If you’re traveling in a small group, there are few better ways to see NY than by a hop-on-hop-off New York Bus Tour.  Being in the open air at the top of these buses is a fantastic way to see the city.

My mother was along on this trip and her feet got tired.  A sales guy on the sidewalk saw that she was tired and talked her into getting tickets.  She really liked the idea of resting her feet and riding around on the bus top; seeing the more of the city.  I wasn’t too happy with the idea, I figured we could just walk everywhere like I had the several previous trips to NY.  However, after going on the tour I take back everything I said.  It was a fantastic way to get around and see the city.  Many other travel blogs said you spend a lot of time at the bus stops waiting to get on.  We were there in May and had zero waits (your mileage may vary). 

How Does it Work

You buy one ticket depending on how many days you’ll be in the area (i.e. 3 days, There are at least three large sightseeing bus lines in NY, the Grayline being the largest and most reliable. During this trip (see the video) we choose not to go with the Grayline.  I wish we had because their operational hours were longer and fit better into our schedule for this trip.  You can purchase tickets from any of the licensed ticket sellers that will haggle you on nearly any street corner.  The legit sales guys will have licenses on a lanyard around their necks.  They will sell you a ticket and a pamphlet/map that will give you ann of the instructions you’ll need for your adventures.

There seemed to be plenty of places to catch our bus and the stops were very close to many places we wanted to visit.  While on the bus they provided free headphones (individually wrapped, although I’d recommend bringing your own) that you could use to listen to a pre-recorded message about the are you were driving past.  I found the audio recording to be quite pleasant and informative.  I just wish my free headphones had come with a longer cord.

How to choose a sightseeing New York Bus Tour

Before you choose a New York Tour Bus company, I recommend you do some homework.  Here are some important things to consider:

  1. Hop-on and off locations, especially in relation to your hotel.  Make sure you don’t decide on a line based solely on the number of stops they advertise.  Take time and look at a map.  Make sure the stops are near the points of interests you want to see. 
  2. How late do the buses run?  Some only run for 6 hours each day.  This was a big deal for us.  We wanted to stay out later than our tour company allowed.  Sure, they had a “night” tour, and it was fabulous.  But we did that one evening. The next evening we found ourselves catching an Uber or subway to get around even though we had hop-on and hop-off tickets. 
  3. Weather.  Be aware if it rains.  But hey!  it’s a vacation, right? Just wear a poncho and enjoy the smaller crowds.
  4. How crowded is it?  While the bus rides are convenient, that’s only if you can get on one.  If the crowds get thick, it can get difficult to catch your ride.  While other blogs warn about this, we didn’t have any problems in May.  I supposed it depends on holidays and the number of tourists in the city.  Play it by ear.  A good strategy might be to hold off on booking tickets online and wait to see how busy the city is the week you’re visiting.  Be aware that some companies will offer online discounts for advance tickets.
  5. Do they offer any special tours like an evening tour to Brooklyn?
  6. Do they offer any other amenities like free bike rentals, free river cruises?
    • Just because a cheap river cruise claims they’ll take you to the Statue of Liberty doesn’t mean they will actually dock.  Usually, they’ll just bring the boat close.  For our group, this was good enough and I’d totally recommend it.
  7. I’m a rather big guy.  I’ve got wide hips and wide shoulders.  Climbing up to the top level of some of the busses was easier than others.  I didn’t have any issues but if I were older, had knee problems, or a wheelchair it would be something I’d have to consider. If you have a physical concern, call ahead and find out how they can help.
  8. How many people are in your group?  I like to consider myself a budget-minded traveler.  Though I try not to sweat the small stuff, in reality, I rarely do tours like this when the subway and my own two feet are much cheaper. Plus, if I get somewhere and get too tired, an Uber is much cheaper than signing up for a sightseeing bus tour.  We’ve been to New York several times with our four kids.  Six tickets become expensive fast. If you are in a small group, then I’d seriously consider it.  Where is the breaking point?  For me and my family, I’d say it’s somewhere between two to three tickets.  At that point, it becomes too expensive.  I’d rather save the money towards the next Wesley Adventure.
  9. Do you want to see Brooklyn, Harlem, Upper East Side?  There’s so much to see in Downtown and Midtown Manhatten that seeing Brooklyn and Harlem was never high on our family’s two and three itineraries.

Some Hints

I didn’t want to pay full-price for my 15-year-old daughter.  In my mind, she’s still a child (until she’s 18).  The day the sightseeing salesman approached us was rather slow so he made us a deal on my daughter’s ticket.  Traditionally, a child’s ticket is advertised as 3-12 years old.  Check the company’s website or ask a salesman about this if you’ve got a child in that “gray age area”. If you get your tickets in advance online, one of the companies charges the same discounted price regardless if you are a child or an adult.

If you take a picture of your passes then if you lose them you can call the tour’s customer service desk and get a replacement.  Otherwise, you’d be in trouble.  They also offer digital tickets with their modern cell apps.  If you get digital tickets through the cell app then you can still go to a customer service desk and get a real card and a real map.

While I love having Google maps, I prefer having the physical map.  There were several times when I couldn’t find the exact pick-up location.  These sales guys are everywhere and they all know where the pick-up locations are for each of the tour lines. There were several times when I would take my physical map up to one of the ticket sales guys and ask them where a particular hop-on location was located (most of these locations are pretty obvious).

We truly enjoyed our ride on the sightseeing bus and felt it was worth our money.  It might have been less enjoyable if I had the whole family along and if I had to pay for 6 tickets.  We most loved our night tour of Brooklyn.  This trip I learned not to listen to all of the ideas you get from online blogs (this, coming from an online blog).  

Other NYC Posts

Check out our other New York posts and videos where we visit the city’s public library, Grand Central Terminal, Central Park, Federal Hall, Empire State Building, help you choose a sightseeing bus, and our top family-friendly activities in New York City.