First Touch

Are Tour Bus Tours Worth The Price?

Do you like to win playing with an Intertops casino bonus?  Did you decide to take your winnings and take a nice vacation?  You found your flight (or rental car).  You found your hotel room.  Now you have to decide if you are going to travel on your own or use one of the many tour buses that are available in your city.  But what are the different types of tour bus tours, and how do you know they are worth the money?

globe logoPublic Buses

The least expensive option is the standard public buses in the place you are going to visit.  Some cities have specific bus routes that go from one tourist location to another.

Some cities even offer an all-day bus pass, where you can hop on and hop off all day long without paying any additional money.  In some communities, if you use a “bus card” or a bus paying app, there is an upper limit you pay either per day, week, or month.  So don’t forget to read the public bus page of the community you are visiting.

The main advantage is that you can go on any bus route that you want to go on, regardless of if it is an official “tour bus route” or a regular commuter route.

The main disadvantage is that there is no commentary.  You are just being transported from one location to another.  Not to mention that during rush hour, the buses can get packed with regular commuters.  You also have the problem that you will probably waste a lot of time trying to figure out how to get from one place to another.

Hop-on-hop off buses

A lot of cities have hop-on-hop-off buses.  Some are regular buses, while others are double-decker tour buses with the top open.  These buses are similar to public buses in that they drive you from one tourist location to another, but the difference is that you have a tour guide that stays with you on the bus.   The tour bus driver never leaves the bus.

I once did one of these types of tours in Chicago.  What I remember most about that tour is that there was construction (or something) that made the bus driver have to change its route without warning.  But the tour guide was so well educated that he was able to continue with the tour without missing a beat.  Now that is one well-educated tour guide.

But as with most of these types of services, the tour is as good as the tour guide.  If you are lucky, you will get an awesome tour guide as I did, or you can end up with a complete dude.

The main advantage of these types of tours is that they visit museums and other high tourist locations. The disadvantage is that if you are looking to visit the more hidden tourist locations, they may not be on one of the stops.

Horse and carriage tours

Horse and carriage tours are usually found in historical cities where horses and carriages existed at some point in their history.  Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York are three cities where I have seen these types of tours.

The disadvantage is that they are expensive.  The advantage is that they are very memorable.  I took one of these tours in Philadelphia where there is a lot of historical architecture.  Even though I had lived in Philadelphia for many years, and had walked those streets for many years, the tour pointed out little things (for example, why some buildings had mirrors on their second-floor windows) which before that tour, I had never noticed.

Note: the mirrors on the second floor of houses were the 1700s version of their security camera system.

But if you are looking for a carriage ride without the commentary, you probably need to discuss that with your carriage driver before you begin the trip.  My husband-to-be (at the time) took me on one of these carriage rides to propose to me, but he did not tell the carriage driver of his plans.

So when my husband wanted to propose, he kept getting interrupted by the carriage driver doing his job.  Oops.  But as was well, and it was a very memorable tour.

Walking Tours

Walking tours are exactly what the name implies.  You are taking a tour while walking.  These tours usually last as little as 30 minutes to as long as 2 hours.  The advantage is that you get to see all of the little details up close.  The disadvantage is that the tour is restricted to a specific geographical location.

Obviously, different tours are going to have different routes.  So you are going to have to check where the route is going to determine if the tour is what you are interested in.

Also, during different times of the year, there may be different tours.  For example, during Halloween, there would be haunted house tours.  During Christmas, there may be Christmas decoration tours.

Advantage is that they are inexpensive.  You can see lots of details up close.  The disadvantage is that the tour is restricted to a specific geographical location. On the other hand, you can usually find walking tour books that you can use to do your own walking tour, but that takes a little bit of pre-planning.

Bicycle and electric scooter tours

These are the same as walking tours, except that you can use bicycles or electric scooters for the tours.  The main thing to watch out for when touring with kids is age restrictions.  Electric scooters may have age restrictions.  This is sometimes controlled by community law and has nothing to do with the tour company.

Even with bicycle tours, the child has to be able to keep up with the tour group.  On the other hand, the tour company may have bicycle seats and/or bicycle trailers.  But you will probably have to request those items in advance if they are available.

All-day tour buses

As the name suggests these tour buses are intended to be all-day tours.  As with hop-on-hop-off buses, they go from one tourist location to another.  The main difference is that they usually will not go to the museums or other locations where people will spend a large amount of time at one tourist location.

These tours intend that the tour guide gets off the bus with you.  So you are not only getting a tour while on the bus but, you are also getting a tour off the bus. I went on one of these tours in Washington, D.C.  My tour guide was very knowledgeable and the tour was worth every penny.

I went on this tour with my 3 sons ages 5, 7, and 10.  If I had to worry about how to get from one place to another while at the same time trying to watch 3 young children, we never would have been able to see as much as we did.  And the trip would have been a lot more stressful.

It was a 15 person tour bus.  We got on the bus, and the tour guide would give a tour while we were driving.  Then when we got to our tourist location, the tour guide would get off the tour bus and continue to give us a tour.

Boat Tour

At lunch time, a “boat tour” was scheduled and there was lunch food sold on the boat.  So the tour guide and the bus driver were able to take their lunch break without having to worry about their tourists getting lost or not knowing where to get lunch.  When the boat tour was over, the bus tour continued.

The main advantage was that the tour went to a lot of outside tourist locations that would probably not be included in a hop-on-hop off bus tour.  You also did not waste any time waiting for the tour bus to arrive, and you did not waste any time trying to figure out how to get from one location to another.  Everything was all planned out by the tour guide.

There was an older woman on the tour, who got tired later in the afternoon, so she stayed on the bus at one of our final stops. At all of the locations, the tour guide spent some time talking about the place, but he also included some time for people to just walk around and look at things for themselves.


For my own kids, I gave each child an inexpensive camera, a drawing pad, and some crayons and markers.  At one location, my youngest son (5 years old) sat down on the floor of the Lincoln Memorial and started to draw Lincoln.  The tour guide was so impressed that when we got back on the tour bus, he showed my son’s drawing to the whole tour bus and complimented my son.  My son was beaming with pride from the compliment.

Between having something to draw with and something to take pictures with, my young kids were well behaved even though the tour was not a specific “children’s tour”.

Even at the end, when my children were starting to get tired, we just skipped the tour part at one location and just bought some ice cream from a vendor, relaxed, and ate our treats.  Then when everybody else was done with visiting that specific place, we went back on the tour bus with them.  Other people were also tired and did this option as well.

The only disadvantage of the tour was that we did not go inside any major tourist place.  Even though we visited the outside of the Whitehouse, Congress, etc., we never went inside.  So if you intend to visit one of those types of places, then this tour option is not what you want.

But if you intend to visit a lot of lesser-known locations, there is no other option that will allow you to visit as many locations in as little time as a full-day bus tour option where the tour guide exits the bus with you.  And when traveling with small children, not having to have the stress of planning the day, oh my, that was worth every penny.


Every city and community is different.  So be sure to check out what options are available in the community you plan to visit.  But it is not just the physical tour company that you need to check out.  It is also the quality of the tour guides.  What kind of training do they have?  Can they handle the unexpected?  Are they appropriate for the elderly or the young?  And most of all does the tour meet the needs of what you expect from your tour.

As a friend once told me, “Time is money, and money is time.”  Is time your top priority or money your top priority?  Or is it a combination of the two?  Just as no two tour groups are the same, no two tour companies are the same. So have a great vacation and check out what tour guide options are available in the community you plan to visit.

The published material expresses the position of the author, which may not coincide with the opinion of the editor.

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