It’s our first trip to New York City and we only have three days to cram as much as possible into our bite of the Big Apple.
Our mission is to find an introduction to this vibrant metropolis that will meet the diverse needs of our family (parents with teenage and young adult children), when all we really know is what we have gleaned from guide books and a lifetime of New York references in popular culture.
So what are the options? Well, New York taxis are expensive and the fine art of hailing one is a skill we don’t have time to master. Maps of the subway system present a labyrinth that looks too complicated to negotiate and walking the 59 square kilometres of Manhattan is a daunting prospect. I find the perfect solution to our travel conundrum in the form of the open-top New York hop on hop off buses.
The USA became the birthplace of tourist buses in 1910, when restaurateur Louis Bush converted a Mack truck and offered tours of Washington, DC. Fast forward a century, and here are my tips for taking a New York hop on hop off bus tour.
There’s a plethora of New York hop on hop off bus tours that combine the convenience and expertise of guided tours with the flexibility to do your own thing. Tickets range from one to three days, with a variety of packages and combinations that include extras such as water taxi travel or entry to popular New York attractions.
We opt for a 2 Day Deluxe ticket with Big Bus Tours, which at the time of booking includes a free extra day and a bonus sightseeing cruise. There is a network of almost thirty well-marked bus stops — from Harlem in the north to Battery Park in the south — located near major landmarks, and a regular schedule that, on a good day in New York’s notorious traffic, sees a bus coming through approximately every twenty minutes.
Most New York hop on hop off bus bus tours have a friendly local guide on board, ready with entertaining and informative patter covering everything from local history and architecture to celebrity gossip. Who knew, for example, that SoHo has the world’s biggest collection of cast iron buildings; that Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater launched the careers of music luminaries such as Billie Holliday, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin; or that Hugh Jackman has a three-storey Tribeca apartment overlooking the Hudson River? We do now!
Over the course of our three-day adventure, we travel on both the downtown and uptown loops, hopping off to explore anything that takes our fancy and hopping back on the next bus when our exploration is through. Perched up high on the open top deck, but still dwarfed by the surrounding buildings, we’re fully immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of this incredible city.
Our bus tickets and handy map enable us to reach must-see sights like the Empire State Building with ease. We also spend several happy hours entranced by the Ancient Egyptian and Impressionist art sections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stuffing ourselves at Tom’s Restaurant (Seinfeld’s diner), and ambling along a section of The High Line — a unique public park constructed on a raised section of disused railway track.
I love seeing a city from the water, and our one hour sightseeing cruise takes us at a leisurely pace from the East River’s South Street Seaport, past the Statue of Liberty, with a loop back under the Brooklyn Bridge.
Unfortunately perhaps, our trip to New York coincides with an annual free concert in Central Park, the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk, and a visit by the Pope. This triple threat results at times in road closures and lengthy traffic delays. As we sit stalled in blustering traffic on a couple of occasions, enjoying the Indian summer weather and witty commentary of our guide, we can only imagine how much more difficult and how much less fun this would be if we were left to our own devices.
You won’t get to see the whole city on these New York hop on hop off bus tours, but first-time visitors will get a flexible transfer to many of its treasures — complemented by local colour and knowledge. It really is the perfect introduction to this ‘helluva town’.
Do you have any tips for taking a New York Hop On Hop Off bus tour? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Geraldine Massey won her first writing prize when she was eight for a story about travelling with Howard Carter on his expedition to discover Tutankhamun’s tomb. It was an early indicator of her lifelong enthusiasm for writing and travel. An experienced corporate communicator and editor, Geraldine once wrote text for Centrelink payment brochures and is now a writer and editor for WeekendNotes. In recent years she has become a ‘wedding traveller’ — using family weddings in New Zealand, Argentina and the USA as jumping-off points for further exploration.