The Benefits of Using City Sightseeing Buses When Visiting European Cities

View of Malaga from the upper deck of a city sightseeing tour bus
View of Malaga from the upper deck of a city sightseeing tour bus © Jackie DesForges

Jackie DesForges is a lifelong dedicated travel lover and a Rail Europe Travel Consultant from our Chicago office.  On her off time, Jackie goes on exciting travel adventures.  We were lucky to have Jackie approach us to write about using our products in exchange for passes and city cards.  We are thrilled to contribute to Jackie’s love of travel and to read about her experiences.  In this blog series, Jackie used the Global Pass, 15 days in 2 months flexi, Barcelona Card, Lisbon Card, Malaga Hop On, Hop Off Sightseeing Tour and Sevilla Card.  If you happen to call our contact center and get Jackie, make sure to mention that you read her blog series!

In general, it seems like there are two types of travelers – there are the ones who like to see the really famous sites, go to the most well-known cities, and take advantage of tour packages; and then there are those who like to get off the beaten track and discover the lesser known places, who prefer to go it alone rather than hire a guide to show them around.

Those bright red Hop-On, Hop-Off City Sightseeing Tours have always been somewhat of an enemy to the latter group of travelers. Stepping onto one of those buses is like slapping the word “tourist” to your forehead; you’ll certainly make your way around the city in a timely manner, but you don’t really stand a good chance of finding anything off the beaten track.

I was always skeptical of these buses. I’m not usually a fan of anyone or anything that requires me to wear earphones against my will. However, my tendency to wear cute rather than comfortable shoes when I’m traveling often leads to giant blisters on my feet, and when every step you take feels like it might actually kill you, buses tend to look much more appealing. Such was the case when I arrived in Dublin about two years ago. I bought myself a ticket for the bright red bus, found a seat by myself in the very back, and talked myself into wearing the earphones.

Malaga, Spain
Malaga, Spain ©Jackie DesForges

It turns out that you can actually see much more than is covered on those tours if you know how to use them to your advantage. Not only do they take you directly to all of the really famous places (and admit it, even the most off-the-beaten-track-fanatics amongst you do usually want to see at least one or two of them), but they can also function as any normal bus would – by taking you around the city for a fairly reasonable price. And if you use them as much as possible, you’ll honestly probably spend about the same amount of money that you would if using the regular city buses or renting a bike for the day.

Also, I think we all need to admit that there is a little part of each of us that secretly loves the commentary on tours. Tour commentary is essentially a series of random little fun facts, and who doesn’t love random facts? For example, did you know that the O’Connell Bridge in Ireland is the only bridge in Europe that is as wide as it is long? I tend to pull that one out at parties.

Malaga City Sightseeing Tour Ticket
Malaga City Sightseeing Tour Ticket ©Jackie DesForges

I used that Hop On, Hop Off bus ticket to take my weary little feet everywhere – museums, little bookshops, the grocery store, my hostel – and so when I was offered the chance to use the same company during my recent trip to Malaga, I figured, why not?

Malaga, like Dublin, is fairly small. I used the Hop On, Hop Off bus to take me into the center of town, where I spent most of the day wandering around all the places I thought Picasso might have visited at some point (he was born there, as countless signs and souvenirs will remind you). I also used it for a quick stop by the train station to purchase a reservation for my rail pass – the station is a huge structure, essentially a giant mall, rendering it important enough to be listed as one of the actual stops on the bus tour.

Bus Turistico Malaga Tour
Bus Turistico Malaga Tour © Jackie DesForges

Before riding the bus, I didn’t really expect to see anyone else my age taking the tour with me – and this prediction came true. Most of the other riders belonged to families and couples, and it was rare that another lone traveler boarded the bus at any stop. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable when I was waiting alone for the bus to arrive, a feeling that often arises when I’m doing something that clearly designates me as a foreigner, especially when I’m doing it by myself. Then again, part of traveling is branching out and trying things that might possibly arouse feelings of awkwardness, things you wouldn’t necessarily attempt in the comfort of a familiar place.

I’ll admit I also anticipated and feared the stereotypical traveler aboard this bus – the loud and obnoxious tourist, interested in nothing except making a lap around the city just to be able to say that he or she was there. But honestly, you don’t have to ride a bright red bus to find these people – you’ll come across them anywhere in a popular city. There were a few people on the bus that I probably wouldn’t have been friends with, but most of my fellow bus riders were just really friendly, really enthusiastic travelers who were trying to find an easy and affordable way to get around a city that they were genuinely excited to explore.

View from the Sightseeing Tour Bus in Malaga
View from the Sightseeing Tour in Malaga ©Jackie DesForges

I think a lot of young travelers around my age tend to dismiss anything that automatically seems too “touristy” or gimmicky, and to an extent I understand that and have been known to the do the same. I appreciate that the bright red bus isn’t for everyone. But I also think it’s somewhat close-minded to dismiss anything completely until you try it (within reason, obviously), and that traveling should be full of all types of exploration – whether it’s biking all through the countryside in Spain, renting a car and driving across Germany with a few friends, or spending a quiet rainy afternoon by yourself on a bright red bus in Dublin, trying to help a young couple locate their hotel on a map even though neither of you can understand what the other is saying.

I think everyone should try to embrace the red bus at least once in his or her life – if for nothing else, do it for the chance to ride on the top of a double-decker bus! And if you’re going to attempt this in a place that boasts winter weather as awesome as Malaga’s, make sure to wear something that won’t give you really awkward tan lines… trust me.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Avatar Jrbonarmd says:

    good advice

  2. Avatar Robbie A says:

    My sister & I spent all of July 2010 in Europe with a 21-day EuraillPass.  The Red Hop On/Hop Off City Tour busses were always our 1st stop after depositing our luggage in our room.  We always purchased the extended pass, did the complete circuit, deciding which areas to stop on our 2nd go-around.  It was an extremely inexpensive & informative SAFE way to travel the major cities.  I say this because the one time we travelled the city bus in Rome, my sister had her wallet stolen!   We were in Europe primarily for an Oberammergau weekend visit & an extended Hotel Locanda Vivaldi Venetian visit.  The only thing we would change is the month; July is NOT the coolest month to travel.  We LOVE RailEurope & will definitely do it again!  Thank you for a lovely trip on all of your trains!

    1. Avatar Phaedra says:

      Thanks for your message and for the travel tips, Robbie!

      Great to hear from you.

      Happy Travels!

  3. Avatar Jenny says:

    I love the commentary on tour buses. It gives you a chance to relax, sit back and let someone else tell you all about it. There are no worries about driving or maps or thumbing through brochures. I think it is the best way to soak up your surroundings with no stress.

  4. Avatar cathy says:

    hop on hop off are a great way to get orientated to a new city-I use them on the first day and then go on my own from there

  5. Avatar marianne says:

    Great article…informative and fun to read! Never considered bus tours..will check them out when in Europe next month!

  6. Avatar Kerem says:

    Hi Joe, we first need a charging staotin for electric cars in our building. In addition, there aren’t lots of them in Andalusia (just 15!). This year would be impossible, but stay tunned, as soon as we get our charging staotin we will start hiring electric/hybrid cars! Best regards,

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