Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours versus Public Transit?

Big Bus Hop on Hop off tour bus in Vancouver

Hop on Hop off Tour Bus

It is no secret that we promote the use of public transportation for sightseeing. This in no way means that we are adverse to private sightseeing tours and the popular hop-on hop-off bus tours offered by private tour bus companies in nearly every major city. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to both methods of sightseeing which I will address below.

The fact of the matter is that many tourists do make use of public transit when they visit a city, and many of them also struggle with the same as they are not familiar with the transit system or the layout of the city. Many more travellers avoid public transit for various reasons; often simply because they find it somewhat intimidating and have little or no experience using it in their day to day lives. While TourbyTransit provides a comprehensive travel resource for all of the cities we cover, we also go the extra mile when it comes to providing helpful information about getting around and sightseeing using public transportation.

Toronto Transit Bus

Public Transit

Tour bus companies do provide a useful service that many tourists enjoy and, while the cost is higher than using public transit, they do provide some added value which visitors to the city appreciate. It is also understandable that they must charge more since, unlike public transit, they are not subsidized by taxes.

We will begin our comparison with the advantages and disadvantages of the typical hop-on hop-off bus tours offered by many bus tour companies followed by the pros and cons of using public transit for sightseeing.

Pros and Cons of Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours


  • Live or recorded commentary decribes tourist attractions along the route.
  • Pass by many popular attractions and landmarks without changing buses or trains.
  • Not subject to the overcrowding (standing room only) of public transportation, especially during rush hour.
  • In some cases the view is better than when travelling on public transit, especially if you can get a seat on the upper deck.
  • A great way to get a quick overview of a city and its attractions. If you only have one day or a few hours to explore a city this may be the best option.


  • More expensive that public transit and fares are sometimes subject to sales tax on top of the price.
  • Recorded commentary is not always very comprehensive and some riders complain that the sound quality is poor or the sound cuts on and off.
  • The routes are usually limited to the most central part of the city with no option to see outlying areas and attractions.
  • There are less stops to choose from and they are not always clearly marked.
  • Less interaction with locals as the passengers are tourists.
  • Service is sometimes seasonal and hours of operation are more limited than public transit.
  • Some tour bus companies are better than others so you need to research them before your trip to be certain of a good experience.

Pros and Cons of Public Transit


  • Less expensive.
  • Service is usually more frequent and starts earlier and ends later.
  • Go anywhere in the city, including to outlying areas and attractions beyond the reach of hop on hop off tours.
  • Interact with locals and get a better sense of the city and its people.


  • No commentary, although some public transit companies do offer electronic commentary now.
  • Can get very busy during peak hours sometimes resulting in standing room only on full buses or trains and possibly having to wait for the next train or bus to get on.
  • Requires transferring between trains and buses to see all of the attractions.
  • You will need to figure out the system and determine which routes to take.

As you can see from the above both methods of exploring a city have their pros and cons. We simply present public transit as a viable alternative for sightseeing that will save you money and offer more flexibility in where you can go and when. We also try to give you the information and tools you need to understand the transit system and how to get around on it before you even get to the city. This all but eliminates the last disadvantage. Once you ride the public transit system a few times it will become easy.

A good option to consider is using a combination of both methods. Get a one day hop on hop off bus pass for the first day of your visit to gain overview of the city highlights and layout; then get transit passes for the balance of your stay and enjoy the freedom to explore the city and beyond in greater depth.

One last thing before I conclude – I have put together a comparison showing the cost at the time of writing to use public transit versus some popular hop on hop off bus tours in the cities we cover. Prices are in the local currency for each city. We hope you find this information helpful in planning your next vacation. As you can see, public transit is significantly cheaper and often covers a much larger area.

Price Comparison

Vancouver BC

  • Big Bus or Vancouver Trolley Company 2 Day Pass: $45.00 plus tax
  • Public Transit 2 Day all zone Pass: $18.00 no tax


  • City Sightseeing 3 Day Pass: $34.96 plus tax
  • Grayline 1 Day Pass: $34.96 plus tax
  • Public Transit 1 Day Pass: $10.50 no tax (covers up to 6 people on weekends)
  • Public Transit 7 Day Pass: $37.50 no tax


  • The Original London Sightseeing Tour One Day: £26
  • Big Bus Sightseeing Tour 2 Days: £29
  • Public Transit 1 Day Pass: £8.40 max rate with Oyster Card
  • Public Transit 7 Day Travel Card: £29.20


  • Big Bus Sightseeing or City Sightseeing Tour 2 Days: 29 €
  • L’Open Tour 2 Day: 34 €
  • Public Transit 2 Day Pass zone 1-3: 15,85 €
  • Public Transit 5 Day Pass zone 1-3: 31,15 €

New York City

  • Gray Line All Loops 2 Day Pass: $49 (Web Special)
  • Public Transit 7 Day Unlimited Pass: $29


  • Grayline or City Sightseeing 2 Day Pass: $60
  • Public Transit Central Business District Shuttle Bus: $0 (Free)
  • Public Transit MyMulti1 Day Pass: $21 (includes trains, buses and all Sydney Ferries)
  • Public Transit MyMulti 7 Day Pass: $60 (includes trains, buses and all Sydney Ferries)


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