This past Memorial Day weekend, we were among the few New Yorkers who didn’t hit the road for the Hamptons, or race to airports for trips further afield, in search of barbecues and beaches. We stayed at home in Chelsea to experience the first summer weekend NYC style. While Dad and big sis were attending a graduation ceremony in Maine, my tweenager and I decided to be tourists for a day. When we travel to other cities, we occasionally take those double decker bus tours, and we always wondered what it would be like to take one in NYC. So, after a little research to match up our route with expected plans later in the day, we were off to 42nd street to buy ourselves some bus passes.
We went uptown planning to take the Big Bus tour because the downtown route would go right past our house near the end. However, when we got to 42nd street, we didn’t see any Big Bus Tour salespeople around at all. So, it may be best to buy tickets for that company online. Since it didn’t matter too much to us, we bought tickets from one of the many Gray Line vendors. Those are the big red buses you see around town from CitySights. Now, of course, the vendor talked us into a 48 hour package instead of just the one-day tour, but it was only about $5 more per person and we found it totally worth the extra money, even if we didn’t use all of the amenities.
Our ticket included an uptown tour, a downtown tour, a night tour, a Brooklyn tour, a Bronx tour, and one or two other extras that we were never going to use. Each tour lasted between two and three hours and allowed for unlimited hop-on and hop-off in any neighborhood. The only tour that does not allow for hop-on hop-off is the night tour (see our tip below about giving teens a little freedom on this tour).
We decided to start our day with the downtown tour, take a break in the middle for lunch, run home and walk the dog, and then finish with the uptown tour ending on the Upper East Side to meet some friends for dinner. As we are long time New Yorkers, we didn’t feel the need to get off and on the bus because we really wanted to see what we could learn from the guides. After waiting in line for about 20 minutes we boarded the bus. We were surprised to learn that City Sights has seats on the top of the bus and not on the bottom. As it was a 90 degree day, we quickly realized, there would be no respite from the blazing sun!
The downtown route cruised past the Empire State building first and then headed south through Union Square, Soho, Chinatown, FiDi, Ground Zero, and all of the expected downtown tourist spots. Our guide was succint and not particularly interesting so we found ourselves constantly switching back and forth between the pre-recorded dialogue and his dialogue. The combination of the sweltering heat and the lack of engaging banter caused us to disembark just after Soho and abandon the downtown tour. We had lunch in the very familiar territory of Tribeca.
After a break at home for a bit of relief from the heat, we went back out to catch the uptown tour. The temperature had dropped at this point 10-15 degrees, so we felt ready to tackle the heat again. The uptown tour started up the west side, circled through Harlem, and went back downtown via Museum Mile. The sites were less iconic, but the vibe was much more relaxing and the guide was full of interesting facts about architecture, celebrities, history of buildings and more! We loved this section of the tour and felt like we actually learned quite a bit about the city. This photo shows John, our bus tour guide, and he was terrific! We disembarked at 72nd street to meet some friends for dinner on the UES and were sad not to complete the tour with John.
Since our two tickets lasted for 48 hours, the next night when the rest of my family returned, we sent the two kids (12 and 14) on the night tour alone. This is the only tour that is not hop-on, hop-off so we felt they could totally take this one without us. It leaves from midtown at 6:30 pm and lasts about 2 hours. It travels downtown, across the Manhattan bridge to Brooklyn, and back into Manhattan and up 6th ave. back to midtown. Although, because the sun is setting later, they didn’t do any of the tour in the dark, the girls said they had an excellent guide who was extremely chatty and full of fun NYC facts that they didn’t already know. They gave the night tour two thumbs up!
For other fun adventures with in NYC look for these posts: