Bus tours, and guided tours in general, have been denigrated unmercifully by many who claim to be ‘sophisticated’ travellers, and the common notion is that taking a tour in a new city is a cop-out, only to be considered by the lazy and the lame. This sort of criticism is usually spouted by those who have never taken one of the many beautifully planned and organized tours available in most any city in the world you’d want to explore.
First and most obvious is the advantage of being transported to the sites you want to visit without the almost inevitable hassles of driving in an unfamiliar city. With someone else doing the driving you’re free to sight-see to your heart’s content, conveniently raised above traffic level by the bus itself. Riding on a bus sure beats the subway if you’re interested in the scenery.
Unless you are a dedicated and single-minded fan of walking, think of the bus as a great way to access the best walking places without wearing yourself out getting there. It’s a fact that the majority of people in the UK and elsewhere are not used to walking long distances on uneven terrain, so it can be a self-defeating project to try it while on vacation.
For many tourists, safety is a major issue especially in cities notorious for pickpockets and the like. Strolling unfamiliar streets amongst busy crowds certainly has its own appeal, but you’re much less likely to have your wallet lifted or handbag snatched if you’re on a bus.
Oddly, perhaps the most appealing aspect of taking a tour bus as opposed to striking out on your own, either on foot or by car, is the entertainment and educational value. Most of the drivers on tour buses are very good, some are outstanding, some are born comics, too. A good tour guide is a treasure, but you should do your research and get advice from experienced travellers about the best and worst in any city. Travel agents can and will be happy to do a lot of that research for you.
As for the suggestion that only wimps would ride a tour bus, you’ll find that in most cases the opposite is true. You will probably not meet a lot of locals on the bus, but fellow travellers are interested in the same things you are or they wouldn’t be on the bus. Here’s an opportunity to meet people from all over the place, maybe practice a foreign language, maybe even make a friend or two.
Find out exactly what your proposed bus tour involves, where and how long you’ll be stopping, and make sure it takes in the sites and scenes you’re counting on. Talk to someone who has taken the tour, or go online and check out travellers’ reviews at sites like TripAdviser. Above all, don’t deprive yourself of the chance to see a lot more of the highlights in any city; you can always go back to favourite sites on your own.