus was covered, I was so accustomed to the double-decker and the travel writer in me wanted to take photos.

But then I was pleasantly surprised that this tour shows you clips of all the movies that show the location before you get to the location.

So if you couldn’t remember FAO Schwartz from Big – no worries they’ll remind you. Our tour guide was an actor, hair model, singer and worked the front of house at one of the theatres.

She was a ton of fun and even gave us Seinfeld’s famous black and white cookie – two races of flavour living side by side in harmony!


I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!


My sister, models outside Dash, and I realize she kinda looks like a Kardashian.

friends building

We left the bus many times to get out and take photos, we visited the Friends’ apartment (above) and realized the cafe they have there was far better than Central Perk.

I wished we had enough time left to do the Sex and the City tour, another time I guess.

And so yet again I am humbled. I thought bus tours were the worst of all tours. I have since come to realize that regular tours make a lot of sense and these bus tours do too. Still don’t believe me?

Check out Faith’s hop on hop off tips in NYC.

Disclosure: On Locations gave us the tours for free but they did not request that we write a favourable review or each take another black and white cookie at the end of the tour.

Join the Conversation

  1. Skott - Get Up and Globe says:

    I think most long term travellers look at bus tours with disdain, but if and when they ever get off their high horse they usually realize they can be alot of fun. We just finished a similar tour in Los Angeles of Hollywood and Rodeo Drive etc. It was awesome!! Glad you enjoyed yourself!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I was on such a high horse, but I am glad my family made me get off it. It was a ton of fun.

  2. thepinaysolobackpacker says:

    haven’t tried a tour bus like that yet but it looks pretty convenient. šŸ™‚
    love your pretty sister’s dress by the way. šŸ™‚

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yeah she`s the fashionable one in the family!

  3. You know, I should really do one of these tours! I’ve been to NYC a handful of times but I’ve always traveled via subway so my geography is pretty disjointed. I love to get a better view of the city that only a bus (better yet, an open-topped bus!) allows. And your sister does look like a Kardashian! But I’m sure she’s a good person, nonetheless šŸ™‚

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I love taking the subway and prefer it over a bus because you know when to get out and it`s faster but you really become disjointed with a city. I found in London I tried to take buses more just so I could piece neighborhoods together.

  4. killerfillers says:

    I also stayed there for 8 weeks and never tried the double-decker bus, i find them too I’ll definitely try this the next time I go to New York. Great photos btw.:)

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      They are a bit expensive, which is why I avoided them but my mother reminded me it would take care of transportation for 3 of the 5 days.

      In the end it was really worth it.

  5. When I was in Barcelona I was given a pass to try out the bus tour. Previously, I too was a bus tour snob.

    Like you though, I quickly changed my mind. It was a fantastic way to get around all the sights at my own pace (buses seemed to be every ten minutes at least), with handy commentary to boot. Travel.. it’s all about the perception changing šŸ˜‰

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I think buses would work well for big European cities, you could do a bus tour and then be okay with just wandering streets because you`ve seen all the sights you are supposed to see.

  6. Alana Morgan - Gen Y Wanderer says:

    I think bus tours like these are a great way to get your bearings and a sense of a new, big city — do them at the beginning of your stay and then you’ll have a better idea of how everything is connected and where you want to explore more in depth on your own!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      That`s exactly what I realized, I had been a snob for no good reason.

  7. Sarahsomewhere says:

    Hey Aygelina, love your photos, though I’m a little embarrassed that the Dash one got me excited (I have a soft spot for those Kardashians). On my one and so far only visit to NYC in 2004 we did do the Sex And The City tour, and it was pretty awesome. But being an even bigger Seinfeld fan, I’m a bt jealous you got those cookies!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have a soft spot for them too, when I was in Buenos Aires I had an apartment and was feeling a little burnt out. I watched entire marathons of the Kardashians. I have no guilt over it whatsoever.

