Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours

A popular tourist service in cities today is a double decker, open top Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. We call them HOHOs for short.

A HOHO bus follows a planned route stopping at a pretty well chosen collection of attractions around the city. The circuit is usually between one and two hours and in larger cities there will be several HOHO routes. It is common for one of the HOHO stops to be right outside the cruise terminal.

One of the best things about HOHOs is that they offer a commentary. Normally this is through headphones (supplied) and in a selection of languages. However, occasionally you will find a HOHO offering that comes with a live commentary. These can be a lot of fun!

The buses are generally double decker with an open top. Everyone sits up top to take advantage of good camera views. For best results set your camera to a fast shutter speed (e.g. 1,000th second). If you only have a simple camera take your shots looking ahead and at some distance. Shots to the side will just be a blur without fast shutter control.

HOHOs generally run every half hour but in peak times can be 15 minute intervals. The idea is that passengers will jump off at the stops that they fancy, wander around and then pick up a later HOHO bus.

It sounds good in theory but HOHOs can be pretty unreliable for timing. They may get held up in traffic or they may happily sail past your stop much earlier than expected. You will read many complaints from people who expect them to run exactly to time. HOHOs are not public transport, so there is no point in getting frustrated.

We love HOHOs. Often the first thing we do in a new city is to jump on a Hop-on Hop-off Bus, find a good seat and stay on the bus for the entire circuit. Along the way we enjoy the commentary, grab some snaps and orientate ourselves to the city. We also take note of sights that we would like to see more of and then try to pick them up via different means later. Sometimes we will Hop Off in one place and spend a couple of hours on the ground before we Hop On again a few stops further around the route. However, generally speaking our vacation time is too valuable to waste standing at bus stops.

There are a couple of major players in the Hop-on Hop-off Bus market: City Sightseeing and Gray Line. We normally favour City Sightseeing because we find the commentaries generally polished and the buses are pretty consistent in standard. That said, we always check for independents – especially if they do a live commentary.

Not every HOHO service is worth doing. There are some cities that just shouldn’t bother. We’ve learned through experience how to read between the lines on the brochures or websites to recognize rides that are of little value. Another good barometer is Trip Advisor. Just ignore all the bagging about not sticking to time tables – because you are wise to that now.


Photo: Aboard the HOHO bus in Edinburgh, UK