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But it can also be overwhelming when you start to think about the thousands of things you can see and do there. And sometimes you don’t have a lot of time for your vacation so you start to ponder whether it’ll be possible to get a sense of the city, how it’s laid out, how big it is and what its best attractions are.
In other words, how to avoid getting a fragmented impression of a city instead of a more holistic, 30.000 feet view (or as close to is as possible). And one of the things I’ve found really work for me during my cultural travel are city tours, especially double decker bus city tours.
Sure, we all want our trips to be life changing experiences and see the most important sites, but also walk away from the beaten path and see things that people don’t normally see, the tour buses kind of contradict that purpose.
However, in my experience hopping on and off from these double decker buses is not only fun, but it can give you a great sense of what a city is all about!
In the end there are sights that you don’t want to miss, even if they’re what everybody does and having an easy, fun and convenient way to visit them while getting  a sense of place, is a double win in my opinion.
I highly recommend them, I take these kinds of buses every time I visit a new city and I believe it’s a good value for my money. The first thing I do whenever I’m going to visit a major city is get online and find out if they have double decker tour buses and in New York the go-to company is Gray Line which is actually a transportation company that also provides bus rides to other cities in the United States. Gray Line offers a wide variety of tours in New York, including escorted tours, helicopter tours (which I highly recommend), cruises, walking tours, day trips from New York and VIP tours along with their renowned double decker bus tours. All the buses are double decked, but I can tell you  straight up, you have got to go on the upper deck because that’s the best experience.

Of course, being on the top deck means you have to be prepared for the weather, if it’s hot, it can get really hot and you can get sunburned. The lower deck is warmer but you can’t open the windows to take pictures and I’m not sure they have air conditioning during the summer.
It works like this: Each “loop” is a focused circular route that goes around an area of the city, with different “stops” along the way. It is called Hop-On, Hop-Off because people can get on or get off the bus at each of these stops and go visit the attractions nearby for as long as they want.
Buses usually come by each stop roughly every 15 minutes, but be sure to ask at the office which stops take longer. You can buy the All Loops Tour (48 Hours) from my affiliate link and help me promote this blog!
The Downtown Loop (green route in the map) departs from Gray Line offices in Times Square and covers from south Central Park, to Battery Park where you can take the ferry to visit the Statue of Liberty, so this is roughly from mid Manhattan toward the south. It covers landmarks such as the Empire State Building (get on the observation deck to see amazing views of the city), Union Square, Soho (the trendy neighborhood and its wonderful shops), Chinatown (learn to haggle for your purchases), World Trade Center (see the new memorial and Visitors Center) and Battery Park.
The Uptown Loop (purple route in the map) covers Central Park and Harlem so this is from mid Manhattan toward the north and you can visit such landmarks as The Met (the Louvre of America, art from every corner of the world), The Guggenheim Museum (incredible architecture and an impressive collection of modern art), the American Museum of Natural History (THE place to see dinosaurs in New York) and the Apollo Theater (feel the spirit of Black music). The Brooklyn Loop (red route on the map) is a great way to see charming Brooklyn and its landmarks, my favorite is the fantastic architecture of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which I highly recommend you visit later on, it’s my absolute number one museum in New York (Hmm, material for a later post, huh?). Even if it is a cliche and the “touristy” thing to do, I always enjoy these tours, getting to know other people who are doing the “touristy” thing and acquiring a general idea of what a city is about, making my way easier to explore it further during the rest of my trip.

I will be posting about such tour buses in other cities in future posts, so watch out for those. Learn how to plan your next cultural trip like a pro and receive my newsletter with more travel tips and special content! Cultural Travel Guide by Carolina Ayerbe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You have no roof over your head which allows you to take great pictures and watch people over the railings below. For instance stop 29 in the Uptown Loop is the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and buses can take up to 45 minutes to come by again to this stop.
Some tour guides are a hoot, so take the opportunity to interact with them and ask questions! Remember, the purpose of the bus tour is to get a general sense of the city, you can always come back to the attractions later on by metro or simply walking.
If it rains, all the seats will be wet and you will get soaked even though Gray Line offers free plastic ponchos. Very interesting comment!January 5, 2016 - 11:12 by Carolina AyerbeIt's definitely an incredible experience.

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