  8. I don’t think I’ve ever done a bus tour either, but it does look like a good way to be a tourist, but to be quite sightseeing productive as well. Haha, my parents also seem to ask me lots of questions, which I’m sure they don’t think I’ll actually know the answers too!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      My mother asked me insane questions in Maui like about the geography, economy and what their biggest food crops were! Fortunately I knew this was coming and I quizzed people before she arrived. Seriously I am not Brittanica Mom!

  9. I’m a tourist bus snob as well. I always think people on those tours don’t really know how to travel. Glad to hear it was a positive experience. I’m curious about the Sex and the City tour, I think even I could be talked into that one.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I felt the same way about buses but now I think I would do it for a big city or one I didn`t have much time in.

  10. Knowing that I am going to ask questions and expect you to know the answers, keeps you on your toes! Ryan and I have already established that you are the “tour guide” of our family and we are both just along for the ride! And it is always a great ride!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yes I have slowly realized I must be the expert on the world with you two, at least now I have an iPhone.

  11. A Cook Not Mad (Nat) says:

    I was there for 5 years and never did the double decker. But I walked every each of that city and this made me miss it dearly. Thanks alot šŸ˜‰

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      If I had 5 years I wouldn`t do the bus either, I can see how you would miss the city.

  12. I think it totally depends on the time you have and the experience you’re looking for. If you’ve only got a few days in the city–especially a city as big as NYC–and the weather is nice, why not get to see the scenery? However, I’m usually a) on a budget and b) in places for a while, so I’d rather be on public transportation–and in NYC, that means underground! Not quite as pretty, but it’s cheap and geez, the people watching is worth it in itself! I will say that I used to live on a bus route and those things are ALWAYS full–it’s insane! Also–I went on the SATC bus tour and it was SO MUCH FUN. And we got free cupcakes!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Because we were there for so long we also spent a lot of time underground, although I have to say some of the subway stops are like ovens.

  13. I don’t mind the hop-on hop-off buses when we’ve only got a day or two to explore a city. Like you say, they often take you to places that would be to out-of-the-way to walk to, and they are a good way to get an overview of the city. I would love to take the Movie Tour in NYC – we ran out of time last time we were in New York, but next time for sure šŸ™‚

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It`s a lot of fun and a nice break from pounding the pavement all day.

  14. I love your sister’s blue glasses. I would totally do this for a day in NYC. I usually have no idea what to see when I go there.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      She bought them on the streets in New York, so cute eh!

  15. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy says:

    I’ve always wanted to do one of those double decker tours. It would be nice to be able to relax for once and let someone else set the itinerary without having to run around like a maniac to see everything, which is my usual travel style. And if black and white cookies are involved, sign me up.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I was always curious but my snobbery got in the way of it all, but no more I`m a convert!

  16. I totally agree with you – if you are pressed for time/just are too overwhelmed by a huge city, these sorts of bus tours can be GREAT. I’ve done my fair share (my family loves them), and I usually end up enjoying them and learning a lot. I even did one in Istanbul this summer, because I ran out of time to see everything on my own.

    The ones in New York are fantastic, though. My mom and I bought 3-day passes a few years ago, which came with the bus tours and a bunch of tickets to various NYC attractions. Best $75 each we spent that weekend!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      For sure! I don`t think we imagined we could cover so much ground in three days but it gave us a great introduction to the city.

  17. I recently did the ‘duck tour’ in London and it was great. I learned loads about the city in which I’ve lived for 7 years that I didn’t even know before. Glad you had a good time. I will do the Sex and the City tour next time I’m in NY and let you know what you missed!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have thought about doing one of the tours in Toronto, I didn`t grow up here so I am sure there would be lots to learn.

  18. First, let me say that your photos made me desperately homesick for NYC. There’s just no place like it.

    Second, when I lived there, (and San Francisco) I was totally dependent on those buses when family came! They were so much easier than carting everyone around myself, and the guides handled all the chit chat for me. Sometimes the touristy way is the smart way. I suppose it just depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. Now I’m thinking I should sell my mother-in-law on the bus experience in London…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The next time I go to London I may do one of the bus tours, especially since I don`t like London very much. Maybe it could change my mind.

  19. Matt at LivingIF says:

    I’ve never been let down by one of these tours. I think they do a good job showing you the touristy highlights of a city in a short time, so whenever they are available I hop and relax!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I was really skeptical but I think it`s a great introduction to a city and then you can decide if you want to see more.

  20. There’s a time and a place for those city bus tours BUT I am still a total snob when it comes to the tour buses that take you on a week long trip. Never I say! Sounds like a great 5 days with the family.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I don`t know if I could do 5 days, I still like my travels to be a bit independent.

  21. Stephanie - The Travel Chica says:

    I’m going to have to do some research on bus tours. This one looks fun because I love movies…. but Sex and the City is one of my favorite shows ever.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I know me too, it would be fun to go back and do that one.

  22. I’m a fan of the Apollo Theater. I really need to spend more time in NYC. I might have been unable to resist the Sex and the City tour.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      We hadn`t even thought of seeing it so it was a nice surprise.

  23. Antoinette | love.antoinette says:

    I love those bus tours! I highly recommend the ones in the city – different vantage points; another great way of people-watching aside from sitting at parks and cafe’s.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yes! It was nice to go through Brooklyn, even though it was a bit rushed, and see how people just live day to day.

  24. Natasha the Glampacker says:

    When you’ve been travelling for a long time bus tours are a very chilled and relaxed way to to see a city. Most recently I went on a Sound of Music tour in Salzburg and had so much fun singing along and seeing all the filming locations!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      That actually sounds like a lot of fun, it was one of my favourite movies as a kid.

  25. Sometimes the hop-on, hop-off option is an economical way to see an entire city in a short time. We used it in Dubai and Lima. We’re going to do a Sopranos tour with On Location in December – I can’t wait as we’re big fans of the show.

  26. Roamingtheworld says:

    I’m impressed with all the travel you’ve been doing! Since being home, I’ve considered writing and blogging about trips I have yet to write about but I feel I’m not inspired or “in the mood.” Maybe it’s because all I’ve been going through but man-
    Do you ever feel sluggish or get in a writing funk?

    Anyhow, looks like you had a fun time with your family!

    1. Roamingtheworld says:

      And I’ve been like you- never taking a bus because I’ve always thought the same. But maybe next time, I may just give it a try!

  27. Lorenzo Gonzalez says:

    I’d def do a bus tour! šŸ™‚

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Want to do one in Toronto?

  28. I used to turn up my nose at them too, but now I don’t as much. The bus was a great way to take my sick mother around Edinburgh. She got to see most everything and didn’t get tired doing it. I used one in Dublin instead of taxis. It was cheaper and the crisp air riding on top kept my jet lagged ass awake.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      That is a great tip for Dublin, I may try to do one in London when I go this fall.

  29. I scoff at the tourists when I see the double deckers around the city here but I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been on them twice. Sometimes, getting to see a lot of the city just reminds me why I like it here.

    I’m heading to NYC next April and I know I’ll probably be taking one of these. šŸ˜›

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have no regrets about taking it, I think it was perfect for us.

      But yeah I`m a travel snob too, I need to get over that.

  30. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a bus tour like this because they just don’t appeal to me, but I might have to reconsider now! Glad you had a good time@

  31. Iā€™m getting ready to head to nyc with family and we are looking at the double decker bus as a way to see a lot in a short time on a budget. Is there a company that anyone recommends? There seems to be several and comments about all are varying. Thanks!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      We really enjoyed the Grayline but I think most of them are quite comparable. So much depends on your guide that I don’t think someone could confidently recommend one over another.

  32. Next Month I am planning for New York City. After read your blog I am very excited to go and I cannot control my excitement Thanks for the nice information.

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